Now what?

Next up on your ‘to do’ list: Lead like a woman

For the longest time, women were told that if they want to succeed in the world, they needed to lead like a man. Not any more

Maureen Chiquet, formerly the long-term global chief executive at Chanel, at her home in Purchase, N.Y., April 5, 2017. (Nathan Bajar/The New York Times)

The one question that kept on echoing through my head after the inspiring Women’s March that took place in 673 cities and in 60 countries back in January is: “Now what?” I thought the question was related to one call to action, so I didn’t know what the answer was. The women’s march stood for many values, from reproductive rights to racial equality and freedom of religion. It didn’t call for one specific action — other than women marching together.

But during my recent travels throughout the U.S., from New York to Arizona, I realized there is indeed an emergence of a new and powerful voice by women, for women in all sectors and that it is to lead like a woman. Leading like a woman entails owning your voice, showing your emotions and not apologizing for it, using your instincts and not only your brain, and creating your own path rather than waiting for established sectors by men to accept you. But most importantly is to do it all with love.

My awareness of this new call started with a gathering at the Revolutionary Love: Distributive Ethics to Dismantle Racism conference in New York City organized by Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis. In describing the gathering, Reverend Lewis said, “We know we need a revolution of heart, of values, of ethics. We know that the human family can rise together and end violence and oppression; together we can make sure everyone has enough, that children are safe, that older people are cared for, that women’s rights are protected, that all lives do matter because Black Lives Matter; that we honor the ways we name God and the ways we don’t and acknowledge that love is love is love.”

Now, one may expect that type of message from charismatic religious leaders like Reverend Lewis or inspirational writers like Elizabeth Gilbert and Glennon Doyle Melton, who at a recent gathering in Phoenix opened up about their personal journeys to freedom and discussing marriages, love, children, families, and communities.  What is different now is that they are being joined by more strong female voices — religious women, activists and businesswomen.

In her new and first book, Beyond the Label: Women, leadership and Success on our Own Term, Maureen Chiquet, former CEO of Chanel, talks about vulnerabilities, feminine quality of leaderships, and following the heart’s desire for creativity. Chiquet is not a new voice in business as she was one of four percent of women who have succeeded in reaching the top of a Fortune 500 company. But she has emerged as a fresh voice for women and is sharing authentic, behind-the-scenes stories of her rise, challenges she’s encountered in the business world and the lessons she’s learned from her journey.

For the longest time, women were told that if they want to succeed in the world, they need to lead like a man. Not any more. The few women who have made it in the men’s world are coming out and correcting that hypothesis.

In Beyond the Label, Chiquet discusses her passions, her shadows, her vulnerabilities, and her belief in a different way of cultivating leadership that balances between feminine and masculine values. If success in the business world is all about perfection, Chiquet’s book is about embracing the imperfection and celebrating what it can add in authenticity.

When asked what her core message is today for women in all walks of life, Chiquet told me, “We live in a world of labels — definitions of who we are or who we should be. These labels often come with a host expectations foisted upon us or that we adopt ourselves. For women, these labels can be particularly constricting at times, making us feel one-dimensional or reduced to a ‘model’ instead of who we are or want to be. Embracing our own individual version of being a ‘woman’ by continually asking ourselves what we value — beyond the label, title or definition, where we can bring our greatest value or make our own mark, and whether we are in situations that allow us to do so, can enable us to create more successful and satisfying paths.”

Chiquet is not alone in her call. Sheryl Sandberg — a mega-businesswoman who has bridged the gap between the business world and the women’s rights cause as the COO of Facebook, and as the author of Lean In. Her first book has sold millions of copies on the strength of its appeal to women to lean in at at work and ask for what they want.

If Lean In was about the possibilities of having it all, her new book Option B, is more about being in tune with the vulnerability and pain in their lives, and exploring life from the point of imperfections. If there is one word to describe Option B, it is: vulnerable.  When one of the top businesswomen in America bears her vulnerability for all to see, she paves the way and inspires other women to express their vulnerabilitiesand deal with that in the best way possible. If vulnerability has always been hidden for a successful woman in the past, Sandberg is making it visible, real and part of the journey of living one’s life in its ups and downs.

Indeed there may not be a singular call for action after the women’s march, but there is a unique tone for the actions that come in its wake — and the tone is all about leading like a full woman in all of our emotions and our wits. And always do it with love.

Zainab Salbi is an author and media commentator and the founder of Women for Women International — a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving women survivors of war. Salbi is an editor at large for Women in the World, reporting on the intersection of Middle Eastern and Western cultures. For more information on Salbi’s work visit www.zainabsalbi.com.

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