I recently went through a brand identity consultation process this fall, along with a website creation process over the winter, and got on top of my social media marketing strategies and tools. All of these processes were useful, practical, and helpful. I’ve shared what I know with those of my clients for whom entrepreneurship has become the next step in their career transition.
And, the truth is, the magic pill to our professional success as women – tips and tricks, solutions, information, theory, business advice, that “je ne sais quoi” of the scent of success – has a lot more to do with dismantling the internalization of patriarchy and misogyny than anything else.
No amount of business or life advice has saved me from the harder, deeper, more nebulous and internal work of knowing I am more than enough in and of myself to serve my mission.
The best business advice that I could offer: get into the business of liberation. Allow the potency of who you authentically are – and your own acceptance of yourself – grow and create success for you.
Oh, just that you say?
Culture is where what we want is located. It’s where success as we define it lives in real-time (as opposed to in our heads and hearts only). And dominant culture says that ambition is masculine and, therefore, not feminine (see this TEDtalk on unconscious bias, despite ourselves, most if not all of us believe that ambition is a male trait – take an implicit association test to find out). So, being an ambitious female is counter to our belief system and, therefore, to our identities as women. Our unconscious does not allow “woman” and “ambitious” in the same space at the same time without a whole lot of conflicting internal beliefs. And, that makes getting what we want uncomfortable, scary, and difficult (often doubly true for women of colour and LGBTQ women): because to achieve what we want means stepping out of being a “woman,” and becoming… something taboo and transgressive instead.
Kate Jung, wrote an article entitled: “Why Young Female Leaders Must Reject The Thought: “I’m Not Like Other Girls,” in which she talks about how she used to think that she was “not like other girls.” She differentiated herself from “other girls” because “the media insisted to me… that “other girls”… were inherently unimportant…Driven by internalized misogyny, I used this phrase to position myself against other women.”
In an article by INSEAD (the business school for the world) entitled: “Taking Gender into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Programs,” they share their research on how women advance in business. One of the phenomena they write about is how lower-level female staff don’t tend to seek out senior female leaders as mentors because “they [these leaders] are alone” and therefore not often able to offer advancement into their higher-level social networks like senior male leaders can. Senior female leaders can’t teach the lower-level women how to fit in amongst men (simply because they are women and therefore not men) so the more junior women quite intelligently do not seek out the more senior women as a career advancing move.
This type of systemic reinforcement of non-female power and leadership in our culture “distances” us from the feminine and, Jung writes, “has contributed to the continuing leadership gap in corporate America,” and quite frankly, women’s influence period in the public realm.
Still up against something
We live in the age of self-determination in North America.“The world is our oyster” in the first world, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are ours for the asking, and opportunity is just as far as our willingness to reach it. And it’s this kind of thinking that has prevented my clients, and myself, from admitting that – despite how hard we’ve tried to change, or how grateful we’ve tried to be for the unsatisfying roles we find ourselves in (or the unsatisfying ways we find ourselves occupying them) – we’ve been stumped when it came to showing up in the way we would like in the pursuit of what we want. The space between A to B has somehow seemed immoveable. And we weren’t able to close the gap. And we weren’t sure why.
And, as privileged, post-modern women do, we have tended to personalize and internalize our experience (it’s about me), because we prefer to think of ourselves as self-made individuals rather than 1950’s stereotypes of gender oppression. Because we’re not that. Yet, we’re up against something. Still.
The only way is through
I am doing a difficult thing. I’ve made my brand about disempowerment amongst the relatively powerful – something empowered people don’t want to admit to identifying or affiliating with despite offering the inspiration of liberation as an end point. People tend to move away from or sweep under the rug what feels unsafe: distance themselves from it. It’s a danger to ally with a taboo as a business model. The marketing advice given is to go with what people want (i.e., my coaching clients want to live their dreams, fulfill their potential, improve their leadership skills, become thriving entrepreneurs) versus what they need to have what they want (i.e., dismantle internalized misogyny, value our inherent worth, stop hustling and striving, find confidence and security in feminine strengths rather than competing for masculine ones).
I used to want nothing to do with my disempowerment: I found it so un-serving in my quest for joy and self-fulfillment (see my video blog: Smart Women and Shame for more on this): I was very much Kate Jung’s young self who was “not like other girls.”
And, the key steps I’ve had to take to live my dream, and in supporting my clients to step into theirs, inevitably have to do with:
- Coming to terms with the fear of stepping into my potential
- Dismantling the voices that say “I can’t” (and undoing the various disguises these voices take – not the least of which being logic or “reason”)
- Addressing the belief that it’s dangerous and that I shouldn’t
- And that for – whatever reason – I am either not good enough or able to realize the vision that I hold (conflating my worth or distorted sense of “not good enough” with competence).
And this might not be what we want to hear when all we want is a higher salary, to have a successful new business, or to be an excellent leader, however it’s the work that needs to be done. However unfair, unpleasant, and uncomfortable it makes us.
Kristen Pressner in her TEDtalk on unconscious bias (linked above) talks about how our brains make shortcuts in our day-to-day lives. She describes how these shortcuts are based on patterns that we’ve seen throughout our lives, which cause us to behave in ways that are not aligned with who we are and who we want to be. They are a result of what we’ve mostly been exposed to, and our brain simply redirects us to a pattern it recognizes, and we make unconscious associations. Research shows that most of us have a bias against women leaders, and even when we, women ourselves, are in leadership positions, we have an unconscious bias against ourselves in the role. The bias is simply our brain’s way of making sense of who belongs where and how to assess what competence looks like: it’s a method of organizing.
Queens, Jaguars, Deities, and Lady Gaga
And that’s why archetypes, symbols, and figures of female power are SO potent in helping us transcend our unconscious associations with female leadership: because they’re in our unconscious brains already too.
The call to “Step into your Sovereignty” is no marketing accident. A Queen has a sovereign birthright, an entitlement to take up space, an inherent sense that she can be herself and that this is worth honouring. Revering even. She is relaxed. Established in who she is. Comfortable in her throne.
It’s a risk to act against type when doing so threatens success or conflicts with other parts of your identity that are equally valuable to you. Which is why aspiring toward a New Way of Being in a coaching program that is the way of a Queen, a Majestic Jaguar, Artemis, or Lady Gaga is so helpful. Especially when it transcends and includes your current way already. Female leaders, entrepreneurs, and women – who want to become more of who they are already – find themselves in archetypes outside themselves that reflect back to them a worth they don’t yet give themselves permission to own: yet is on some level, part of them. The archetypes bypass the stories we have about ourselves that limit, and show new possibilities that draw out the censored part of ourselves, waiting in the wings to take centre stage.
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4 replies added
Wonderful writing, brilliant mind. Thank you, Jessica. All the time reading this I kept thinking about this trending idea of the “boss lady” (#bosslady) and would love to hear your thoughts on it. It’s focused on hustling, making lots of money, and wearing bling, as well as being powerful. It seems routed in superficiality and yet there may be something to do with empowerment in it?
Thanks so much for your question. This has been on my radar for a while now, and it’s circling around and through the work that I’m doing for sure. I think it goes deep and far in terms of questions of women and power in our culture, and thanks for bringing it up so head on. “How do we have access to and use power?” and “What moral and ethical implications does this have?” No simple easy answer to give off the top of my head (simply because it right away presents a huge complex network of ideas in one powerful question) however please watch for me to address this in future blog posts for sure. What I can say quickly – and don’t mind saying publicly, is that being a “boss lady” in the way that you’re describing it I find problematic, and not necessarily rooted in genuine power (i.e., we sell out ourselves and others in exchange for excess). That’s not to say I don’t think women should be wealthy, however the means to achieving and sustaining that wealth are different than the “boss lady” you’re describing. Not a complete answer but top of mind thoughts at the moment!
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