It seems like all over the world, everywhere I listen these days, there are amazing conversations going on about women, leadership, and power. The dialogue is validating the instincts of so many, who believe that women can “do power differently,” and that the success of our collective future lies in cultivating women leaders and embracing a more feminine-centered approach to power.
These conversations are happening in a big way at the Omega Institute, which this weekend will launch its Women’s Leadership Center with the Women & Power: What’s Possible Conference at the institute’s Rhinebeck campus. The thinking is that women leaders (not all, but most) tend to foster collaborative and innovative approaches to problem solving, and are more oriented toward goals of fairness, justice, ecological balance, and a more peaceful world. The new Center at Omega hopes not only to foment these conversations through conferences, retreats, immersion programs, and experiential learning, but also to help connect, unify, and amplify the various threads of conversation as never before. Of the events this weekend, the Omega team says:
“The conference is an exploration and celebration of what is possible when women trust their inventiveness to solve some of humanity’s most pressing problems. In keynotes, panels, conversations, and breakout workshops, we hear from women who are using their power and passion to make real change. Prepare to be inspired to make a difference in your own corner of the world.”
Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of both Omega and the Women’s Leadership Center shared that this idea that women “can do power differently” has begun to take hold in a profound way, thanks to openings created by the Women’s Movement, which helped women achieve leadership roles across many sectors of society. The idea is now “backed up with empirical evidence in studies everywhere, from brain science to business,” Lesser said.
Carla Goldstein, another co-founder of Omega’s new Women’s Leadership Center and author of a fabulous series on the topic of spiritual activism, spoke of the opportunity and the challenge this way:
“Now, more than ever, we are becoming a global society with a shared responsibility to use our power for the greater good. Innovative and courageous women from all walks of life, and all corners of the globe, are working together to create conditions of equality, security, sustainability, and justice for everybody. We are proud to be launching the Omega Women’s Leadership Center at a time when new models of leadership are needed to create a fundamental shift in human consciousness from ‘us against them’ to ‘all of us.’“
It was great to hear Goldstein speak of reframing the ‘us against them’ story, as this has been top of mind for me lately as well. (See As God is My Witness & Buddha is My Publicist for more on that.) I think all of us walking a path of spiritual activism would benefit from a chance to explore how best to harness our personal power, learn to lead in a feminine-inspired way, and tell new stories in our work for the benefit of humankind.
Such conversations are also underway in the media being curated for Women and Girls Lead, an extraordinary public media initiative by ITVS (Independent Television Service). As a recent alum of their Board of Directors, I feel great gratitude for their commitment to weaving threads of these global conversations. Through media, a deeper exploration of women, power, and leadership is making its way to PBS shows like Independent Lens, Frontline, American Masters, and Global Voices. ITVS also collaborated with the United States Institute of Peace on a dialogue about the role of Media as a Global Diplomat, and itself is a living laboratory of the potential of women and power, as it thrives under the stunning leadership of Sally Jo Fifer.
When I begin to integrate these conversations in my mind, I think, of course, of the transformative thinking on the topic of power from author and ‘magical activist’ Starhawk, who talks about three kinds of power: power over, power with, and power-from-within:
"Power-over is linked to domination and control; power-from-within is linked to the mysteries that awaken our deepest abilities and potential. Power-with is social power, the influence we wield among equals.
Power-over shapes every institution of our society. This power is wielded in the workplace, in the schools, in the courts, in the doctor's office. It may rule with weapons that are physical or by controlling the resources we need to live: money, food, medical care; or by controlling more subtle resources: information, approval, love. We are so accustomed to power-over, so steeped in its language and its implicit threats, that we often become aware of its functioning only when we see its extreme manifestations.
But power-from-within is also akin to something deeper. It arises from our sense of connection, our bonding with other human beings, and with the environment."
Events of the past few weeks, from renewed violence in the middle east to the political conventions here at home remind us that a transition from a world of ‘power over’ to a world of ‘power with’ and ‘power-from-within’ can’t come soon enough. And as we mark the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, I am struck by conversations there which forced to the fore the distinction between being a leader in the ‘power over’ kind of way, and displaying leadership qualities, like taking responsibility and contributing positively (but not oppressively) to one’s community. Matthew Smucker and Rebecca Solnit both speak eloquently about what Occupy has helped many to understand about power and leadership, our own and that of the status quo.
I am grateful for these conversations, which I believe will reshape leadership and power not just for women and girls, but for all of us. I also believe that if we approach the next steps gracefully, this dialogue will bring humanity closer together—not drive us further apart along gender lines. I feel compelled to note that personally I believe the binary gender dynamic is part of the problem, and my guess is that these conversations will lead us beyond its cumbersome rigidity to another way altogether.
I’m one for the idea that regardless of gender, we all hold the capacity for masculine and feminine qualities and that we all can ‘do power differently’. And the time is now. The vast majority of us agree that we want a more peaceful, just and equitable world. It’s time for all of us to step into our own power. And it is time for all the power holders, women and men alike, to innovate new approaches to leading that will take our world forward in a healing and positive direction.
Keep an ear to the ground, and listen for it. It’s my hope that these groundbreaking and urgent conversations will find their way to your ears, and then, as they say, from your mouth to the Divine’s ears.