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Where is women’s leadership heading in 2020?


In the past decade, we’ve made huge strides in the field of women’s leadership. More women ran for public office in 2018 than ever before. #MeToo has helped take steps toward true and real equality. A recent McKinsey report (of 222 companies employing 12 million people) found that 90% of people consider it a priority to hire and retain women (almost double the findings in 2012).

However, there is so much more to do… 

The McKinsey report also found that nearly 50% of men think that when just one in 10 senior leaders in their company is a woman, that’s sufficient.

Most surprisingly, a third of women agreed.

(Women of color are still the most underrepresented group in corporate leadership, holding just 3% of C-suite roles.)

Art: Catrin Welz Stein

Still, I have huge hope for this coming year and the next decade and here’s why: Every day I am blessed to witness almost a new ‘species’ of woman emerging, and with her, new forms of leadership that can respond gracefully, powerfully and meaningfully to the complexities and paradoxes of our tumultuous times.

In this blog, I’m going to share the shifts I’ve witnessed in over three decades of leadership consultancy (where my – often secret – mission has been to steward the deep Feminine onto the planet and into partnership with the deep Masculine).

I was a leadership management consultant for over a decade in the 90s, back when there weren’t many women in senior leadership, nor many women consultants. It was a very exciting and dynamic time for me – I was guiding the beginning shift from command-and-control style of leadership in the big multinationals, to more flexible, nimble ways of leading.

I worked with a lot with executive teams, almost exclusively male.

I often felt like a bullfighter entering the ring! Especially when I worked in Paris, where the Latin culture created real challenges for any woman who chose to stand at the front of the room.

It usually took about an hour to convince the mostly male leadership teams that I was worth listening to, and that they were going to be okay surrendering to a woman guiding them. (And either way, I was going to be with them for three days, and they didn’t have much choice about that!).

But it took a lot from me to face full frontal toward that patriarchal hyper-masculine mindset.

Especially when it was often the few women executives who were attending my sessions who were the most resistant to what I was bringing.

They had worked so hard to be at that level. They had embodied very Masculine ways of leading to be successful and now here I was, saying that we needed to try something new; to truly collaborate with their teams, to empower people at every level of the business, to honor emotional and social intelligence.

All of a sudden the tables were being turned on them!

I could almost hear them thinking, “Are you kidding me?! After everything I have been through to get here you want me to give it up?!!

But then in the evenings, we would gather in quiet, discrete conversations over glasses of wine at the bar, and they would tell me what was really going on; both how difficult it was, and also their profound insights about how the executive leadership environment needed to change.

Back in the sessions, they would remain mute.

It was fascinating and deeply distrubing.

They were suffering. They wanted to change. The senior leaders were telling them they needed to change, and yet they were unable to shift out of these old, hyper-masculine ways of being.

There was a real problem, and no one seemed to be addressing it.

Around this time, I was in Bali, staying with my sister, and I went into a meditation which led to a two-day experience of sacred Feminine, embodied bliss. I was utterly immersed in love. And somewhere, during that time, an inquiry dropped in: Will you help to midwife the divine Feminine on earth?

There was no mental yes or no, as my discerning mind was offline. But every cell of my being said YES!”

Within a few months, I had left the consulting world, and began living into the answer to that profound question with my whole hearted commitment.

I opened a private coaching practice in Paris and it was full within a nanosecond – there were so many women who were up against the limits of the old hypermasculine worldview and saw no path ahead. But I was just figuring this out too, and worked hard to stay at least one step ahead of my clients. It became clear after a year that there was a deep need for what I doing, and that I needed to understand more about the psychology of women and how to unblock our innate potential. So I went back to graduate school and studied women’s development.

Almost all the studies of human development up until the work of Carol Gilligan at Harvard had been done using male subjects, and I saw that further investigation was required to understand women’s emergence out of a Masculine paradigm of wholeness. Women needed to be supported to make a shift that had never been seen before, and this had to come into the mainstream.

Eventually, I founded the Women’s Integral Leadership Circle, which became a university accredited program.

After 10 years of research, working with hundreds of women, I realized that we are truly at a new developmental threshold. Evolution, and the complexities of these times are requiring us to develop a new kind of consciousness to be a match for the challenges of today.

We are being asked, by life itself, to evolve.

Not just develop new competencies – but literally a more expanded worldview, new ways of being and doing that call on ALL of our Feminine and Masculine strengths.

And that’s when the word Mysterial was born. There wasn’t a word to describe what I was seeing awaken in the women I was working with who were doing the deep inner work to give birth to the next level of their potential.

Mysterial is a hybrid of the words mystery and medial.

It points to a new capacity to be with the mysterious, the emergent and the ambiguity of these times. And the medial capacity to bridge between polarites and find a middle way through challenges.

As we launch into this new decade I invite you into a thrilling journey with me, to awaken more of these innate, capacities within yourself that are just waiting to come online. 

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as a seed
goes to the next as a blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
~ Dawna Markova

I’m grateful and humbled to be walking with you on this epic adventure. Our lives and the thriving of our planet depend on it.

With love,
Suzanne

P.S. The Way of The Mysterial Woman; Upgrading the Way You Live, Love and Lead is available here

Filed Under: Women’s Leadership