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This summer I went to see Mattel’s blockbuster, Barbie. The film starts with Barbieland as a supposedly utopian matriarchal society, where women are in charge, and men’s roles are not important. Then, when Ken and Barbie go to the “real world”, they encounter the patriarchy in action where men and masculine traits rule. Ken tries to take this concept back to Barbieland and the women rebel. However, the beautiful thing at the end is that instead of going back to a complete matriarchy and the imbalance of power, Barbie (and Ken) realize there is more strength in a partnership where masculine and feminine traits work in balance to create a better society for all. 

This got me thinking afresh about the patriarchy and the consequences that an imbalance of power has in society and leadership. This includes the differences in access to power, authority, and opportunity. I also started thinking about tools to dismantle this power imbalance. The patriarchy can be thought of quite simply as “power over”, rather than “power with”. It also includes a dominance of masculine traits such as winning, hierarchy, and logic. Partnership, on the other hand, is “power with” that includes masculine traits balanced with feminine traits such as empathy, collaboration, and intuition. Conscious leadership is a vital  part of shifting to “power with.” 

How “power over” still dominates workplaces

There is still a predisposition to “power over” rather than “power with” in most workplaces, and an imbalance of power and valued traits often emerges between the sexes. Here are some numbers to illustrate the predicament:

  • There are fewer women in executive roles: In the USA in 2021, women made up 47.4% of the workforce, but only 31.7% of top executive roles, according to the US Census Bureau. Leadership Circle data shows that women are scoring higher in Creative (move towards conscious leadership) and lower in Reactive, but the number of women in top leadership positions remains low. 
  • We still have a gender pay gap: In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to Pew Research. This can partly be explained by the kinds of work women do. Due to inflexible full-time work environments, women are often forced by circumstance into more part-time and precarious work. Moreover, “feminized” careers such as teaching and nursing tend to be paid less for work of similar value to higher-paid male-dominated industries.

Why “power with” is the way of the future

This prioritization of men, and the neglect of women and more “feminine” traits impact businesses because more diversity within organizations leads to better outcomes. The report, Women in Business and Management: The business case for change, surveyed almost 13,000 enterprises in 70 countries. More than 57 percent of respondents agreed that gender diversity initiatives improved business outcomes. Almost three-quarters of those companies that tracked gender diversity in their management reported profit increases of between 5 and 20 percent, with the majority seeing increases of between 10 and 15 percent.

How do we make this shift? 

If companies are leaving both money and business opportunities on the table due to a lack of gender diversity, fueled by an overly patriarchal structure, what can they do about it?

Conscious leadership can help dismantle the patriarchy

Conscious leadership offers a pathway out of the entrenched patriarchy that has exerted its influence for far too long. Conscious leaders are aware of the power dynamics within organizations and society and work to balance the systems and traits to work for a more diverse set of people. Conscious leaders acknowledge the ingrained dynamics of patriarchy and actively engage in the dismantling process, paving the way for a more equitable and collaborative “power with” structure.

Conscious leaders champion gender equity through mentorship and unwavering support for women and gender-diverse individuals, facilitating their rise to leadership positions. Conscious leaders also confront unconscious biases in hiring and promotion, advocating for policies championing gender diversity within organizations. Ultimately, this leads to better business outcomes and more profitable organizations.  

If you want to foster a more equitable, empathetic, and inclusive approach to leadership within your organization, start with cultivating and developing conscious leaders. 

What is your business doing to create a new power dynamic and develop a structure of “partner with” rather than “power over”? We’d love to bring Elevating Conscious Leadership to your organization!

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Author Renelle Darr

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