Earth Day, stewardship and women

Earth Day began 46 years ago, is now observed in 175 countries, and has become the largest secular modern day holiday in the world.  It is an opportunity to talk about the urgent need for more feminine stewardship. Significantly, stewardship differs from most of the examples of leadership in positions of power today.

I am skeptical about the outcomes achieved by leadership (dominantly male) over the last hundred years, particularly in business. I am not dismissive of the incredible advancements, but we have also inflicted immeasurable costs for that advancement, especially on our planet. We now know there could have been a better way. As the late Carl Sagan said, “We humans are capable of greatness … but we are making a mess of our planet and becoming a danger to ourselves.”

So despite the applause surrounding the signing of the Paris agreement at the United Nations on Earth Day 2016, there is plenty of room for the skepticism, as reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., in “The Green Unreality Show.” Has anything substantive been accomplished? The climate deal negotiated in Paris appears to be another incremental step while marking time, and when we are “becoming a danger to ourselves,” incrementalism is a failure of leadership. And it is definitely not stewardship.

In a New York Times article on the Paris agreement, there is enough skepticism, doubt and criticism to stoke a coal-burning factory for years. Guido Schmidt-Traub, managing director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network said, “Whether it will happen in time to head off dangerous climate change is really the question.” The article goes on to state: “No country has shared a detailed, credible strategy to achieve what scientists think is necessary … [and] the world could ultimately suffer profound consequences, including debilitating heatwaves, food shortages, and fast-rising seas.”

We know political leadership and will are ephemeral, and unfortunately so is most business leadership, driven by a penchant for short-term concerns over long-term stewardship. As the Dali Lama said, “It’s not short versus long term, we need both. But there’s too much obsessive focus on the short term regardless of long-term consequences.” Stewardship serves a higher and longer purpose and when it comes to saving our Earth, stewardship is anchored in the nurturing energy and spiritual beliefs of humankind – not religious beliefs; human beliefs – and the recognition that we humans are responsible for the planet.

I believe that when we truly care about our planet, we are inherently spiritual, interconnected, seeing and experiencing everything through humility, wonderment, and awe. We know that only our indomitable human spirit, its natural energy and its nurturing spirit, can lead us to be “capable of greatness.”  Until then, leadership is just a label for power and authority.

This brings me back to Earth Day and women.

In 2013, I wrote a blog post, “The Context for Leadership Is Changing,” about the imbalance of masculine and feminine energy and how I saw some signs of it shifting toward balance with feminine energy becoming more understood, appreciated and influential: More nurturing with listening relieving aggression and reactivity; kindness and reciprocity gaining ground; collaboration and connection conspiring to create a better workplace; and in organizations, caring, heart and compassion edging out fear, anxiety, and authoritarianism. All of this is good – except too often, too many men aren’t listening. They’re too busy talking, directing and being authoritative – and calling it leadership. It’s not. It’s just a dominating imbalance.

A 2012 study by researchers at Princeton and Brigham Young universities on “the gender gap in voice and authority” demonstrated the imbalance of feminine and masculine energy. These studies showed that “having a seat at the table is very different than having a voice.” They found that when women were outnumbered in a group, they spoke for between a quarter and a third less time than the men. One researcher said: “These settings [groups, meetings, boards, legislatures] will produce a dramatic inequality in women’s floor time and in many other ways.” The study concluded that one of the requisite conditions for women to have more voice was dependent on more women being present and leading.

Therein lies the paradox in leadership, and a problem for our planet, not enough women leading. Too many male “leaders.” There is an insufficiency of wise discernment when masculine and feminine energy is out of balance. Clearly, the proof is in flourishing cases where masculine-feminine energy is in balance. There, human potential stands to its full height.

At the Earth Day Network website, I saw what appears to be an example of this imbalance. I am sure they have many women involved. But I noticed on the list of names for what they call “The People Behind Earth Day” (i.e., a board of directors) that only 4 out of 12 were women. That’s not good enough. Conversely, the staff roster looked better. Currently, the President is Kathleen Rogers, and of 26 staff members listed, including interns, 18 were women (70%). That’s better. But the staff still report to a board dominated by men, in voice and decisions.

The other conspicuous vacuum at the website was corporate representation. Of the 12 board members, only one appeared to represent what I would call a large corporation – HP (Hewlett-Packard – where the current Chairman, President, and CEO is Meg Whitman). And the number of corporate sponsors was more notable by who was not there rather than who was there.

If we had more women – essentially, more feminine energy – in the leadership of large corporations then maybe the corollary would be more women heading the stewardship of, as Carl Sagan called our planet, “the only home we’ve ever known.”