How to Live Authentic Femininity in the Workplace
"The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at his moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.” The Second Vatican Council’s Message to Women, December 1965
When I studied business in college, around 30% of the students in my class were women. But when I studied for my master’s degree in business, that number dropped significantly. My fellow women and I became more and more outnumbered in discussions, and when I eventually took a leadership position at work, I was surrounded by even fewer women.
Rather than feeling discouraged by these demographical changes, I felt empowered and motivated. I also felt a weighty sense of responsibility.
Ladies, we have a unique role in business as women that we’ve been created to share. And as the quote above from Vatican II states, “women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity.”
Embracing Our Unique Role as Women in Business
I’ve often asked myself the question, what does it mean to be authentically feminine in our work? I think it’s important to reflect on this and wrestle to find the answers.
A few years ago, I realized I must embrace the fact that I am a woman if I want to bring my whole self to the table.
It’s not that I ever denied my femininity. But admittedly, I didn’t understand how it could become a force for good in business. I had not acknowledged my femininity in its fullness, as an “influence, an effect, and a power never hitherto achieved.”
In society and business, we’ve been learning how important it is to welcome diverse experiences and perspectives. But this isn't about simply having the "right" numbers of women vs. men in the workplace.
For you and me as women, this means embracing our womanhood daily and exploring why it matters at work.
Ways to Live Authentic Femininity Through Work
Here are four ways I try to live authentic femininity in my own life…
1. Cultivate virtue
One of my all-time favorite books is Virtuous Leadership by Alexandre Havard. In it he discusses the importance of cultivating the four human (or cardinal) virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and self-control, as well magnanimity and humility. These virtues, Havard says, give us a roadmap for personal excellence. I also believe they form the foundation for bearing fruit in all areas of our lives.
Working as a manager felt like a daily challenge to live these virtues with my coworkers and team. Now as I run my own business from home with children, I sometimes feel that challenge even more intensely.
And while Havard’s words are not specifically aimed at women, I believe we embody these virtues in a uniquely feminine way. Oftentimes society will only attribute a shallow understanding of prudence, self-control, and humility to what it views as “feminine.” But in reality, authentic femininity includes each one of these virtues, and we complement our male counterparts by boldly cultivating them and pursuing excellence in our work.
2. Embrace the whole person
As women, we have an innate ability to understand and value the whole of something. We typically do not break it into parts and turn it into an abstraction. Rather, our natural tendency is to grasp it in its entirety.
Alice von Hildebrand writes about this in her book The Privilege of Being a Woman. It’s a beautiful reminder that women play a critical role in management and leadership. When we are responsible for other people – by contributing to someone’s livelihood, resolving conflict, communicating with coworkers and teams, etc. – our ability to value and embrace the whole person takes on a new meaning. We elevate the dignity of those around us simply by being women.
This hits home for me in a particular way because of my marketing and sales background. How often do we recoil from the idea of a “used car salesman”? Now that I work with women almost exclusively, I often listen to them express fears of being “pushy” or “manipulative” when it comes to sales. Why? Because we know there is something inherently disordered about treating customers as numbers on a spreadsheet rather than whole human beings.
3. Lead with confidence & compassion
While I love a good Gary V video every now and then, my favorite examples of excellent leadership are Jesus, the saints, and – not insignificantly – mothers.
Jesus turned society’s understanding of masculinity and femininity on its head by interacting with others with confidence and compassion. People literally flocked to him, unable to resist the attraction of someone who embodied these traits effortlessly. He shocked those around him by setting a new standard for leadership: serving others. The great saints followed suit, and it seems the business world is finally catching up to what Christians have aimed to live for centuries.
But what does this mean for us as women specifically?
We are all called to motherhood, whether biologically or spiritually. And when I think of a group of people who consistently lives authentic femininity through confident and compassionate leadership, I think of mothers. Women. People who serve out of love and a belief in a higher purpose; who can correct another person with courage and kindness; who can inspire us to become our best selves and always see the good in us.
Not only do those words describe the amazing mothers I know, they also describe the ideal boss, co-worker, entrepreneur, and employee.
4. Be bold, be humble
There’s one woman I have yet to mention, but an article on authentic femininity wouldn’t be full or complete without her – Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Every time Mary is mentioned in the Bible, she is a beautiful example of being both perfectly bold and perfectly humble. Society often pits these traits against each other, while Christianity marries them together.
I won’t reference each instance Mary lives these traits out, but I encourage you to start from the beginning: Mary’s fiat to the angel Gabriel when he revealed she would be the mother of God Himself. Read through her stories and pay attention to how Mary lives a bold, humble life that is steeped in the Holy Spirit and is powerfully and authentically feminine.
Emma Moran loves all things design and business. She has Bachelor’s in multimedia and marketing as well as a Master’s in Business from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emma was the director of a marketing and communications department at a Catholic high school before starting her own business, Creatives on Fire. You can learn more about how she helps female creative entrepreneurs here and check out more of her writing here. She is also a wife and mother of two beautiful daughters.