I am woman, hear me empathise (not roar)
I had a boss once who changed me for life. She was a fearful woman who had clearly not got the memo that she didn't need to take on masculine traits to make it to the top. She made my life hell by being aggressive, without a trace of self-awareness or warmth. And whilst I hated every moment of that year we worked together it taught me a very valuable lesson, that of the strength of femininity.
Now by femininity I don't mean floaty dresses and demure head tilts, I mean the fundamental, physiological differences that scientific studies have revealed between men and women, and how embracing what makes us female is more often than not beneficial to ourselves and those around us.
A study in Italy, the largest of its kind on this matter, showed statistically huge differences between male and female brains. Women scored much higher across sensitivity, warmth and apprehension, whilst men outperformed in emotional stability, dominance, vigilance and rule consciousness.
Whilst none of this will be surprising to many, it's fascinating because it proves that some of our distinctive behaviours as man/woman are driven by our physiology, not culture, or put a different way are at their heart nature over nurture.
This study certainly backs up my belief that so much of the power of what it means to be female lies within us. It comes from our empathy, our inherent self-awareness and from our ability to cope better than men under stress - our adrenaline mixes with oxytocin to produce a calmer, clearer response than the adrenaline only male version.
I’ve been fortunate to have spent the past 18 years of my career working in an industry where my role models have been able to be simply brilliant women. Women who are the best at what they do, who naturally command respect and who build loyal, phenomenal teams to support them and raise each other up. Through their style of leadership they enable women like me to wear multiple hats and not be penalised for it.
But there are also female leaders out there who embody masculine traits to get to and stand out in the boardroom. And who knows whether they would they have gotten as far as they have if they hadn't left some of their feminine traits at the door.
But what I do know is that we are not yet living in a world where every one of us - regardless of our gender, race, age, disability or circumstance - is treated as equal. The fundamentals of what make us who we are can still affect our career opportunities and path and how we are generally treated in life, and this simply must stop. Being a strong woman does not mean that we need to hide who we are on the inside, to conform to traditional stereotypes of what strength looks and feels like, it’s about being comfortable in our skin, confident in our skin and embracing our feminine characteristics. For we are women, friends, daughters, mothers, wives, partners, colleagues and above all equals.
With a huge thanks to Beyond the Stork for asking me to contibute this post as part of their STRONG series.