In 2018 I had the honour of being invited to join forces with award-winning CEO Marnie LeFevre as one of her coaches in the Secret Women’s Business Academy. The Academy’s vision has been to support females to become successful business women and entrepreneurs. The success rate for women in business is markedly lower than for men (ref 1), and Marnie is on a mission to change that. The opportunity felt like a perfect fit for me since I’ve always been passionate about helping women succeed professionally.
The Academy’s vision has now evolved to include a stronger emphasis on feminine leadership. As a consequence, the Secret Women’s Business Academy is now undergoing a rebrand to become Fempire. And as part of that re-brand, I am now a Fempire Coach. Our mission is “To inspire feminine leadership”. The tagline is:
The Future is Female.
And if that tagline triggers a reaction in you, it’s meant to. Marnie is a disrupter and she knows that in order to disrupt the status quo and create positive change, you need to ruffle feathers. We need to have difficult conversations. The tagline was inspired in part by the Dalai Lama’s famous words that he spoke at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit:
“The world will be saved by the western woman.”
– the Dalai Lama
He made this comment while he was sitting on stage with some pretty powerful women including Nobel Peace Prize winners Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams and former Irish President Mary Robinson. When asked what he meant by his statement, he followed up with: “We need more effort to promote basic human values — human compassion, human affection. And in that respect, females have more sensitivity for others’ pain and suffering.” (ref 2). Compassion, understanding, and kindness, he says, are the antidote to the world’s most pressing problems, and those qualities are more fully brought to the table by women. He also inferred that western women are in a position of privilege that gives them the opportunity and power to create this much needed opening and balancing of masculine and feminine roles worldwide.
In other words, it’s up to women to step up and claim their power to create the change that’s needed.
As a Fempire Coach, I now spend my days helping women to succeed in business and become successful leaders. But focusing my professional efforts on supporting women is not something I ever imagined myself doing. I’m passionate about feminine leadership, that’s for sure. One of my proudest achievements was winning the Women in Engineering Leadership Award in 2009 for supporting women to succeed in engineering leadership roles.
But gender isn’t something I’ve ever consciously attached a lot of significance to because I believe that men and women are equally competent and necessary in the workplace (I write all about that in another article here). And while I’m passionate about empowering women, I also feel equally passionate about empowering men, children, and in fact any human being to express their full potential.
And so I’ve had to go through my own internal processes of reflection and justification for why I’m now taking a powerful stand for feminine leadership by stepping into the Fempire brand. To be successful in my role, I need to resonate with the Fempire vision in my bones. And one of the most important questions I get asked by my male friends and colleagues is:
“With all this female empowerment, what’s happening to the men?”
So here are my thoughts.
Firstly, let’s define what we mean by an ‘empowered female’ is. I love Oliver Chapman’s definition:
“An empowered woman takes responsibility for her life, makes her own rules, honours herself, lives by her inner compass, values her passions, chooses empowering relationships, takes a stand, … she is courageous, empowers other women and owns her pleasure….
In this way, then, a fully-empowered woman can empower men to rise above the stereotypes of the past to become the fully-confident man he has always wanted to be and to share that confident life with her. And if all men embraced this, this world would be better off for it.”
So according to Chapman, confident women inspire men to be the best version of themselves too. The question, as Chapman points out in his article, is whether this kind of female is threatening or should be welcomed. At Fempire, of course, we would argue for the latter. But it’s understandable that many men might feel threatened as we move from the old paradigm in which the role of men has traditionally been to act as protectors and providers, into a new era in which those roles might no longer necessary.
In this new era of confident, independent women, what is the new identity for men, exactly? This is the question that many men find unsettling in the whole ‘female empowerment’ movement. And it’s understandable.
We Empower Women Through Empowering Men
Firstly, we won’t get anywhere with empowering women unless we empower men too. We are clear in our vision for Fempire: We are not a men-hating brand. Quite the opposite. We love the men in our lives; most of us at Fempire have husbands, sons, and/or fathers who we adore and cherish. And we know that our empowerment has positive flow-on effects to the men and children in our lives. Our mission is to create even more loving relationships through the work we do, for ourselves and for the thousands of women we impact.
In this era of female empowerment, we can’t forget men.
Most gender equality initiatives continue to focus on women, understandably. But a society of empowered women requires men to feel secure and empowered too. Maria Correira sums this up beautifully in her article Let’s Empower Women by Empowering Men. She says “It is not enough to enlighten and empower women and expect men to follow.” As she rightly points out, men are critically judged and assessed in our current cultural norms, based on our ideals of manhood. Terms like “man-up” suggest that being a man means exercising control over women, being tough, being strong, suppressing emotion. As Correira says, “It is also a challenge for women, who consciously or unconsciously often perpetuate these same social norms in the way they raise their sons or interact with men.”
As a mother of two young boys, I’m very conscious that my most important job is to raise boys who are kind, secure, and confident, who are comfortable with strong, confident women – and who respect and appreciate all women.
The gateway to positive relationships and empowered men, I believe, is to teach them how to be comfortable with their emotions, to be able to cry and feel, and to be able to express themselves and their needs respectfully. There needs to be a focus on helping men to move beyond traditional expectations of being a protector and a provider, and to see themselves rather as allies and equals with their female counterparts.
Female Empowerment is Good for Families
Women who feel fulfilled and happy enjoy better quality relationships at home. I know from my own personal experience that getting back into the workforce after having children was a huge positive move for my husband and I. I was happy to take time out from my career to raise our young children. However, there came a time when I was desperate to reclaim my own identity outside my role as wife and mother. My husband knew how miserable I had become. I was feeling disempowered and resentful and those negative feelings flowed onto him and the kids. He’s so much happier – we are so much happier as a couple and family – now that I’m thriving professionally and feeling happy and fulfilled again. Not to mention the relief my husband feels in not having to be the sole financial ‘provider’ anymore – that’s a heavy burden for men to carry.
There have been many times when I’ve had to go away for work and my husband has had to step up and take over full responsibility for all the domestic duties. And it’s been great for us. He’s gained a greater appreciation for everything I do, and I come back happier and energised because I’ve had some time to focus on myself and my work. My work trips have become a great tonic for our relationship as a family. We’ve all learned to appreciate each other more.
Female Empowerment is Good for the Economy
And it’s not just at the personal level that the positive effects of female empowerment can be felt – they’ve also been clearly measured at the community and global level. As Sean Illing succinctly says in his article Want Less Poverty in the World? Empower Women: “The single greatest antidote to poverty and social stagnation is the emancipation of women.”
In his article 5 Ways Men Benefit From Women’s Empowerment, William Petrocelli says:
“Women’s empowerment benefits us all, because it’s important for the economy. Countries that have opened up education to women and brought them into the workforce do much better economically than countries that keep women suppressed. It’s no surprise that countries that suppress women and deprive them of an education are more economically backwards than others, because leaving one-half of your population uneducated means that you created have a drastically inferior workforce.”
In their book entitled Equality for Women = Prosperity for All: The Disastrous Global Crisis of Gender Inequality, Lopez-Carlos and Nakhjavani (2018) describe the findings from research across 189 different countries worldwide. Their research showed how gender inequalities – a across education, income, law, employment, and wages – lead to instability and chaos at almost every level of society. Whereas in countries where females constitute an almost equal percentage of the workforce, the economy and the culture have been radically improved.
And here are some other important benefits that result from gender equality (ref 3).
- Research shows that gender-equal teams make better decisions and are more effective.
- Research shows that businesses with gender-equal, diverse boards and senior management are more profitable.
- Research shows that when men have access to, and take, parental leave, both workplaces and families reap the rewards.
Do we need any more compelling justification for gender equality across the board?
So what is the new role for men in this emerging era of ‘empowered’ women?
As we shift away from traditional masculine and feminine roles that have allowed us to evolve and survive as a species until now, we now have the opportunity to embrace a new way of relating as men and women which is based on seeing each other as allies and partners. We have the opportunity to truly see other as equals, while also embracing, appreciating, and honouring the vastly different yet essential qualities that both males and females bring to the table. Both masculine and feminine qualities need to be equally valued and necessary. Empowered women are here to support and strengthen the men, not compete and threaten them.
To calm the minds of those men who might feel threatened by the emerging empowered women, Sandra Sully has a great way of putting it:
“This is not a race where women are running against men. We are not competing. This is not a battle. We are not enemies. Gender equality benefits us all.” – Sandra Sully
And as Hugo Schwyer says beautifully in his article Does Empowering Women Really Make Men Less ‘Relevant’?:
“[Feminism] offers [men] an opportunity to be intimate allies with their female partners, to forge relationships based on more than duty and dependency. It gives men a chance to be loved for the wholeness of who we are, rather than solely for what we can provide.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
And given all of the above, I now feel sufficiently justified in taking a powerful stand for feminine leadership in everything I do, and first and foremost in my role as a Fempire Coach. Bring it on.