A darker shade of grey

Posted on 24/09/2010


Every time I look at any list of the CEOs of the top companies I see more women on that list than most. Yes I can count like some can – yes we all see 5 or 6 female CEOs out of a list of 50 for example. However I still see more women on that list than most.

Here’s why:  Many weeks ago now I was discussing this very issue with a few friends. One of the ladies proceeded to label me a ‘male feminist’ – a first for me to be honest. I laughed out loud. Not at her or her comment but rather at myself. You see I don’t really know what a feminist is in real terms these days let alone the ‘male’ version. I am so confused by the multitude of images we are constantly bombarded with that, I can’t honestly identify anyone who stands out as a clear example of what a feminist stands for these days. Truestory. I asked others for their working definition in my typical attempt to gain more knowledge about this pertinent issue and I received a variety of non-related answers and a colourful array personalities. For the purposes of writing this scribe, I leave this ‘how to define a feminist’ and subsequent examples for another day – another scribe perhaps.

The discussion on that day revolved around women in leadership roles. My argument related to the term ‘leadership’ and society’s constant focus of particular individuals on that list. Maybe it’s just me, but I am more interested in the stories about women like Sally Mugabe and what her thoughts were regarding Zimbabwe’s Independence, Gukurahundi in Matabeleland and the 1987 Unity accord for example. I am interested in what Winnie did for the liberation struggle in South Africa than what Madiba did whilst in prison. Indeed I am more interested in the role that women play in liberation struggles and revolutions in general.  I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for a Mother to let her children go to war for a cause She clearly supports and yet allow Her own to leave to join that same struggle. I can only imagine the anguish. I am more interested in how Cherrie Blair and Laura Bush felt about going to war in Iraq not so long ago. I fear that this story is seldom told. Indeed this story must be documented and shared! I will admit that my mother and my sister play a crucial role in the way I feel about this particular issue. So it should not come as a surprise when I state that I see more women on that list of 50 top CEOs than most. This life we lead promotes us to see things in black and white most times. Maybe it’s just me but I see more shades of grey than most.

Many times we hear stories of leaders in various roles go home after a day of difficult negotiations with trade unions, employees, tax departments and so forth. Clearly there’s a problem that requires immediate attention. Pillow talk inspired moments perhaps or intimate dinner conversation and a remedy is found. That story is seldom told. Instead most see the man turn up for work the following day with a solution. Crisis over and we move on! Yet few acknowledge the source or the inspiration of the remedy. I was in Zimbabwe in June this year. I was lucky enough to attend a few business events during that period. I noticed one common thread with all the speakers. The various male speakers who thanked their wives first for the support they provided in the home but more importantly in their careers. Each time this happened I smiled from within. I ask why we don’t acknowledge her leadership role in the same way we acknowledge the other 5 or 6 CEOs I mentioned earlier. How come?

So this time, I turned to my old MBA text books. I recall reading a section on leadership with particular reference to the differences in the various types of leadership styles and so forth. In short, there are leaders that are appointed and those who aren’t. The latter can in some cases have greater influence than the former. I grew up seeing Dad tackling the corporate world head on whilst Mum worked tirelessly in the accounting practice she ran. I witnessed leadership in the home I grew up in a variety of roles. If I wanted emotional support then Mum was the parent I turned to – even to this day I still do this. If I wanted career advice I spoke to Dad. Mum was always and still is supportive of most ideas I have as long as I am happy. Even though I understood the importance of financial security, I also understood that money wasn’t always the focal point then.

Don’t get me wrong here but if you have two employees: a male and a female are working side by side doing the exact same job – their salaries must therefore be the same. I write today to challenge or highlight that leadership comes in different forms and not in the black and white version we are now accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong, but I still want to see more women represented in various leadership roles on that list of 50 CEOs I mentioned earlier.

I read a tweet the other day that re-inforced my thoughts on women and the leadership roles they play in our daily lives: –

ideasforafrica 70% of farms in Africa are women run, which is why they are so important when developing agriculture. -M. Gates #CGI2010

This tweet relates to a conference held this week and M.Gates in none other than Melinda Gates herself.

What I have learnt about life so far is that not everyone is meant to be a CEO for example. Leadership exists in other forms too; clearly not in the black and white shade that most of us see. There is definitely more shades of grey than most want to admit.

Add this anywhere