Boardrooms need to welcome and encourage feminine qualities


Women in senior corporate and other leadership positions too easily ‘begin to think and talk like men’, says Scilla Elworthy, the founder of Peace Direct and the Oxford Research Group. Yet what are most needed are feminine qualities in boardrooms and corporate culture, including compassion, empathy and ‘grace under pressure’.

She addressed a Tomorrow’s Global Leaders event, on ‘Inclusive Leadership–awakening the feminine in women as well as men’, in the City of London on 22 January. It was organised by Tomorrow’s Company think-tank and hosted by Linklaters law firm.

Elworthy, who has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, told how the Oxford Research Group had looked into the 650 people around the world who had had a direct say in policy-making on the use of nuclear warheads. ‘The left brain overtakes and submerges the right brain,’ she had concluded and ‘the yin and the yang are severely out of balance.’

She singled out two outstanding leaders who demonstrated grace and overcoming fear: Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, who had faced down soldiers with rifles who were aiming to shoot her, and Nelson Mandela, who had developed compassion for his gaolers on Robbin Island.

Men needed to advocate that women can be empowered to promote the feminine side, she said. The ‘deep feminine qualities’ that are needed in boardrooms and elsewhere include ’empathy, grace under fire, or governance with grace, nurture, listening intently to the other person, a sense of the sacredness of the Earth, thinking long-term and the insistence that we are all connected.

‘If the mantra of the last century was “What can I get?”, the mantra of this century is “What can I give?” It is all about contribution.’ Authenticity needed to be a hallmark of the 21st century. ‘Leaders have to be authentic. That can only be achieved by inner reflection. Inner work is a prerequisite of outer effectiveness.’ This included the need for ‘a period of reflection every day’.

While self-development is too often seen as ‘fluffy’ inside organisations, the way to instil ‘soft-skills’ such as empathy can be achieved through story-telling, including the lives of people such as Mandela. ‘What we are looking for is greatness.’ The world didn’t have a long time to get things right and doing the right thing will be all the more needed ‘when things get really nasty’, she warned.

Recently she has been developing soft skills such as listening, teamwork and ‘knowing who you really are’ amongst social entrepreneurs at the DO School in Hamburg. Her new book is entitled Pioneering the possible and has a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Introducing her, Mark Goyder, the CEO and founding director of Tomorrow’s Company, said, ‘We need a good dose of Scilla Elworthy.’

Michael Smith
Head of Business Programmes, Initiatives of Change UK,


Michael Smith
Head of Business Programmes, Initiatives of Change UK


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