There's a lot missing in the boardroom

Resource and capital have been redefined over the past few decades; in the age of hunter and gatherer societies or the industrial age, quick response, assertiveness and strict authoritative relationships made sense. In the age of information, our means of production and what we consider as resources are different. The work place needs human resource more than anything else; people aren’t replaceable. We require inspired, creative and passionate people to work for us. And you can only empower and keep inspired, passionate employees with relationships and an environment that gives them a sense of purpose. You can pay people to be present and offer technical input but passion requires a deeper understanding of the things that drive them, it requires a sensitivity to people’s personal interests and needs. The information age presents an opportunity for human beings to be a much better civilization than it has ever been – a civilization focused on serving and thriving from the passion/interest/talents of individuals. I also believe that this era presents a new opportunity for us to redefine what leadership means in this new work space.

Leadership trainers spend most of their time repeating the need to listen and include others in the decision making process. But I think we’re missing an essential part about why its so difficult for us to be inclusive and cooperative in the work space. Although, we have identified that empathy is lacking in our work place I don’t think we have made the connection with our earlier learned perception of leadership as a very masculine trait. Despite the fact that women are associated with providing the necessary services in our homes, both emotionally and physically, they are not perceived as the leaders of the home. This affects how we understand how we should act when we’re put in positions of leadership; when we want to be perceived as the father and not the mother.

I wonder if it is time for us to re-frame some of our age old questions about masculine and feminine approaches to problem solving. For example; to this statement “Women are too emotional to be leaders” most people would argue whether or not women are too emotional to be leaders, meaning that most people would ask “Is it in fact true that women are too emotional to be leaders? ” Assuming that this characterization is a barrier to progress in leadership. I want us to rephrase the question to “is emotion/empathy/ sensitive responses something we wouldn’t appreciate in our leaders?” We should start to wonder, if it is not only women that we should aspire to include in the work place but feminine characters as well. Gender equality should not only be about having women in the room where decisions are made but it must also mean encouraging feminine characters. The role that women have played for the society should be equally valued and applied in our daily lives by men and women.

We need to reevaluate how work and school can incorporate the human element that we all need. A good example: one research shows that girls and boys are raised very differently and encouraged to develop a different mind set since childhood, even the games that they play are structured differently. The games that boys play are focused on accomplishing a certain goal; winning and competition is encouraged. Women on the other hand play games that are very much focused on human interaction, pretending to play a certain role and conversing with one another. These games alone create a frame of reference for how adults perceive their circumstances. I believe, both types of games and perspectives would be useful for the development of any balanced adult, and yet one is dominantly exercised in the workforce.

I am also concerned with this because of my role as a Civic and Ethical Education instructor. Leadership and ‘winning’ in our society has been so closely associated with domination. While trying to teach about the values of democracy and tolerance, my job is made more difficult when parents don’t attach characters such as kindness and empathy with leadership. When we actively promote a ‘ look out for #1’ outlook for our men. Our society losses out when characters such as emphathy and emotion are viewed as obstacles to success and professionalism; in addition to our portrait of these characters as one sided acts of sacrifices.

In closing, in a world where we value softness, kindness and vulnerability in ourselves and others I believe that growth and creativity is more possible. Kindness and caring are not obstacles to success in the work place but a smart paradigm for any organization to have.

Mehret Berehe

Mehret is a law graduate with interest in advancing women's rights in Ethiopia. She is a mentor with the Yellow Movement and currently living and working in Meqelle, Tigrai, Ethiopia

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