Annually, Women’s Leadership month serves as a platform to lift women up for recognition and affirmation. Women in positions of leadership and public visibility are often acclaimed for their achievements and contributions in spaces of education, nonprofits, corporate, climate change, and sociopolitical movements. In an individualistic-centered U.S. culture, often overlooked are women who lead horizontally, not just from places of positionality. In feminist literature, we are reminded that women often lead differently because of our socialization to attend to others and to improve conditions for others not just our own. This is one reason why, women are often touted as the best supervisors and managers because of our listening and empowering skills.
Consider the professions typically associated with women. These are teaching, typically K-12, nursing and other allied health sciences, human resources, Counseling and Social Work, childcare workers, bank tellers, and other types of service-oriented roles. Common denominators across these professions are the skills of caring, of attending to others’ needs, and of being underpaid as well. Over the years, I have witnessed women in all of these roles; they are committed and generally, not complainers. They are there to serve and I continue to admire their stamina and care for others. I consider this horizonal leadership.
Most societies are patriarchal and the value for many men transcends to personal and professional workspaces. Women in traditional female roles continue to work alongside men in environments not historically and culturally designed for them. Anyone who feels not welcomed because of overt prejudices and microaggressions, may begin to have self-doubts about their capabilities. In spite of these self-doubts about abilities to lead and advance, I have witnessed women persist in the midst of oppressive workplace situations. Women cannot indulge themselves in self-pity because they have responsibilities to fulfill personally and professionally. This leads me to state that women have to possess bicultural efficacy, to adapt and navigate in male-centric workspaces.
I provide executive coaching to women on different career trajectories and a common theme is learning the male rules of the game and the culture of the organization. Typically, women are excellent observers and listeners, intrinsic aspects in their socialization process. These observing and listening skills are those of leaders, needing to be attentive to others. Possessing bicultural self-efficacy means being adaptable, operating with dual consciousness, and possessing bi-cognitive skills. We often talk of this as “walking the borderlands” and for most women, walking the borderlands is an everyday necessity to lead horizontally.