Originally posted at the 2022 Summer Issue of the Women in Leadership Publication. Available here.
I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand to finish my business degree in 2001 and realised that people use a different calendar in other parts of the world! It was the 220th year of the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Thailand and the 56th year in the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), which makes 2001 the year 2544 in the Buddhist Era.
I regularly saw elephants hanging out in the street in front of my dorm building and twice a day everyone stopped moving to listen respectfully to the National Anthem. But what was really unique about the society was the way people sold chickens in front of the place I lived. The street vendors obviously made their living from selling their produce. They had to sell food to be able to feed their family – it was that simple.
Incredibly – I never felt as though people were trying to force their produce on me. And more than once when I suggested that I liked the look of the other person’s chicken, I was encouraged to buy from the other vendor. The western competitive push was inexistent.
That has stuck with me for over 20 years.
For centuries, the basic rule of leadership has been competition with its dominant values of achievement, ambition, power, and assertiveness. But a shift is happening. Society is realising we must move to an age of collaboration and citizenship where the dominant leadership values include caring for others and preserving nature, placing importance on people and relationships, empathy, and emphasizing equality and solidarity. The more human values, which happen to be where women in general excel. Research shows that firms with more women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible, and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences.
It’s known that having diverse talent isn’t just good for business, it increases innovation and provides other key competitive advantages. We know that the world needs to head in a more human direction to be more sustainable. But the status quo is simply not supporting this. COVID has left women exhausted from juggling work and home life, a flood of women is leaving the workforce because of childcare issues, and of course we have the absurd glass ceiling.
Women made up only 5% of the CEOs appointed in 2020 globally. And female CEOs are running 41 Fortune 500 companies. If we need more women in companies to make them more competitive and to provide the modern leadership qualities needed in this modern world, why are companies not actively finding ways to stop this drain of essential talent?
There is a major disconnect, no? The status quo needs to be challenged. The culture and employee makeup of companies need to be challenged. But we also need more women stepping out of their comfort zones, believing in, and acting on the incredible value and power they offer companies.
I truly believe that empowered women are our future. They are the private sector’s competitive advantage, and they hold the leadership competencies capable of meaningful change. The trick is that they need to see their value.
They need to realise that challenging the system doesn’t have to be a big thing. That they don’t need a specific university degree or to have a fancy job title to do it.
And it can be anyone from anywhere. So, I ask you – how can you challenge the status quo? And what are you waiting for?