We’ve just completed facilitating a Cultivating Women’s Leadership (CWL) intensive with twenty stunningly diverse, committed and skillful women. My heart swells with the power of their discoveries, their reclamations of under-used aspects of themselves, and the blossoming into greater wholeness that I see in their transformations.
The women’s work spans many fields of endeavor — from biomimicry to rangeland management, from localizing healthy food systems to philanthropy to bilingual education for immigrants, and from reclaiming Indigenous language and culture to environmental justice, and global reproductive health to transforming nursing in this country. Their visions for how their leadership will change the world buoy my heart with hope.
We all wear masks, to some extent, to adapt to the requirements of a biased and outmoded Western capitalist and colonial culture. Women, I have found, often conform in particular ways, stashing away parts of our selves (like vulnerability, compassion, intuition and emotion) to succeed in a professional and competitive world.
We often feel we must prove ourselves, evaluating ourselves harshly by perfectionist standards we can rarely meet. We do violence to ourselves, by adopting inwardly the judging and ranking behaviors that we see so often around us. And then, we often unconsciously play them out on other women around us. This is some of the shadow work we explore during our week together.
As a woman born into a system of white privilege, I am repeatedly awakened to the additional layers of protection or armor that my women of color and Indigenous colleagues have worn to succeed or feel safe in the world. I see how, in addition to adjusting to patriarchal norms, they have developed adaptations to cope with a racialized society, as well. Those masks have often helped them to perform well in academia or predominantly white workplaces, where they are frequently subjected to stereotyping and racially-motivated innuendo atop the insidious gendered biases that they must cope with. But being so guarded does not necessarily serve to bring their fullest leadership to changing the world.
I am also awed by the clarity, strength and resilience of Indigenous women and women of color who have lived through far more trauma than I, and yet are showing up in such a courageous, committed and skillful way. I recall why it feels so essential to learn from what they know, and to feature their leadership in all of our collaborative movement-building.
Together, we co-create a field where each woman is appreciated for her whole self. A field where the quirkiness that often describes each of our unique styles can be reclaimed, and where each woman can experience her fuller expression as what’s needed to change the world, today. What emerges is more kindness and acceptance for our selves and others, greater boldness in standing for what we believe and know is true, and a recognition that connecting with other women authentically and deeply can exponentially grow our leadership.
It is my honor to have co-midwifed this extraordinary group, and to reconvene and connect with other alums, and other women who are interested in exploring this terrain, at this year’s Bioneers Summit. We’ll have great programming also, that you won’t want to miss! Join us!