My mom, Janet Goodman, and I just spent four days at the ILA Women’s Conference at the Omega Institute in NY. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical before I left for the conference because, when one person on the listserv asked “what to wear,” someone else e-mailed back “goddess clothing.” Oh no. What did I get myself into?
Despite my skepticism, upon arrival I encountered an amazing group of professional, intelligent, ambitious women all without their high heels on (well, except for one, who obviously didn’t get the memo).
Although I don’t consider myself a feminist or women’s activist, I walked away with more knowledge around unconscious gender bias and a greater appreciation for the importance of advancing and supporting women in leadership. Omega advertised a Women & Power retreat with the message of #dopowerdifferently.
But it wasn’t until something magical happened during the session we facilitated that I truly understood what that meant.
We led an interactive workshop on Barry Johnson's Polarity Thinking model and demonstrated how women have the opportunity to be even more effective when they bring their whole-selves to the table and truly embrace both masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energy. We started off with an activity that most of us in the OD/Experiential Team Building world know and love… the Helium Stick activity.
For those of you unfamiliar with this activity, you start with a long stick, and all the participants are asked to place their fingers under the stick with the seemingly simple goal of lowering the stick to the ground in the fastest amount of time possible. I must have led people through this activity at least 100 times before, no exaggeration. However, I had never facilitated this with a group of all women.
What I observed was, well, DIFFERENT. The women started off very much on the same path as other groups where they were shocked and caught off guard when the stick suddenly went up instead of down. Their default reaction to this was to ask a series of questions to each other (leveraging the yin energy) and tested out their assumptions (for example, “Did everyone receive the same set of instructions?” “Is anyone looking to sabotage this?” “Is there a trick to this activity?” “Is something flawed in the stick?”).
After hearing from the participants, a leader emerged from the group. She restated their strategy and established a clear plan of action (accessing the Yang energy). They were getting some good momentum and once this happened the magic took place.
The group remained completely silent. I’ve never seen that happen before. The best way for me to describe it was a silent power.
They now trusted that everyone was on board, everyone was determined to do whatever it took to achieve the goal, and they trusted that each team member would adjust and flex as needed to allow the group to reach their shared goal of lowering the stick to the ground. In silence they continued to work together, in harmony in mutual trust and total respect for one another. They accomplished the task and all walked away with a sense of pride.
Both masculine and feminine ways of leading were present. They had to set direction and establish a plan which accessed the traditionally masculine side AND they listened and solicited ideas from each other which accessed the traditionally feminine side. However, the manner in which it was carried out was so different than what I had ever seen with any team before. I even have the chills now as I’m writing this and remembering the experience.
This, my friends, is doing power differently.
I left inspired by this experience, curious to know who’s already out there leading in this way, what companies are already role modeling this and how do we articulate doing power differently? Once we can describe it, we can then replicate it, own it and contribute to building a stronger society. Goddess clothing, however, is optional.