Bossy and we know it – the face and future of female leadership

Bossy and we know it – the face and future of female leadership

by marlies|dekkers

From Cleopatra to Sheryl Sandberg; women have proven again and again to be excellent leaders. Yet there is still a worldwide gender leadership gap. And how about those deeply engrained stereotypes? I was interviewed by Caroline Glasbergen, successful Dutch entrepreneur and female business coach, who asked me: ‘What does female leadership look like?”

Caroline: You are passionate about inspiring women to take the lead. How did that start?

Marlies: I grew up in a working-class environment: warm and safe, but also very limiting. I was expected to become a housewife, like my mother, but a few years into vocational school I said to myself: “Surely, there must be more to life than this!”. I didn’t receive any guidance, and it was a long, difficult journey out of that world, but once I got accepted into art school, I could see my dreams crystalize. I was no longer standing on the sidelines; I was helping to shape the zeitgeist. And I remember thinking: “This is what it’s like to be human!”.

Caroline: You felt you mattered.

Marlies: Exactly. And I strongly believe that every woman has the right to feel that way. It’s the reason I started designing lingerie and came up with my motto, which is really a 3-step plan to unlock a woman’s potential: ‘Dare to dream, dare to grow, dare to be’. First, I want to challenge you to discover your deepest desires and craziest dreams. Don’t think about what your family, partner or society will think. Women have done that long enough. Next, you need to look at what exactly is needed to make these dreams grow. This part is all about perseverance and the willingness to make sacrifices. We all understand that someone like Daphne Schippers needs to be 100% dedicated, all the time. Well, your dream deserves the same dedication! Then, somewhere along this journey, you will realize: ‘I have stepped into my power!’. Now, you truly dare to be. With my lingerie, I give women the confidence to undertake this adventure. My crowning glory is the moment when a woman looks in the mirror, empowered by my lingerie and her journey of self-discovery, and falls truly, madly, deeply in love with herself. She will be ready to lead, to conquer the world.

Caroline: What do you think female leadership looks like? Is it very different from male leadership?

Marlies: Unfortunately, there haven’t been a lot of female leaders so we can’t fall back on our own tradition. It’s not in our DNA yet. I think it will take at least another century to fully form our own vision of it. After the second feminist wave, a lot of women said to themselves: “Okay, we’ve got equal rights; we did it!”. But we’re not there yet, and a lot of it is in the details. Some issues, like equal pay, we all see and agree on. But take the fact that during a conversation, women will smile out of reflex. They are afraid to be seen as unsympathetic.

Caroline: Women in powerful positions are still often automatically assumed to be ‘cold-hearted’ or have a lot of ‘masculine energy’.

Marlies: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by a journalist: “I expected you to be quite stern; you’re so much nicer than I thought!”. When I ask them how they got that impression of me in the first place, they always mention the papers and TV. Well, I watched myself closely in TV interviews, and I’m always smiling and willingly answering all the questions. So, it is purely based on gender stereotypes. I hope that one day people will equate female energy with strength and perseverance, that we’ll say: “Look at her! She made it because she used her female energy!”. In LA right now, women are reclaiming the term ‘bossy’ as a label of female power; such a great example of how we’re architecting female leadership. Slowly but surely.

Caroline: You have been in business for nearly 30 years now. What was it like for you to pioneer female leadership?

Marlies: I definitely learned through trial and tribulation, but I loved the process! I have observed men and ‘stolen’ a lot from how they run businesses, but in the end, I had to personalize it. Leadership is actually a very personal thing. After my divorce, I underwent psychoanalysis for 2 years. During a ‘breakthrough’ session, I discovered a deeply buried frustration about the fact that men often reacted dismissively when I asked them to do something. If I say to a female employee: “Perhaps it’s better if you do it this way,” she understands: this is exactly what Marlies wants. A man, however, sees weakness in that type of phrasing and he will fight you. So, I realized I had to adapt my language. At the same time, I refused to adapt my entire identity. I had seen a lot of women – especially during the second feminist wave – adapt themselves to the point that they lost themselves and their feminine power.

Caroline: Can you share some practical tips for staying authentic and true to yourself as a female leader? I know you are quite spiritual, for example.

Marlies: I am, and I live very healthily: plenty of sports, daily meditation, ice baths, no junk food. I prioritize time with my loved ones. A less obvious, but no less important area is sexuality. Looking at male leaders, you see how they convert their sexual energy into leadership mastery. A sexual rush is very similar to a creative rush. It makes you feel invincible, it gives you charisma. I swear, the bigger their company, the more lovers a male leader has: at least one lover for every 100 employees! [laughs]. I’m not saying we should literally follow their example, but female eroticism, like female leadership, is still largely uncharted territory. If women truly dare to explore these areas, they will one day look at the glass ceiling and laugh. “That old thing?” they’ll say, and – BOOM! – break right through it! And I am convinced the world will be a much better, more beautiful place for it. For both men and women.

Caroline: Thank you, Marlies!

 

Listen to the full podcast (in Dutch) here.

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