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Women in Leadership Summit
Brussels Conference Offers a Glimpse of the Future
By Mary van der Boon
(this article first appeared in the XPat Journal)

Leadership competencies, the glass ceiling, work-life balance and the new economy were the central themes of this fascinating conference held November 6 – 9, 2000 in Brussels. Opened by the inspirational Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minster of Pakistan (and the first and youngest woman ever to be elected to lead an Islamic nation), the conference focused on issues of particular interest and concern to women in international management.

Five Important Messages
Dorothy Cantor, former president of the American Psychological Association and author of Women in Power, the Secrets of Leadership (1992), outlined the findings of her ground-breaking research into why men were more often to be found in leadership positions. Based on interviews with prominent American women leaders, Cantor and her co-author, Toni Bernay, identified the following five important messages that were far more likely to be given to male children than to females:
o You are loved and special
o You can do whatever you want
o It’s OK to take risks
o You can use and enjoy your Creative Aggression
o You are entitled to dream of greatness

Developing Your Leadership Capacities
What to do if you didn’t receive this kind of encouragement as a child? Dr. Cantor gave the following solid advice for women wishing to develop their own leadership capabilities:
  • Take in positive messages about yourself: really listen when people compliment you. Choose carefully the people you surround yourself with. Treat yourself, love yourself, and make yourself feel good
  • Be clear about what you want: ask yourself why you want it. Don’t be afraid of losing love if you fail. Picture yourself succeeding, and prove to yourself you can do it
  • Set small risk goals: make them reasonable. The only goal you need is to tell yourself "I will succeed if I try". Communicate your goal to others, and dare to take the risk. Don’t wait to be invited.
  • Give yourself permission to be more aggressive. Change your definition of yourself if you have to. Go from passive to dynamic.
  • Seek role models. Look to women leaders, and remember: greatness is a relative term. You are entitled to set goals for yourself, and you are entitled to succeed.

Dr. Cantor’s last word of advice for women who seek to lead: leadership isn’t easy – it requires stamina and endurance. If you want success to fall in your lap, you have to put your lap there.

Unprecedented Opportunities for Women
The discussion of leadership competencies for the new economy, and the role of women in technology, provided a tantalising look into the future. The talents, experiences, attitudes and skills that women are bringing to the public sphere are precisely those needed in the evolving post-industrial economy, according to Sally Helgesen, best-selling author of The Female Advantage: Women’s Ways of Leadership (Doubleday, 1995). Helgesen feels that this confluence of abilities and required leadership capacities is creating unprecedented opportunities for women to play a vital role in leading transformational change in organisations and communities.

New Leadership
As more women enter politics and the world shifts to a truly global economy, new kinds of leadership are required. Women’s focus on relationships, comfort with direct communication and diversity, refusal to compartmentalise skills, talents and lives, innate scepticism of hierarchy and, most importantly, desire to lead from the middle, not from the top, are all key attributes required by tomorrow’s leaders. Today’s lean organisations require high morale, and increasing consumer choice means a real understanding of customers’ needs is essential.

Major Trends
What are the major trends that will influence both the definition and fulfilment of leadership roles? First, the breakdown of traditional barriers that define corporate life: those between work and home; public and private; men and women; and employer and employee. The advent of the computer means for the first time men and women are using the same tool in their work, providing a common language, and levelling the playing field.

Suiting Our Lifestyles
This integration brings the issue of balance to the forefront. The traditional view of one partner as breadwinner, the other as home caregiver, has blurred and blended, bringing about real change. The trend toward customisation in every aspect of our lives means people will continue to find ways to make their choices suit their lifestyles, and not vice versa. The way we work and our view of retirement will see great change, also resulting in increased opportunities for women. Learning will be fully integrated into one’s work and life, not compartmentalised as it has been in the past.

Five ‘New Truths’
How do we achieve real work:life balance? Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz, author of The Confident Woman: Learn the Rules of the Game (January, 2000, Crown/Random House) says the essential tool for women is self-confidence. She defined real self-confidence as having a clear and distinct sense of self, having the competence to deal effectively with a broad array of people and circumstances, and trusting that you can, do and will take good care of yourself. Under the heading, "We Can Change Forever What it Means to be a Woman", Shaevitz offered five New Truths to profoundly take control of your own life and achieve balance:

  1. Embrace the concept of free will – what you think, feel and want are at least as important as what other people think, feel and want.
  2. Take personal responsibility for your own life – what’s important is what you do with what you have been given, not what you have not been given.
  3. Be honestly and fully your own self – appreciate who you are, know what you want, allow positive thoughts to guide your actions and be attuned to your own feelings.
  4. Be the happiest, healthiest person you are capable of being – this means redefining health as being an on-going process of self-discovery, in which you exercise positive choices, integrate your physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being, and live life to its fullest so that you can have a positive influence on the world.
  5. You are more than your physical body, and certainly much, much more than the pounds you weigh – you want to pay enough attention to your physical body and appearance so that you can forget about yourself. Weight is part of one’s life. It is not one’s life.

The definitive word on why women should not shirk leadership roles came from the dynamic Julie Meyer, founder of First Tuesday and one of the most successful women on Europe’s dotcom scene. She quoted Nelson Mandela, from A Long Walk to Freedom:

"It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us
We ask ourselves ‘who am I to be brilliant, talented and fabulous’?
Actually, who are we not to be?"

The conference was organised by Linkage International. Each year Linkage International hosts a series of acclaimed management, leadership development and human resources conferences in Brussels, London and Amsterdam. For more details contact Anne E. Heaton, Director, a.heaton@linkage-int.com