Are You an Iron Lady?

by Gloria Feldt on January 20th, 2012
in 9 Ways Blog, Gender, Know Your History, Leadership, No Excuses, Politics, Power Tools, She's Doing It and tagged , , , , ,

The Golden Globe Awards this week featured the most gorgeous dresses I’ve ever seen (yes, I confess to being a fashion watcher) and Meryl Streep winning her 9th Golden Globe, for her extraordinary portrayal of the British rock-ribbed Conservative former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first and only woman ever to serve in that post.Meryl Streep Iron Lady

The film is titled “The Iron Lady,“ a moniker the press slapped on to Thatcher and it stuck.  Ever feel like that describes you—strong enough to balance and juggle everything in your work and home life, with everyone expecting you to stay—well, tough as Iron?

The nickname fit Thatcher for reasons having more to do with her firm and some would say obstinate resolve on political issues, though the poignant story of her relationship with her very supportive husband and her twin children does weave in and out of the tale.

Image courtesy the Weinstein Group
I never cared for Thatcher’s rightist politics—she mind-melded with U.S. President Ronald Reagan whose term of office overlapped with hers in the 1980’s–and I probably wouldn’t have gone to see the movie had I not been warned that I’d be asked about Thatcher’s life and leadership by Molly Dedham, co-host of the Sirius XM radio talk show, Broadminded when I had the pleasure of appearing as a Regular Broad (Listen to the podcast here).

Know Any Iron Men?

I do admire Thatcher’s strength of conviction and her tenacity. But do you think any male political or business leader would have been so dubbed? Of course not. Men would be assumed to be strong and resolute. Only a male body builder would be called “The Iron Man.”

Precisely because Thatcher smashed through gender barriers, breaking stereotype to become a leader in the male-dominated world, she was mocked in that particular sexist way.

But here’s the rub: Instead of calling it out or joining forces with other women to pave the way for more of her gender to advance, Thatcher instead became increasingly like the men around her.

This clip shows her being coached to change her speech pattern to sound more authoritative, and she’s told to ditch her hat and pearls. As you’ll see, she’s willing to mold herself to what her image consultants advise her for the most part, though she did draw the line at removing her double strand pearls, a gift from her husband and representing her twins. And she often said that being a woman made her better able to handle multiple priorities and get things done.

She fit herself into the male culture and denied that she either owed anything to the women who had struggled for women’s rights, or that she had any special responsibility to other women to bring them along.

“I owe nothing to women’s lib,” she declared.

And as a first and one of the few women in politics in the United Kingdom during the mid-20th century, Thatcher was isolated, just as many women feel they are in the workplace in 2012.

But she also isolated herself. Many women who have been firsts in whatever realm do the same, as do even many women who are not the first but are still in the minority within their field or place of employment. As women have entered that workplace culture, if you’re the first one, or if you’re the only one or one of just a few in a department, you tend to fit yourself into the predominant culture. You may look like a woman but you start to think and act like a man.

Why do women isolate themselves?

And when we have problems at work, we hunker down, convince ourselves we’re the only ones so afflicted, and that we have to be strong enough to solve it alone. There are few models to tell us otherwise.

After all, we’re still for the most part in workplaces designed by men for men. Furthermore, by men for men who could work day and night because they had a wife at home taking care of the house and the kids. Even the water cooler banter has been male-oriented, the places workers hung out were male oriented—the golf course and Hooters–not to mention the leadership metaphors, which have been largely drawn from war.

That paradigm no longer works for anybody.

That’s exactly why women need to consciously and intentionally un-isolate ourselves and reach out with what I call Sister Courage.

Why Strong Women Need Sister Courage

Ask another woman for help if you need it. Ask a man for help if you need it too—there are many men now in the workplace who were raised by women like you. Offer help if you think someone else needs it. Have the courage to raise the issues that need to be dealt with. And when you do that and join together with your allies, you have a mini-movement that can help you achieve your career goals, or make the changes you want at work, or at home.

The Iron Lady was unbreakably strong, as the film shows, but her isolation didn’t serve her well in the end either politically or in her personal life.

You can be both strong and connected, successful and human if you use Sister Courage and the rest of the No Excuses 9 Ways Power Tools (download them in brief here).

Are you an Iron Lady? Or do you feel like you have to be one? What steps have you taken to un-isolate yourself and use your Sister Courage to create a more gratifying career? I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences.

By the way, if you happen to be in New York on January, 31, please join me for an invigorating workshop to Boost Your Power for 2012, sponsored by the wonderful women at Digitistas. You’ll leave with your own plan and theinspiration and practical tools to achieve it.

(To get a “friends of Gloria” discount when you sign up, just type in the NoExcuses promotion code.)

This post was originally published in BlogHer Career. Check it and all my every-other-week leadership Q and A columns out there. Got an example to share? Got a question you’d like me to address in a future column? Please comment here or e-mail me.

Gloria Feldt

Because power unused is power useless, please visit:

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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