Decades ago courageous women in various parts of the world broke the silence and started a fight against a social norm that prevented women from having access to professions and right that were prerogative of men. In those years, the fight was for greater gender equality. Today this slogan has been replaced by gender parity or gender diversity. The issue has inspired a new generation of women’s movements often lead by women who had achieved remarkable success in male dominated industries. It would seem that it’s no longer a movement to get the housewives into the work place, but rather a process by which society is freeing itself from gender barriers.
We had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Kristin Engvig, the founder of WIN, Women’s International Networking, which has given birth to a series of high profile conferences that gather hundreds of women and men from many countries to participate in inspiring speeches and debates by extraordinary women. Among the speakers are distinguished individuals such as Emma Bonino, Italian Political leader, Aongus Hegarty, President & General Manager at Dell Inc., Gro Harlem Brundtland, Head of World Health Organization, Mikael Ohlsson, CEO at IKEA, just to name a few.
Q.In 1997 you founded WIN here in Milan and played an important role in addressing the topic of gender in a new way by promoting discussions on this topic. Now gender diversity is a topic embraced by all the major firms, how does that make you feel?
A.When we started to talk about women in leadership, bringing in a variety of styles and ways into the workplace, it was as if we were talking about something from another planet. The few women on top and active in business had taken on ‘male’ behavior and the diversity was not as big as he should be in terms of thinking, behavior and attitudes. So, we began exploring whether there was such thing as a feminine leadership style – whether we could integrate the more feminine values with masculine in society, business and within ourselves.
It makes me feel very good to have been a part of bringing in this thought leadership and practice and both pioneered and paved the way for many women, men and ideas to come.
Q.How does the approach to women’s topic as seen in the WIN Conferences and now adopted by many other forums, associations and workgroups differ from the militant approach of the 1960s?
A.As above, WIN has been very focused on bringing the feminine values (I do not say woman here) of receptivity, collaboration, compassion, resilience and empathy into the business arena . We have integrated yoga and mindfulness sessions and decorated the rooms with beauty and enjoyed music. I have always worked on bringing the participant to a place where their senses come alive and now really focus on assuring the values are embodied. It was at first revolutionary that I was asking people to write about how they felt as well as how they thought the session went.
The approach is very holistic – it focuses on teaching and evoking authenticity, of brining people into their bodies (instead of only staying in your head, thinking) and on mindful networking with purpose and pleasure.
Q.Like climate change, the topic of gender diversity can no longer be dismissed easily and swept under the carpet as something that is not an issue. Do you still find resistance by influential groups or has this first obstacle finally been overcome?
A.There is still resistance despite all the attention. It can most easily been seen in the resistance to pay for such programs and activities that can actually help transform the people helping them embrace diversity and become those inclusive leaders that create workspaces and societies where we all flourish.
Q.What are the current obstacles to reaching a “new order” in which both men and women can contribute fully to the modern challenges without having to give up aspects of themselves and their gender?
A.The mentality of many people is still slow to change. Many have now learnt the vocabulary and still to really live by the values we seem to need yet some more time. This is not only men as the patriarchy lives within women as well. Many women (and men) still wish to be approved of in a traditional frame, so progress is slow.
Practically speaking, there is still a pay gap and it is not only easy to enter the corridors of power whilst remaining feminine, though that is changing.
Q.Compared to 1997 when you founded WIN a lot of obstacles and goals that seemed insurmountable have been overcome. What is the next target you wish to tackle?
A.It is quite ambitious to say I wish to create a world in which we all flourish, and many groups and individuals have this desire. In reality, how do we do this?
I would like to begin by accelerating the growth of people to really become inclusive leaders and agents of possibility. The work needs to go deep and it would be fun to do seminars where we go even deeper than what we do at the WINConference – then of course, it would be amazing to grow WINConference further around the world to thousands of people, continuously creating, developing, connecting and modelling the authentic, integrated (feminine and masculine, body and mind) leader with a global mindset .
Making sure WIN become the most important reference in the world for feminine, authentic and global leadership – the meeting place of the year – and the alternative to Davos.
Creating a large on-line community and finishing a couple of books and a film to make all the experiences available to many more people.
Interview by Aaron Pugliesi