You know that rule about never mixing religion and politics with business? I’m going to try to break it without breaking it or – I should say – I want to address the underlying issues splattering the headlines this week about women contraception and power. In the process I want to help powerful women reclaim our individual power in the midst of a public debate that has largely marginalized us on issues that affect us more personally than any other.
Why address contraception on a website for professional women and flirt with the rule against politics and religion? Because underneath this issue, I believe, lurks the same cultural blindness and personal InPowerment opportunity that also underlies the wage gap and the woeful underrepresentation of women in corporate leadership – despite evidence that the shareholders, customers and employees would be better served with greater women’s participation.
To me personally there is also the irony that I launched a website about women and power the very week the front page showed us how some in “power” (i.e., some Republican Congressmen, but not all) in our country view women. I had to ask myself what advice could I give myself and my readers about how to access power in the midst of a reality-is-stranger-than-fiction situation in which:
- a congressional hearing is called to listen to input on contraception and health care coverage wherein not one woman was allowed to speak (one was invited and then turned away as unqualified – listen to her interview before she was turned away);
- 3 representatives walked out in protest (watch their statements); and
- one of the congressmen said “this isn’t a women’s issue.”
I recognize that my graphic above could be considered inciteful because I understand that the panel was convened to discuss religious freedom as it was impacted by the President’s mandate to cover contraception in federally funded hospitals, including medical facilities operated by religious institutions. And I am willing to concede “this is not a women’s issue,” if the esteemed Congressmen will acknowledge that it is also “not a moral issue,” since those who do not want to use birth control, are not obligated to do so. But since I don’t expect to receive any such concessions from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I shall proceed.
Honestly, I struggle with how to think about this gender-imbalanced public debate and the statistical inequities women face in our society. Personally, I’m appalled at the injustice that women’s bodies are once more fodder for political power plays. Professionally, I’m aghast that some in the Republican Party could pull off such an incredibly insensitive event. I just keep looking at the picture and shaking my head – where were their PR gurus when that panel was convened? Some staffer sure as hell ought to get fired for this. I mean, there are women out there who agree with them! Use Google to find one for goodness sake! What were they thinking not to event attempt a diverse viewpoint?
It’s very easy to get caught up in the traditional feminist rhetoric of anger and indignation watching 5 men talk about contraception as “experts” – none of them medical – when the impact of the law would be on women’s reproductive health. I have to say my Facebook newsfeed has a fair amount of this going on it right now. While I certainly believe in the power of a good rant now and then, I also know that when humans get angry, our power is fragile and vulnerable, so it’s not a place we should feel comfortable acting from, once the venting has run it’s course.
To try to get some perspective I took a step back and applied the 5 Principles of InPowerment and as always happens I when I do this I see the situation a little differently. InPowerment Principle #2 says that when we accept reality for what it is – releasing our anger at it – we claim back the energy we would have spent fighting, and can then apply it to help us change things. With this lens I can see that – injustice aside – when a powerful bunch of people governing our nation can discuss contraception on national TV without addressing the impact on women:
They. Really. Don’t. Get. It.
And “they” aren’t all men.
I’m going to walk out on thin ice (not for the last time) and point out that our public officials are elected by the American population, so we’re all part of “the problem.” There are women on both sides of this debate. My point is not to pick a girl-on-girl fight or imply that I agree that “this isn’t a women’s issue,” (because I believe that it is), but to point out that it’s complex and women are involved in the political dialog to the point that pitching this as a women vs. men issue is utterly useless.
Accepting that injustice exists, I can also see that this hearing is political theater in the build-up to what is likely to become the most negative and politically polarized presidential election in memory. If “they” really thought they’d piss off a big chunk of the population, then why would they do it? I believe that the fact that they didn’t include any women really speaks to a deeper truth here. What if they really believe this isn’t a women’s issue?
And the same question could be posed for corporate America, where after decades of “women’s leadership” initiatives, women are barely further ahead than we were after the bra burners opened the doors for us. I know plenty of well-meaning executives (women and men) who cognitively want women to advance and yet act unconsciously in ways that keep them from doing so. As frustrating as these realities can be, getting pissed at them does no good because they can’t see it. They think they’re doing the right thing – and there is power in believing what you believe, no matter what it is.
Deploying Principle #2 – instead of being angry that “they” don’t get it, what if we just accepted that they don’t? What if we accept that yelling at them (which I could argue “we feminists” have been doing for decades) won’t overcome the apparent reality that people who don’t get it can’t get it unless something in the dialog changes?
Initiating meaningful change – and confronting fear
InPowerment principle #3 says that all power is born from alignment and this is so very true. Any time you experience powerlessness – in your life or in the world – you will find misalignment at the core of it. Look at that picture above and try to count the misalignments. I ran out of fingers and toes. To gain power, then, simply create alignment.
In the context of the brewing political election in which the contraception issue has temporarily taken center stage, the Republican Party would be wise to look at opportunities for alignment, given what appears to be a significant misaslignment between the Party platform and their own female and male voters on women’s issues.
In the corporate setting, if executives are aligned cognitively, emotionally and as a group in their willingness to do what it takes to bring women into leadership ranks, then it will happen. Easier said than done, of course, because to achieve collective alignment, personal fears, biases and discomforts must be overcome in the process. That’s a lot of work. Where do we start?
In the end the unit of power is you.
Even when the issue of women’s leadership or inclusion manifests as a political, social or institutional problem, at its core is people’s individual alignment – within themselves and between each other – and willingness to change. Where to start? Start with yourself. Are your actions, values and beliefs fully aligned? Do you express yourself and speak in alignment with these things or do you swallow your truth and leave it unspoken? Do you work to create alignment on the issues you care about with your family? Your colleagues? Your bosses? Or do you go with the flow even when it perpetuates your own misalignments?
I know that rocking the boat is risky. I know that research says that women who use typical leadership tactics (as defined by the predominant male model) can be penalized for doing so, and thus we walk a fine line between getting ahead and hurting our careers. I’ve won and lost this battle myself and know well the consequences. But I also know that research says we can learn to speak up and stand up for ourselves in ways that help us move up and get ahead. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It means we should do it carefully and invest in learning how to do it well if we want to change our role and the role of women in our economy.
I also know it’s easy to believe that one person can’t change the world, and use that as our excuse for not becoming more personally aligned and powerful. At the risk of pissing you off and in the interest of probing you to think more deeply about your own personal power, I ask you to imagine a world in which all the women who use contraception, or don’t on principle, were aligned personally on their feelings and beliefs about it, believed their voice mattered and expressed their beliefs in a political context without getting angry. Can you imagine what that might look like? Those five guys on the panel would be drowned out in the sheer reality we ARE, even though we wouldn’t all agree with each other.
Before you get mad at me for that last statement, please know I’m not picking on you if you’re using birth control and aren’t politically active. I’m not suggesting that the contraception issue is the most important issue for us to focus on as a society or you to focus on as an individual. What I am saying is that every one of us can have a greater impact on our own lives and the organizations we live and work in when we align ourselves and speak our truth. To the extent you’re not having the impact you want – on the contraceptive issue or any other – invest in your own power of alignment first and watch the barriers begin to fade. Teach your children this skill. Bring your friends along. I’m suggesting that before any of us start pointing fingers and telling “them” to “get it” when it’s clear they can’t, we have more power – as individuals and groups of aligned individuals – to simply BE the change we want “them” to “get”, lying untapped within us.
So what’s my recipe for women to get “un-marginalized” in political and corporate structures? First take responsibility for being personally powerful. Then, tap your inner power:
- Accept reality.
- Align your internal beliefs and external behaviors, including what you say.
- Set your intention.
- Be prepared to win some and lose some.
Oh… and humor always helps (warning: not work-or-kid-safe due to language)
While we all work on aligning ourselves and learning to speak our truth, there is still much anger to release in an effort to accept reality. Here is what I’ve personally consoled myself with this week. Enjoy!
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The Punanny State|
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Jon Stewart’s Eye on the Ladies|
What do you think? Do you find political situations like this unInPowering or an opportunity to draw on your personal power? Do you get angry and have trouble accepting reality so you can deal with it more effectively? Does humor help you through? Share your personal strategies for dealing with injustices like this and let’s compare notes!