The Mowgli Syndrome

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I’ve said it before,  I love men!

Sitting watching my sons cricket in a gaggle of dads reminds me of why: the banter; the camaraderie the fun; it’s so incredibly appealing! There’s a special kind of energy that a group of men bring.  Its tangible and exciting but at the same time completely isolating.

Most days I feel just like Mowgli the boy raised by wolves in the story of The Jungle Book.  Just like Mowgli I love being a mancub, I love being part of this tribe, being part of the energy and being part of this male domain.  I love so much about working in a competitive and dynamic environment: the challenge, the growth, the banter.  Except that I’m not a mancub!  And just like Mowgli, I long to be somewhere that I really belong, a place where I can feel that I’m a real member of the tribe, where I can be more me, more girly, more female.

Sitting there on those ridiculously uncomfortable cricket stands, I realize that part of what hampers us as working women is exactly that yearning. We want to be part of the tribe, we want to run with the wolves, to experience the excitement – but we want to be able to do it our way. It’s not about embracing their maleness, it’s all about remembering our “womenness”.

This is the challenge we face. How do we create a work environment that allows women to run side by side with the wolves and to be part of the pack, but also allows them to embrace who they really are.

We know that diverse work-forces are more successful, the concept doesn’t need much more explanation.  We know that women in teams bring advantages outside of their professional skills: studies have shown women to be more collaborative, more inclusive, more generous, more flexible and more empathetic. It’s these advantages we need to strengthen our businesses.  Question is how do we make women stay? And more importantly, how do we ensure that in their desire to be mancubs, they don’t forget the value of being a woman?

In banking and I’m guessing in most other predominantly male industries, we start off well.  Women make up at least half of our intake at a junior level, and women perform exceptionally well right up until junior leadership level. And then something goes wrong, women leave – either physically leave or they take a great big step back, so when we stop and look around the boardroom table, the number of women in leadership is sadly lacking.

There are loads of hypotheses as to why this happens: our programming from childhood, our cultural bias, our genetic blueprint or is it simply all that guilt?

It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.  Amy Poeler

Amy, I think you may have hit the mancub on the head! All that guilt.  We feel guilty that we aren’t working hard enough, guilty that we aren’t the perfect mother, that we don’t exercise enough, that we aren’t perfect wives, that our homes aren’t tidy enough…And so we make a choice: either we abandon our ambition to tackle the guilt and in the process lose a piece of ourselves; or we convince ourselves to toughen up and put our work first and in the process lose the other piece of ourselves.  Neither option is good for businesses!

We need to start telling women the truth…we need you in our workplaces.  We need your skills and we need your “womenness”.  We need to make the workplace appealing to both men and women.  That means nurturing her inherent desire to add value to her team, whilst at the same time allowing her to practice her craft her way.  That’s going to feel uncomfortable.

Her way may mean flexible working hours or extended periods of time out without penalizing her for “lack of commitment” .  It may mean embracing female behavior, accepting the different emotional response that women have (no she’s not bossy, and no she’s not a crazy b#$@ – women just respond differently in pressure situations to men).  It may mean recognizing that working moms are as capable as working dads but that they need a whole lot more encouragement for them to believe it. It will absolutely mean making some changes.

We all need women in leadership, let’s start having these conversations and let’s start bringing the village closer to the tribe.