Today, 8 March, as every year, it is International Women’s Day. It’s only one day in the year and that’s little. It’s also too much: Why do we need a special day for women? There is a subtle implication – wanted or not – that the remaining 364 days of the year (365 in 2012) are for men? Regarding this International Women’s Day I feel a bit like Morgan Freeman about Black History Month…
Yet there is also the ‘affirmative action’ argument about this day and it makes sense. There is so little sharing of decision-making power and overall empowerment effectively happening for women worldwide. This is true from the bottom poorest in development to the top (less than 1% of billionaires worldwide are women as I found out in this article in Le Monde this morning).
In this post I just want to celebrate the great contributions of women in the knowledge sharing/management and learning environment – in development and I am sure in the corporate world too. A former colleague of mine, surprised by my enthusiasm for KM4Dev, also thought that it was a community of practice for middle-aged male nerds. She was stupefied to find out that a lot of them are women, and some of the more influential ones (10 out of 19 KM4Dev core group members are women, and 9 out of 17 potential volunteers).
And it makes sense – not based on scientific studies but on my own personal experience, not claiming any universal rule here:
- Women in my life have been natural knowledge-sharers, from simple (and sometimes silly, however) gossiping to discussing really personal issues;
- By resorting to their feelings perhaps more naturally, they have a wider repertoire for international and intercultural sharing and learning – where the world of mind and ideas sometimes finds its limits for lack of language to interpret concepts;
- Perhaps because they doubt more about themselves (arguably as a result of being in a traditionally male-dominated world) they have more tendency to listen carefully than many men;
- As a result of these two characteristics, they are able to connect at a deep level with other people – something highly desirable in the development work’s quest for trust as the cement of sustainblee achievements;
- They are also able to interconnect thoughts and ideas perhaps much more so than men – as portrayed comically in the video below;
- They are natural learners, as they have had to seizeany opportunity to counter the power challenges they are facing everywhere;
- They are natural communicators, not just because they have biologically better communication means but also because they have had to make a stronger case to be heard than men and to present their ideas with a high degree of seriousness and professional credibility;
- Women tend to focus on the cooperation and collaboration, a natural self-defence mechanism for any community somewhat deprived of political capital and one which is embedded in the ways girls play with another another when they are young;
- By extension of this they also are more geared towards negotiation and consensus than men;
- The apprenticeship model is also more natural for many women, with respect to the importance of role modelling to believe that they can make it (get to a higher level, break the glass ceiling);
- Women (again, in my life) have usually less time to dedicate to work as they also pay close attention to their family life, tend to be quite pragmatic rather than theoretical – they seem to want to see results and practical actions, not just talk;
- Perhaps as a result of their own struggle and their need to readjust and try different approaches to counter negative power play, they may be in a better position to look carefully at the process involved, not just at the results and big ideas but also at the nitty-gritty ‘how do we get there’.
If you take all these characteristics into account, you get a fabulous knowledge worker and learner from the 21st century – one that is truly able to act effectively in the networked age, to connect and engage at a deeper level and to make people feel good about joining hands and working towards a common goal.
This is not to undermine the role of men – if anything, I support a conception of gender that is all about men and women working and living better together, not women vs. men – nor to recognise that I am depicting an ideal image of women here. But that ideal is based on the extraordinary facets of courage, determination, professionalism and kindness of the women that I have been fortunate to work with in knowledge sharing and management for development.
This day is for you, ladies! But also for all of us. May we all share, learn and improve ourselves, our actions and our world together following the best of your examples.
With lots of love, happy International Womens’ Day!!!
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