The Rise of the Feminine @ Work — Part One

There’s a process of Feminine re-integration underway in the culture and in the workplace that goes beyond quotas and #metoo. We can facilitate its progress by trusting what feels foreign but also deeply familiar. In this 3-part series, we look at how.

Making a new friend at an empathy workshop at a corporate HQ in Toronto

One of my mentors says, “the problem with most change management initiatives is that we’re trying to change things.” The commentary is on the nature of control and our obsession with it. Change happens anyway. Impermanence is the nature of reality. The only thing we can control is our response.


After almost a decade of working within corporate systems to teach practices related to feminine modalities (such as: deep listening, authentic relating, empathy and belonging, spaciousness and natural cycles, justice, intuition, and spontaneity), I’m convinced that the biggest problem we have in our efforts to achieve a new form of commerce that is not extractive, but regenerative; not win-lose, but omni-win; not competitive, but collaborative; not Game A, but Game B, is our lack of familiarity with and trust in the power of The Feminine.


If “The Feminine” is one thing (and it most certainly is not), it is ineffable; meaning it cannot be expressed in words. So primordial, so essential, so fundamental, so all-encompassing, it can only be pointed to conceptually or experienced directly. It is Mother, Maiden, Crone. It is Nature. It is Yin. Cultures throughout time have had ways of naming and honoring this force — goddesses and landmarks embody aspects of Her — and individual humans have found Her in the processes of life that come with and through the body: birth, living, relating, loving, hurting, healing, and death.


The Feminine is beyond gender and culturally-conditioned notions of sex and identity…and yet, also integral to these constructs. It is not accidental that in the suppression of The Feminine for thousands of years, it has been women and effeminate people who have been impacted most egregiously. That doesn’t mean that men and masculine people haven’t suffered as a result. They have. We all have.


Disney’s Moana can be seen as a parable for the environmental crisis. This hero’s journey ends with the restoration of the goddess Te Fiti to her splendor; ushering in a new Golden Age.

What I’d love to see is a more widespread recognition that an integration of The Feminine, whether at work, in the broader culture, or (first and foremost) in ourselves is not something to be “done” or added to the “to do list.” It’s a healing process; a subtle process of inquiry and a liberation of what is already intrinsic. A complete integration of The Feminine and re-embrace of the healthy Masculine will ultimately impact everything we do and who we are…at the deepest levels of self and society. If you find yourself both excited and anxious about whether and how we can handle this transition (*rebalancing), you’re probably awake to the scale of it.


Time and again, I find sincere individuals in the workplace with a conceptual idea of how things could or should be different, but the change that needs to happen is non-conceptual. The Feminine is our guide into the non-conceptual, direct perception, sensing-knowing, that is the true arbiter of experience for beings on this planet. The way birthing a baby is not conceptual, so is birthing a new world. Both require the innate ability to move between active and passive modalities as the moment demands (push, rest, push, rest). And a surrender to whatever it is that is making those demands.


What’s profound within a living, autopoietic system — whether a single human body, a relationship dynamic, or the pathways of exchange within an organization — is that we can surrender to what wants to happen; knowing there is an intelligence beyond us at work. We can serve as agents of change by knowing and playing our role. This is what a self-organizing system relies on. We do this when we sense where the movement is and instead of resisting it, ignoring it, or pushing in another direction, we flow with it. Like water. Like The Feminine.


But, saying is easier than doing. What it actually takes to “go with the [natural] flow” within a system like the corporate world is:


> the sensitivity to know what truly wants to happen/where the current is flowing;


> the patience to find or wait for the flow instead of forcing it when it seems to have ceased or is at rest;


> the courage, conviction, or craziness to “go counterculture” towards life in a system designed to grow like a cancer towards death.


In the workplace, the conversation often gets reduced to one of quotas and equal pay: more women on Boards, more female CEOs. Don’t get me wrong…this is a very important aspect of integrated culture, but it’s not the whole picture. If we leave the conversation here, we miss the REAL WORK that is required to truly change things at the root level and for good.


I love working within the business world as it offers a tidy microcosm of the good, the bad, and the ugly of human organization at this time in our collective evolution. I also believe the corporate world is one of the most promising levers for change we have on the planet. It’s where the most damage has been wrought (it has been overwhelmingly destructive…like a cancer…growing without regard for limits, insensitive to everything but profit), and where the most rapid transition could happen if there was a concerted effort in the right direction. Nowhere else in the modern age do large groups of individual human beings find ways to organize, govern, create, distribute, and grow with such efficiency and ease. Most of our brute power and capital is wrapped up in these behemoths. We can point to Nations, possibly, but many of our corporations are larger and more effective than our Nations.


Certainly it feels like we’ve come to an inflection point. My friend, the existential risk expert, Daniel Schmachtenberger, sums it up with this prescient and succinct quote: “If we are gaining the power of gods, then without the love and wisdom of gods, we self-destruct.” Many perspectives, talents, and miracles will be necessary to get us through this moment in human history. The Feminine is one of many lenses we can and must look through.


Mahishasura was the most odious and destructive demon the gods had ever seen. He had been granted a boon that he could be killed by no man or god. He threatened to rule both heaven and earth. In desperation, the gods found a loophole: he could be killed by no man or god, but nothing was said about a goddess. Lakshmi, Parvati, and Saraswati merged to create the multi-faceted, all-powerful Durga. She represents everything the world needs to defeat evil. Durga defeated the demon and restored balance to the heavens and earth.

As The Feminine rises in the world — Oh, and that is not to say without resistance. Still She rises!—it is either going to take root in the corporate world and facilitate a sea change, or it won’t and we won’t make it. Or at least, our commercial systems won’t make it. Which means life on earth is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly for many people. Can this be avoided? It remains to be seen. I feel optimistic when I see all of the good people working within the system awakening; and all of the good people working to reimagine business practices for a new generation of workers (Millennial and younger) who are inherently more in touch with The Feminine by virtue of having been born into a more integrated (not yet fully-integrated, but at least more integrated) time. There is no question that our collective values around work are now more inclusive of Feminine modes and peoples than they have ever been. But values are still different from practices in most businesses.


Before I get into the specifics of what it will take to truly make space for the emergence and rooting of The Feminine in the corporate world (Part Two), I want to illuminate the places where I already see Her hard at work on the culture at large. This can help us see the big picture and understand the context in which we work when we work within a smaller system.


Of course, there is no simple recipe (or any recipe at all, really) for the kind of culture change we’re needing now, but for the purposes of clarity and digestion, I have organized them into tectonic shifts that once recognized, can hopefully be encouraged and served by those of us who believe this change is essential to our survival on the planet. I’ve used the most simple heuristic: If /then…They are, of course, all interconnected and inter-dependent.


If we can re-establish a fundamental sense of safety in ourselves and our communities, then we can eliminate the fight or flight response embedded in our collective nervous structure, become un-numb to the situation we find ourselves in, see reality as it is, and lean into our interdependence on each other and this planet.


If we can surface our trauma — personal and collective — to uncover long-held wounds, faulty conditioning, and unconscious patterns, then we can heal the substrate, create freedom of choice, liberate stuck energies and be less reactive.


If we can take back our imagination from the draining and toxic effects of a deadened culture, the tyranny of addictive technology, and a media landscape governed by commercial interests, then we can put the head in service to the heart, create new worlds, and define “the view” so we know where we’re headed if not exactly how to get there.


If we can trust a wisdom that is bigger than any one of us individually and release the reigns, then we can witness the “magic” of life in the process of evolution, come back into right relationship with what is sacred, restore humility to humanity, and begin to receive with grace the future that is already unfolding.


If we can uncouple the primordial Feminine and Masculine from gender constructs and roles, then we can encourage a broader acceptance of and understanding of these energies within all sentient beings and the collective. We can find integration within ourselves…healing the harmful dynamics we carry as a result of being born into a heteronormative world…and place more value on the spectrum of experiences available to humans.


If we can restore a sense of the natural cycles of time, life, and the cosmos including a healthy view of death, then we can stop being out of sync with our environment and disconnected from the energies that move the planets around the sun. We can stop enforcing arbitrary deadlines and racing to the finish line in ways that create unhealthy behaviors in human communities.


These are big shifts (I did call them tectonic) and it is a big energy, a force of Nature, really, that will be required to bring them about; to take those “ifs” and make them “whens”or even better, “WINs.” A restoration of a healthy Feminine in dynamic tension with a healthy Masculine is the only way we can achieve these seismic shifts. Fortunately, She’s already at work on and in us, but we need to be more familiar with how She works in order to make the necessary space for Her to enter the structure without destroying it. If we remain oblivious, She has no choice but to hit us over the head and make no mistake about it, She will.


For more on how we can actually do this in our lives and workplaces, read on here.

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