Iron Butterflies. Although some may think of the 1960’s psychedelic rock band, this concept is about women taking charge. At its core, its about making women great leaders and highlighting the many female negotiators who often get overlooked by upper management.
Frankly, it’s tough to be a female in the workplace. Yes, “we’ve come a long way baby,” from the Mad Men era, but there’s certainly a long way to go. Often, women still aren’t treated as equals. My biggest trial-by-fire life lesson came while being a female sports reporter in the NFL locker room at the ripe age of 23. It was an eye-opening experience. Some treated me with respect and dignity, but there were certainly others who were rude and unprofessional. Many women quit. I stayed in the sports industry for a few more years until I finally had enough. I never felt like it was a level playing field and I was always having to prove, twice as hard that I was just as competent as anyone else. In that type of hostile environment, it is hard to be collaborative or feel like there is a chance for real success.
Dr. Birute Regine, author of the book, Iron Butterflies: Women Transforming Themselves and the World offers up a few suggestions. She found that successful women, no matter their age, ethnicity or nationality, share common traits. They all have a wide range of uphill battles, frustrations and struggles that later empower them to become “Iron Butterflies” by being “radically vulnerable, revolutionary, a strong healer and someone who welcomes the paradoxical into their life.” More importantly, they become collaborative thinkers, leaders and negotiators.
“There are the cultural assumptions, gender schemes that are unconscious, but it’s why many assume women are incompetent until proven otherwise,” says Regine, a developmental psychologist who has a Doctorate of Education in Human Development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “So they still aren’t seen as leaders.”
Regine points to Kim Campbell, Canada’s first and only female prime minister, who fought a well-documented double-standard gender battle. As Justice Minister, Campbell was able to get a gun control ban (Bill C-17) passed despite major opposition that would rival what is here in the United States. Why? Because of her ability to negotiate.
How can women change this? Consider the Four C’s to Becoming an Iron Butterfly.
1. Connect to Your Passion.
A lot of people are doing work they aren’t passionate about. It’s important to connect with something you are passionate about even if it is as hobby.
2. Collaborate with Women as a Way of Healing.
Collaboration enables you to compete. There is a lot of distrust among women, but instead of being worried about betrayal, try to trust. Successful influential women always have a large support network.
3. Recognize Feminine Power as a Collective Power
“The world of collaboration is all new territory. That is what is Obama trying to do,” Regine says. “It requires a lot of self reflection, openness and it requires going beyond yourself. It is asking what is the common benefit for both of us? We are at a tipping point and moving from a domination-based society to a more collaborative one. There is the myth that you need to do it alone and be more effective.”
4. Have a Sense of Community and Find the Connectors
Know that you are part of a movement that is happening. On the average, most women are leading the way and often don’t realize they are part of something bigger. Most women show collaborative leadership. It is leadership that is done behind closed doors through mutual empowerment where there’s not a lot of chest pounding. It’s important for companies to find those connectors and start rewarding them.
Dawn Reiss is a Chicago-based journalist who has written for a variety of outlets including: TIME magazine, Chicago Tribune and Travel + Leisure.
Image credit: Tolomea