Research Paper By Isobel Phillips
(Leadership Coach, IRELAND)
Maureen Simon is an acclaimed consultant, teacher, and speaker with 25 years of experience in international business consulting and community development, including serving to mediate political conflict in Northern Ireland and Eastern Europe.
Maureen is the author of Awakening the Essential Feminine: Claiming Your Influential Power and has worked with tens of thousands of women worldwide. She bases her work on the strong belief that our world cultures now need, more than ever before, for women to step into their rightful power and leadership roles, and that that advanced skill development in the areas of communication, confidence building, and leadership and career development are all essential for women in business to fully contribute. Maureen is also a friend and colleague and kindly agreed to spend some time with me discussing coaching and women’s empowerment.
I began by asking Maureen about her history with coaching, and with coaching women in particular. Maureen explained:
My history with coaching began in London in 1997, when coaching came to London. I was asked by Coach U to be a part of the launch there because Tom Leonard, the head of the school at the time, was there and he was getting massive spreads in the Times, to get the idea that there might be another way to go about personal transformation other than the psychiatrist’s or the psychologist’s chair. And that was really important back then because, as you know, England can have a conservative nature. So, opening up and revealing a lot of really deep personal things would work for some, but not for everyone.
There were about five of us, and we were the first trained in Europe as coaches, and we discussed the idea of creating more publicity, more interest, so my whole mission was to get the word out. Vogue, and Red magazine, and all these places were like, what is this? Of course, you know, it’s a very different, nice medium that doesn’t really make us have to go back into the deep dark, nor does it make us reveal everything about ourselves, to move forward. The idea of coaching was a clear pathway to discovery. And on that clear pathway to discovery, people could give as much as they wished, as you can in therapy, as well, but it’s an easier way to come to self-knowledge and knowing thyself, as Socrates said than the expectation that we need to bare some of our soul.
Sothen as this whole thing launched it just took off like wildfire, because the concept was so innovative, in 1997. I was going all North-South and East and West for interviews, TV, and radio, and it just ended up becoming something that people just wanted to know more about. It was the perfect fit for the culture. So, then, of course, Ireland is next door and Europe. And people looked to London for innovation and it just went through the whole area and, as you know, continues to do so. So that was the early time of my involvement. And there were five people, and I know them and have great respect for them. We bought businesses and practices, and, to this day, I do some coaching and a lot of consulting. It’s always been a part of my tapestry and my fabric, really. It’s core to my being. I learned a lot in the process of setting it up and becoming a coach, and I learned a tremendous amount about myself.
I shared that one of the things I love about coaching is that you don’t need to reveal everything about your past to move forward, and Maureen picked up this point:
We want to encourage the people that we work with to integrate more of who we are because we’re whole. We need to integrate the past, the present, and where we want to go — that’s the whole being. We aren’t standing there saying, “Now, I need to know this to move forward”. The difference between coaching and therapy is that we’re really integrating as much as we can from the past but we’re also building on what we have in front of us.
I next asked Maureen about the benefits that coaching can offer women in particular.
I am such a women’s advocate that I would almost have to say that I think it benefits everyone so much that that’s an area that I haven’t particularly pigeon-holed women. I’m strongly an advocate of certain attributes and brain differences, and a lot of my work stems from the differences between the male and female brain, and that’s a controversial area, today, in science. But I do still think that women are relational, and have the ability to connect intuitively, and through the connection with another, we have the ability to create something quite magical, perhaps even immeasurable. And that’s where the coaching relationship, being so personal and one-on-one, is a high advantage.
I don’t want to separate people too much, but the question does ask me to do so, and if I’m going to go in that direction, I’d say that a lot of decisions have in the past been made by men on the golf course, and while golf clubs are not so much exclusive to that, anymore, the tradition still does live on. We have to be honest about that. So, women, instead of having that environment, can take that personal dialogue of questioning and introspection, and they do very well in gathering themselves in particular, in more intimate environments, in my opinion after working with hundreds of women.
I’m watching our current state of affairs and seeing that because we’re working online because we’re so focused on the absolute distant connections instead of the intimate connections, women are going to suffer a little from that. That’s one of the areas that I really want to focus on now, looking at how can we create these environments, these mentorships, these dialogues, particularly online so that women can have that intimate connection because we thrive there. Coaching, and the work that we’re both doing, can actually still greatly benefit women. Online isn’t best, but if we have to work online, we will. Keep women talking. Keep women connected. Keep mentoring programs going online. Keep things happening. They don’t have a golf course. They won’t have the golf course, but they still need that intimate environment to make up for a lost time, to move forward, and to be able to be much more of who they are, in their work environment, on or off-line.
In her book, Awakening the Essential Feminine: Claiming Your Influential Power, Maureen talks about the intrinsic powers that women hold. She explained more:
I’ve been reconnecting with the book recently because I basically launched it and it sold around the world, and I’ll give you a sample and speak to them.
Relationships. Women collaborate at a very high level. We can hear each other and move forward through support. It’s a very, very positive way for women to connect. They have inter-connectedness, the ability to connect deeply, and value communication, care, compassion, and empathy. A woman who inspired me to think about that is Helen Fisher, who wrote “The First Sex”. She’s a Rutgers professor and has done tremendous amounts around the world about the relationship and the attraction principle. She gave an example that some of this was formed back in the day, when we would be together, say, by a lake, and your children and my children were there, and I would be watching all the children. I would be taking in the whole environment as I really mothered because it takes a community to raise a child. Anthropologists have studied the way the female brain is more developed between the right and left hemispheres, with a 14% thicker tissue connecting both hemispheres. Helen Fisher discusses that whole area, as an anthropologist, looking at what really created that area connectivity, and it comes from that environment. These are natural attributes from the feminine, within the female, that relate to the female. There’s plenty of others. I’m just really getting exciting going back into this with you.
And language. The language that we speak is often connected and cooperative. So, if I were talking to you, I might ask, “Can I get an idea of what you need right now?’ And you’d be, “Well, yeah, you know, I didn’t sleep. Or the baby was…” There’s connectivity that’s natural within the feminine. Now, we have to go back if we’re going to talk about the book and make sure that we clearly say that both men and women hold the masculine and the feminine, it’s not just one. So, the idea is that it’s in both, it’s in all of us. But sometimes we’ll have a dominant set of attributes. Feminine attributes that will guide us sometimes need more masculine. These are the really pure ones that I think are so powerful. The way we think is often known to be more mentally flexible because of the cortex tissue formation. Women think more flexibly and use a lot of verbal agility and big descriptions.
There are two reasons, really. It’s socialization and it’s brain biology. Probably one of my favorite traits is that we work with power from a place of contribution and connectivity. In the book, I talk about “power with” as opposed to “power over”, and that’s because we care for the whole and we’re focused on community. I look at NGOs and say, “Why are there so many women leading NGOs?” Even if it was massive amounts of money to lead an NGO, which it isn’t, you have to care for the community. These things are linked in our cultures, and that’s just a handful of them. There are 26 attributes in “Awakening the Essential Feminine – Claiming Your Influential Power”, in nine areas of life. It’s something I just kept seeing and did a lot of research to make points to hold that and then wrote the book.
Maureen has been revisiting her book, in light of current views on sex and gender. I asked how she has found that process:
You know, I’ve had a journey on that, and it tested me. Consulting in corporations, you really do need to be very open on the playing field, and very, very empathetic about where everyone is in their lives, and what their experiences are, particularly when working with leaders. I’ve learned that for some people, considering brain difference isn’t comfortable. I had to go back into my research and look at it and go back and read the research on the male and female brain, like Brizendine’s work from San Francisco. And I brought myself back to see that I do really, truly, stand by the book and the brain differences. One thing I’m not here to do is create a difference, but I’m here to create unity. It’s just part of who I am. The three top values that inform my work are equity, truth, and unity. If I’m focusing on someone it’s often around the depth of connection to get to know them, to understand them, or to guide them. But when it comes down to the book, I still believe that the brain is different. And I’ve come back now, after a summer of really looking at it, and going into other books, texts, and I think there’s a place in the world for us to be united, but to still hold different opinions. Rather than changing the book, what I am deciding to do is to see these attributes as whatever you want to call them, or whatever you see them as. They basically will be the universal principles of good living that need to be carried out. You can file them, however, but how can we get to them? Some of the courses I’ll be offering will be for women, getting them to own that. And the reason I still do that work, although I thought I’d be done with it by now, is because I think women still don’t own the natural power that they have been predisposed to and born with. To answer your question about the book, I would say that there are many theories, and I hold this one. I’m universalizing a little bit more by bringing in men and women, and bringing them to the attributes, and saying, “You have masculine and feminine. What attributes would you like to build on?”
I observed that Maureen spoke about empowering women and helping them to own their powers, and asked how we go about that:
If you need to make a change, the first thing you need to do is understand a couple of things. What is that change? Is the pain for you making that change better, or more comfortable than the gain that you will have when you make the change? And specifically, what will that affect your life? As we frame change, the most important thing is to get us to understand where we are within the spectrum of change, and then to move towards specific steps.
The first part is to understand, from the core of the being, where the change needs to be. If they say, “I want to be powerful,” Power comes from a source of knowing ourselves, what we value, and who we are. The second thing to evaluate is, are you motivated to make this change? And then the third thing is getting them to even envision, ahead of time, what it would be like to be this clearly defined vision of a woman holding power. And what would be the benefit to them? It gets into some cognitive work. It gets into some very clear workaround choices and values. It moves into pain versus gain. It may not always be a pain, but is there a reason? And then envision that outcome so that we can begin to see it, and then we make it real in the world. So, it’s a process of knowing myself, first, and committing to change, crystallizing the vision, and moving out in the world with the vision. Those are the four steps that I would generally bring someone through.
We joke a little about how straightforward it sounds when life is not so straightforward. However, it does summarize the coaching process of self-discovery but to move forward to where you need to be. Maureen observes that it’s also designed by ourselves as we bring people through, as support, and then they infiltrate their part into what becomes a unified process.
Maureen works a lot with women in corporate roles and works to promote equality and equity in the workplace. I ask what she feels are some of the main issues facing women in the workplace today?
Right now, the biggest issue that I’m seeing on calls, with women, and reading is the inability to be relational in the work environment. It’s not like we haven’t been online. We’ve been online. But there’s something about minimal contact that’s coming up a lot on the calls. In their teams, women can do quite a lot. Like here, in this environment, maybe there’d be two others with us on a call, and there’s an intimacy of sorts. But when it comes to now moving from our team to understanding the whole organization, the water cooler talk, the dynamic connection, the intuition that women use when they’re present with someone, their career paths are hindered. They don’t have that whole dynamic picture. So, I’m seeing that’s a key issue, which is a concern that I’m working on in as many ways as I can.
The other thing is that people say that the glass ceiling is of the past. And I work often in finance, where I’m seeing significant holdback on women from actually achieving equal positions at the top of organizations, even higher when we look at the executive pool. Women right at this moment need to hold their vision for their career path and continue to work towards it. A couple of clients I have are putting in their marketing at high levels and they’re doing more training on digital marketing. But I’m also working with them to find their own ways, strategically, in their organization, as if we were in person. The main thing is, don’t give up on the vision that you have for your career.
Secondly, it can be challenging, but it’s really important to decide the place that your work fits into your life at a given time and to not beat yourself up if this is a phase where something different is required. Time will pass and things will happen. A lot of women feel like they’re slipping back, so, where I’m working with them is, OK. If you’re going part-time now because it’s become a different environment. And let’s face it, a lot of obligations for children, childcare and children’s care and education, is falling on the mother. So, my thought is, let’s just see this as a temporary sort of pause, but don’t give up on where you’re going and keep making entrees. Build those networks and know that this too will pass. Kids will get old enough and they’ll have their own lives.
And then the third thing I work with women on is often to get a tandem track. And they don’t see themselves clearly enough to know that they can move specifically towards something by design, right now, that will be a part of their future. We have to be future thinking. This is the third point. I think we take on, “Oh my God. The children are on my lap and I’m on a meeting”. Ah! And so that’s what freezes us. But it’s not only the women with children. It’s the women without children. They’re going in the other direction, often, of when they’re working at home that “I’m isolated and the whole world is out here, but I’m over here”. So, we have all kinds of stories in our lives. The most important thing to know is that we’re basically here to make a difference, to contribute, to create something bigger than ourselves. In my opinion, with my work, the third track is to work a tandem track and to look to future growth, to procreate. This is my now and then, here’s where I’m going. And be clear enough to take daily steps towards that so that you actually are moving specifically towards something. Otherwise, it will all become a big bundle, you know, yarn that’s tied up in a big knot.
Finally, I invite Maureen to share what gives her hope right now.
I think humans are amazing and I think there are all kinds of humans, and in the heart of each human, there is an amazing spark. And potentiality is really interesting. I think we’re in a very disruptive time, on the planet. There are disruptors in different aspects of our lives, which I think is a good thing, and I think we need it. I think we can get complacent and fall asleep. I think we need a shake-up to say, what do we value? What are our lives about? Why am I here? That’s the crux of the work I do. Why am I here? It’s not just to feed the corporations, or whoever. It’s to really be somebody bigger than myself in those environments. And I get excited about the potential side because I spend a lot of time working with people to have them understand the bigger picture of their lives. I believe that we are here for a reason. One of the many teachers who have been guiding me to that, from many years back, John O’Donohue, a famous Irish poet and writer, put a whole lot of time of his life in teaching us that we’re here for something bigger than ourselves and that it may not be a religious experience but it’s absolutely something that we know we’re here for. It’s about the meaning. So, I put a lot of time into that. I also love nature. Being here in Ireland is just really and truly phenomenal. And I love to be connected with art, and music, and dance and movement. There are so many things that can feed us, no matter how our mood is. We will always be able to find some upliftment. And I’m also very big on that. I have days where I question things and say, “You always loved those four or five things. But what is it that you’re not seeing about the world?”. because sometimes I do feel as though I have such great hopes that I need to make sure I am empathetically feeling what others are feeling. We all have those moments, but I feel like I see the greater good and I see that we’re on a good trajectory and a lot is going to get shaken up on this planet as it is. And I think it’s going to end up landing in a good place, and that gives me hope.
Simon, M. (2011) Awakening the Essential Feminine: Claiming Your Influential Power. Essential Feminine Publishing