There’s nothing like being asked to write about women in business to keep me up at night. Gender is an issue society has grappled with for generations, and never more so than now. I am proud of the work COOK is doing to become more inclusive for all, including around gender. So where to begin on this particular high wire?
A disclaimer feels wise. I do not believe that men have only masculine energy and women have only feminine energy. Experience has taught me that the world, and people, are far more nuanced than that. I am more nuanced than that. At COOK, I am a female co-CEO championing culture working alongside a male co-CEO who champions commercial progress, but in reality we both contribute to both. At home, I am the breadwinner with a stay at home husband. Go figure. So forgive the sweeping generalisations, but there are some ancient truths that we would be wise not to ignore as we look to build better businesses that can work in harmony with people and planet.
For millennia, the female energy has enriched society and communities globally by creating environments in which everyone can thrive. Women have looked after home and tended the hearth. We have nurtured, connected, empathised and collaborated to create healthy homes for our offspring. This collective wisdom is knitted deep into our bones. We have shown ourselves to be resilient and strong, protecting the vulnerable and holding communities together through war and famine.
Meanwhile, as predominantly masculine energy has built the workplace, an imbalance has been created in the way we do business. Qualities like advancement, assertiveness, focus and innovation have been valued and prioritised. This relentless drive for progress has too often overlooked our collective well-being. It has led to poor working conditions, little stewardship of the planet, and a focus on profit at the expense of the whole community. As the home and workplace evolve in the 21st century, we must rebalance the energy to build better companies. When feminine energy is welcomed in and set free, it transforms companies at every level, building healthy working cultures rooted in strong values. Feminine energy demands that wellbeing is valued alongside progress; that competition and nurture are held in balance; and that we create community and connections that enrich the whole enterprise. And to reiterate: feminine energy is not the sole preserve of women.
For women to achieve their potential in the workplace, we need to move on from the idea that we need to display more male traits (shoulder pads remain optional). We need to learn to trust our feminine wisdom. Let me give you an example. A certain type of confidence is often stated as a masculine energy, and in my experience it is the single biggest challenge many young female leaders face. It has held me back in the past, and I still have to take a deep breath in a room full of confident men. However, I’ve also come to see that it pays to stop worrying about something that doesn’t come naturally to me, and instead focus on what I can bring to the room. In my experience kindness, intuition and connectivity rate highly for many women. We need to own our feminine energy, trust in millennia of experience, and step into a space that allows us to nurture healthy communities in business, helping ourselves and others to thrive. When people are thriving, they do great work. When we do great work, we are better able to look after community & planet. We need to rise up and create the change that we are capable of. Not by embracing male characteristics, but by being more us.
And we need to rise while honouring and respecting the masculine energy. I owe my career to brilliant and gifted men. I was brought up with 3 brothers and I am bringing up 3 sons, so perhaps I am biased. The masculine energy brings its own basket of goodies and we ignore it at our peril. Yes, things have got out of balance, but we would be wise to remember that without this energy society would not have progressed as far and as fast as it has.
When male and female energies learn to work alongside each other in balance, and in respect and admiration for each other’s gifts, we create great companies. Progressive, kind companies with solid foundations that add value to the world. Where relationships are as important as progress. Where the contribution to society is as important as profit. Where working in harmony with the planet is a given. If our dream is to use business to create a better world, then we don’t have a choice but to embrace the feminine. In the words of the great Marvin and Kim: “It takes two, baby, to make a dream come true”.