Balance your Gender Physics to fly with both wings: Betty-Ann Heggie
Betty-Ann Heggie is a widely recognized thought leader in gender dynamics. Her writing is published in Inc. Magazine, Apple News, Huffington Post and The Good Men Project . An award-winning speaker, author and mentor, she is also a corporate director, philanthropist and a former Senior Vice-President with PotashCorp (now Nutrien), the world’s largest fertilizer supplier. She joined us to share her rich experiences in the corporate world and what a balanced gender energy can offer to any leader.
Tell us about your journey into Leadership. When did you know you were a Leader?
I grew up in a small town hotel and remember would stand behind the hotel desk with my Father as he checked in the many travellers that would come through our door. At five years old, with a pixie cut and a big smile, and I loved being part of the family business. I had watched my father do this often, knew exactly what was required and anticipated his every move.
There was one instance with a frequent guest where, at this young age, I took charge of the check in. I grabbed his guest card and then silently assigned him the room I knew to be his favourite, beside the travellers lounge. I took his money and pulled out the grey tin cash box. I turned the tiny key in the lock, opened it and waited at Father’s side for him to make change. I felt a great degree of satisfaction doing that and beamed as the traveler looked approvingly at me and said to my Father, “You could put that girl out in the back alley and she could fend for herself. I wish my son had half that gumption”.
I looked at the pride on my Father’s face and felt myself glow. This was a real compliment! Obviously, it was good to be competent and productive, to take action and to get things done. I understood, even at that young age that it was important to take charge, and even better to be compared to a boy. This was something I liked and wanted to cultivate. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was my first experience with leadership. Being goal-oriented, directing the action and motivated by performance became the basis of my modus operandi. I probably had these attributes inherently but when they were praised and encouraged they became more of who I am. Today I know that leadership entails far more than this but this early experience sent me down the road of discovery.
How did the idea of Gender Physics come about?
For nearly three decades working in a Masculine environment I had to be an independent, self-sufficient risk-taker who wasn’t afraid to protect my territory and express strong positions. In short, I lived my life outside traditional gender stereotypes. It served me well but because it wasn’t conventional, it caused me to think a lot about the constraints of our gender conditioning. Gender is such a large part of our personal identity and yet, it is often what prevents us from living freely as individuals.
The first word that 9 out of 10 people will use when asked to describe themselves (or others) is ‘man’ or ‘woman’. It is also the first thing we ask when a baby is born before placing a pink or blue yoke around their neck. With that yoke comes an expectation of how that person should look or act or who they should be attracted to. Because we see ourselves as one gender or the other, we use only half of the actions and options available to us and we often end up stuck in a repetitive pattern, unaware of our choices.
After observing the men that I worked with and examining my own behaviour I came to the conclusion that none of us are ‘either/or’, rather each of us is ‘both’. We should all use our Feminine Energy to get to know ourselves and build relationships with others and our Masculine Energy to lead the way and reach our goals. These two energies are present in every one of us regardless of our biology, and we don’t have to go on a massive external search to find them. It is as simple as giving up limiting gender stereotypes to allow our Masculine and Feminine Energies the freedom to emerge and work together.
Because I feel so passionate on this subject I have written a soon to be released book on this topic called ‘Gender Physics’. It is the essential guidebook to help you adopt the attributes of both genders to leverage their strengths and maximize their impact in your career and beyond.
In your workshops, you talk about using the energy of masculine and feminine energy to allow you to “fly on both wings”, what is your vision for a future of balanced leadership in the corporate world?
As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.
We need leaders (regardless whether they are male or female) who can hold two opposing thoughts at once and that means bridging duality to find wholeness. Our lives are complex and leaders are called to access a wide variety of attributes to be successful. These leaders can be extremely logical and rational when making a tough cost-cutting decision while showing great empathy and compassion for employees and communities at the same time.
Gender Physics provides the answer as it allows us to leave behind duality- move beyond ‘he’ and ‘she’ and be complete human beings. By pushing past ‘the right way or the wrong way’ mentality we’ll reduce divisiveness and find common ground. Recognizing that we are different expressions of the same core will help us bridge the gap with those in our communities who hold disparate views. Hopefully by doing our part at a local level it will spread to polarized leaders around the globe, as people and systems that are ‘out of balance’ invariably topple.
What is the most common mistake you find women make in the corporate world on their path to leadership?
Too often women try too hard to be leaders and get out of balance adopting only the masculine attributes, which have historically been considered interchangeable with being a leader. They then dial these characteristics up to the extreme and focus only on winning, neglecting the need to build alliances altogether. These women become obsessed about reaching their goals, reckless in their actions and they use the hierarchy to create their own dictatorship. In trying to get ahead they focus only on task and forget that no ‘women is an island’, ie. they need the help of others to be successful. When their relationships suffer and they lose the respect of their colleagues and loyalty of their direct reports, their projects will fail as well.
Using too much Masculine Energy is especially problematic for women as we are the products of a lifetime of conditioning. We have been socialized to see females as supportive and nurturing and don’t like those who aren’t- it makes us uncomfortable. Women leaders must moderate their masculine attributes by inserting some feminine attributes, not only to be more acceptable but also to balance themselves. By consulting others, slowing down and giving up some control these ambitious women could not only avoid the pitfalls of overusing their strengths they would be bestowed with the magical ‘it’ characteristic of presence.
You have built and support various mentorship programs. In your view, what is the role of mentorship in creating healthy Leadership?
Most successful executives will credit a mentor; an advisor, a teacher, someone who kept them engaged while they advanced their careers. Maybe even someone who opened doors as they learned the ropes. There is no doubt in my mind that having a mentor will enhance the effectiveness of your leadership skills immensely. This is especially true when the methods and management style of the mentor differ and contrast from our own. It is only when we challenge our conditioning by accepting new and different approaches to work and life that we truly grow.
As a young executive, I worked in the almost entirely, male dominated fertilizer industry. At that time, it was an industry void of female mentors and so I turned to the senior male executives who had wives or daughters trying to make it in business. I knew they would be sensitized to my position, having heard it at home and thankfully my strategy proved correct as they became my teachers and supporters.
These masculine mentors provided important advice, including how to recognize when the only recourse left with an insubordinate employee was to step out behind the woodshed and show them who was the boss. They also generously touted my value to others in upper management, recommended me for challenging (and highly visible) assignments, and encouraged me to successfully take the risk of asking for and receiving a salary increase. Without their guidance, I may not have learned how to draw important boundaries or to establish credibility. From them, I learned to navigate a system designed by men, one which favoured the qualities and traits that they valued, and that tutoring served me well.
At the same time, I also sought out and benefited greatly from female mentors I found outside of the company and discovered that they considered both my personal and professional goals when dispensing advice. Discussions with them would often revolve around aspirations that gave my life meaning and purpose. The lessons learned through this more holistic approach were what fed my soul and though they didn’t literally appear on a profit and loss sheet were equally as important to my well-being and therefore my ultimate success.
Those who have well-matched and connected mentors can expect to enjoy more promotions because they raise the visibility of their protégé and showcase their skills. Mentorship is not designed to rescue you and is certainly not meant as a substitute for making your own decisions and creating your own career. Ultimately, we all have to take responsibility for our own success. However, a mentor plays many important developmental roles including those of motivator, coach, champion and consultant ensuring that both protégés and companies are the beneficiaries.
Find out more about Betty-Ann, Gender Physics and her mentorship program here.