30 June, 2010


Like a good piece of fat wood thrown on a fire or the exuberant face of a child's first cannonball, June arrives with a POW and makes itself known in a hurry. June is a bit like being shot out of a cannon - it's all dark and muffled at first and then before you know it, you're airborne, sailing high above the crowds gathered under the big top. It's exhilarating and a bit wildly out of control. Like an eager bull busting out of its pen for the first time in the season, June reminds us how good it feels to be alive and casually shrugs off our angst and caution by telling us to just hold on tight and pray for a soft landing. And land we do - with splashes and big noises and cheesy grins. "Again, again, we cry!" as we climb back in the saddle for another go of it. And so goes June - reacquainting us with the blessed joy of taking risks or trying something new and demonstrating the value of just plunging in and getting all wet. With it's longer days and hotter nights we shed our layers and cut loose a little (okay a lot) as we are reunite with our fiery spirits and passion. We emerge from June with a few bruises and sore places, but feeling scrappier, happier and heartier than we thought possible. Go figure.

21 June, 2010

Now You See Her, Now You Don't

I’m not too keen on what we do to older women in this society. It seems we have become quite adept at making them invisible and that bothers me deeply, partly because I will eventually be an older woman myself and also because I have this nagging sense that I’ve unwittingly played a role in perpetuating this tendency to marginalize older women.

There are many wonderful books about the phases of a woman’s life – from Joan Borysenko to Christiane Northrup and Jean Shinoda Bolen – but my mental model has essentially three phases: the maiden, the mother and the crone (like the waxing, full and waning phases of the moon.) But unlike some of the ancient cultures which appear to have reverence for the wisdom of age, our western society tends to diminish it or – worse yet – turn away from our older women as if they didn’t exist. This is what I mean when I say we “make invisible”. Take a look and you’ll see it all around you – from the “anti-aging” creams to the subtle and not so subtle “tuning out” that occurs in our board rooms and at our dinner tables. I know it’s ugly and we don’t like to talk about it, but I’m going there. You with me?

When I took belly dancing a few years ago when I was swollen with a baby in my belly, I looked around the room and marveled at the beauty of all the different women – all shapes, sizes and ages – moving in their bodies. The instructor told us about the women in her family and how her heritage (Lebanese) is one that believes a woman’s belly dance gets better and richer with age – because they have lived more and experienced more and can add that into their dance. She said the elder woman of a family will often be the last to dance in accordance with this belief, and I imagined a room brought to silence by the sheer power of a wise woman dancing her life story.

And yet, when I look at my own culture and the older women in my life, I see a very different picture. I watch as older women fight to be heard (literally yelling at times), are dismissed and not taken seriously for their thoughts or ideas, and are silenced or excluded from the conversation. In truth, we could make the case that we do this with our very young and our very old in this society, but I’m most curious about the women.

And how am I culpable? What are the subtle– and not so subtle – ways I perpetuate this cultural behavior as a “full moon” woman? I start with me because I believe change begins with each of us asking ourselves that question. If we are to rewrite the script for how we will be perceived as older women, we must begin by taking responsibility for our role in “making invisible” the older women in our lives today. Start there. Go there.

08 June, 2010

Hardiness Zones for Women

Sometimes it’s really lonely being a woman leader, isn’t it? I have found this to be true in my own experience and hear it echoed time and time again among the women leaders in my practice. And it’s no wonder why: we live in a society that tends to be obsessed with pitting women against each other. This is more than a little disturbing because – when you really look at it – it is just not in our nature to attack each other. So this loneliness? It’s a product of our culture. There's even a name for it: internalized sexism.

Having seen (and sadly, taken part in) this dynamic with women during my corporate career and as I watch the proliferation of media that swirls around us, I can despair at how women can be their own worst enemies. Then I participated in a Hardy Girls Healthy Women training on creating Hardiness Zones for girls and felt a light bulb of hope turn on inside me.

Hardiness Zones for middle school girls, which is based on the research of Lyn Mikel Brown, is about a creating a safe community for girls to be allies for each other in an otherwise “toxic soil”. Adopting a strength-based approach, the girls in these coalition groups examine their experiences, realities and reactions so they are able to gain perspective on them and, ultimately, make choices that give them control. In these groups, girls are not necessarily friends with each other, but respect each other enough to tell the truth, validate and stand by one another. Research has shown it works. More than that, it’s just plain inspiring.

So what if there were Hardiness Zones for women? Different than a social gathering, affinity group, or mentoring programs, these would be strategic and diverse coalitions of women in the workplace designed to support women in being allies for one another. Far from another diversity program or a "fix the women" initiative, this group would be a place where other women could validate and help you to name what you’re feeling or experiencing. Imagine anger being seen as a strength for creating change instead of a personal weakness? Imagine looking around and seeing you’re not alone? What if you felt other women standing with you as you fortified yourself to resist the status quo and push for change? What if you had a place in which to process how it went with like-minded women who cared?

How might your experience as a leader be different? What might you be cabable of then?

03 June, 2010

Spine a Shotlight

You know when someone says something by accident? And it turns out to be this profound statement of truth? I witnessed one of those recently.

It happened during a conversation about leadership with some other women at the Maine Women’s Fund. The essence of the conversation was about women stepping up more immediately up as leaders; not waiting for permission, authorization or “just the right” convergence of circumstances and gumption. Up until this point in our dialogue, we had touched upon the many reasons that women don’t step up – our penchant for influencing from behind, our low appetite for receiving credit, our exhaustion and tendency to “pick our battles.”

At one point, a member of our group blurted out (in her frustration), “We just need to spine a shotlight on the need for women to step into leadership roles…. I mean shine a spotlight.” We all chuckled and then paused. There was something in that turn of phrase that was magical and struck a chord with me and the other women in the group. Our conversation shifted after that. We began to talk about not waiting and doing something today to “be the change”. One woman shared a quote made by a friend recently, “every step I take is a women’s movement.”

Maybe that is invitation to us as women: to SPINE a shotlight; to embody the spotlight and let the light come from within each of us, rather than assuming it will somehow manifest outside us. Wouldn’t that, indeed, be the perfect image of women as agents of change? I instantly got the image of women walking around in the world with the light of their own visions for change radiating out from their solar plexuses.

In my work with women leaders, I often pose the question, “What if YOU were the leader you’ve been waiting for?” Too often – in myself and in my clients – I witness us waiting, pausing, second-guessing our instincts, our ideas or our value at the table. If more women were to “spine the shotlight”, perhaps we might bypass our minds and allow the full potency of our force for change flow from our core – unadulterated, unfiltered and unmistakable. Like the Kundalini energy of creation that ancient cultures believe lies coiled and ready at the base of our spine, women could awaken this dormant energy in ourselves and be virtual spotlights for our world.