Leading Like a Lady

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

Some women have a hard time answering that. 

And even when we find the courage to answer the question with “a queen!” or “a boss!”, it’s normal for us to expect violent attacks for that self-confidence.

There’s so much information out there showing that this is a self-defeating attitude, not just for women but for everyone. Study after study shows that if we’d get rid of gender norms that tell women to be timid or less ambitious, way more people would be safer and richer.

As I’m writing this, we’re experiencing the worst pandemic since 1918. And while tens of thousands of people are dying in some of the wealthiest countries in the world, far fewer are dying in the countries led by women

If we go back into the archives, this article by Newsweek talks about the added value of women to a group called “the Next Eleven” (countries on the rise).  The prediction was if they increased the number of women in the workforce back in 2010 (after the Great Recession) they would also increase the amount of money each household earned in the countries by at least 14 percent in 2020.

2020 is here, and if we look at just one of those countries (Nigeria), we see that ignoring that advice not only increased unemployment rates but kept per capita income (i.e. the income earned per person) from growing fast enough to stop the rate of poverty from growing.

“Act like a lady…”

So what’s the deal? Everyone wants to be rich, right? So why aren’t we heeding this advice? Why aren’t we empowering more women to lead?

Our way of life will never be the same once the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 is over. Lives and billions of dollars were lost carelessly. We have never been in a more collectively desperate situation across the whole world.

Yet, I can still feel a few vices hanging on & threatening to follow us into our post-COVID life. I can literally feel the misogyny in the air, choking me and refusing to let up.

It’s as if screwing over women is a natural “fight or flight” reaction when we’re in times like this. At the business level, I’ve seen men suddenly change their tone about promises they made to give more power and opportunities to women on their teams. At the political level, you see some of the most powerful men in the world (or maybe just one) blatantly insulting the intelligence of women working tirelessly to save people’s lives.

Despite all the evidence that says otherwise, women are automatically assumed to be weak and incompetent. Doing anything “like a girl” or a woman is still the worst insult you can hurl at a man. “Act like a lady” is the universal code for “you must have forgotten your place”, a warning to any woman trying too hard to prove that you can do anything a man can do. And a threat that you better not continue.

In the Harvard Business Review article “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?” Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic put it this way:

pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they are much smarter than women. Yet arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to leadership talent…

This tells me that acting like a lady really means being too humble. It could also mean not taking up the responsibility of being the true leaders our world needs to save itself from…itself. 

I know it can be difficult and dangerous to speak out against unfair gender norms. But at this point, when too much is on the line, we can’t leave the work of transforming the world to those without a clue on how to do it right.

See us as a threat or get on our level.

I know I’m scared, and can only imagine how scary it is for many women around the world. Thankfully, there are some women who’ve gone before me and took the risks needed to teach me how to start on this journey.

So for the next four to six weeks, my goal is to read a book every week and share the stories of those women. Summarize the lessons learned and talk about how I’m going to ACTUALLY put them in action. There’s no point in reading and learning if we don’t find the courage to claim our positions as the changemakers the world needs.

This isn’t just for women, though. If you’re a man reading this, listen in: there’s no point in ignoring the facts any longer. The only real threat to your power, your wealth, or frankly your life, is the arrogance that makes you think you can get away without bringing us along. 

I’m especially talking to the men in Africa, my motherland. As a Nigerian-American, I know too well the stress black women of the diaspora experience trying to figure out who they are personally and professionally. And I want all my black (African) men to realize that we’re better partners than servants. We’re not trying to take away your manhood by taking charge.

We don’t want to scare you from sharing your honest thoughts, either. What makes you nervous about a woman in a position of power? And how can we show you it’s not as scary as you think?

As I share my thoughts and summaries from the books I read, I absolutely need you to leave comments in the posts. This is a conversation, not a lecture. Dialogue is the way to stop seeing us as a threat and, instead, get on the same level of understanding.

Who do you want to see in the mirror?

Isolation is giving me an umpteenth time to ask and answer these questions. But truthfully, I’ve known the answers all along. 

The problem is that, even with the answers, the person in the mirror hasn’t changed. She’s still trembling from the hurt of past experiences, and not forging a path to rising to the position society needs her to take on. I’m 100% sure this is true for most women reading this.

More of us need to “act like a lady”, stepping up the quality of our character, integrity, and skills to finally live up to our potential. By the end of the series, we need a new definition of leading like a boss (lady).

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Toa Jibu

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