by Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, author of “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life“
A new study from Quorum shows that women in Congress are working hard (and together) to make real progress. In addition to other impressive statistics, the startup reports that women in the Senate are more active than their male counterparts, with individual women senators introducing 96.31 bills on average to the men’s 70.72 bills. They’re also more successful — 2.31 bills created by female senators were enacted over the last seven years compared to only 1.57 bills from male senators.
I’m not surprised by women lawmakers’ success. In Congress, in business, and in everyday life, women’s natural strengths are becoming more valuable. We’re embracing the sisterhood of women out there who are passionate, full of purpose, and driven to change the world.
Women’s power and influence are set to explode. We have the natural skills needed in a global economy that values collaboration and innovation.
What are those natural skills? Here are the “feminine” traits that women in Congress (and everywhere!) are using to their advantage:
Women are great collaborators.
A Bloomberg.com article that slices and dices Quorum’s findings points out that women in Congress cosponsor more bills with each other than do the men. An explanation, notes the article, could be that because there are fewer women in Congress, they form strong bonds that contribute to collaboration. An example is the monthly, bipartisan supper club for female senators. In fact, the club may have led to the impressive number of bipartisan, cosponsored bills from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who cosponsored 445 bills with Democrats, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who cosponsored 200 bills with Republicans.
Women are adept at creating conditions of mutuality, equality, and trust — all of which are necessary for team members to feel comfortable enough to share ideas and take risks. When we join forces, the benefits have a powerful ripple effect that extends well beyond the original participants. No individual woman is as creative, skilled, or powerful as we are together.
Women are willing mentors.
Among women senators, she’s known as “Coach Barb.” To the rest of the world, she’s the soon-to-retire, longest-serving woman in Congress, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). As “Coach Barb,” Mikulski became mentor to every woman who has been elected to the Senate in recent years. In the Bloomberg.com article, Sen. Mikulski explains that she brings the women senators in for her “Senate Power Workshop” where she explains “how to get started, how to get on the good committees for her state, and how to be an effective senator.”
Women know the significance of a helping hand, mutual support, and mentorship, and we value the satisfaction and meaning that come from aiding others.
Giving your time, knowledge, understanding, empathy, and support to other people can have a huge ROI. Be especially vigilant for opportunities to help other women by being a sponsor or mentor. This can lead to improved opportunities for both of you via reciprocity. Plus, it sets a positive example and is good karma. Helping other women claim their power and passion is always a sound investment. When the hands that rock the cradle join together, they really can rule the world.
Women recognize the importance of “crossing the aisle.”
A 2013 Time.com article chronicles how in October 2013 women in the Senate crossed the aisle to end the government shutdown as Maine’s Susan Collins publicly implored the need to “come together” and Sen. Mikulski backed her up by voicing her willingness to compromise. The article reveals these public statements on the Senate floor were really the result of a bipartisan dinner attended by most of the Senate’s 20 women members that had taken place the night before in New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s offices. The women in the Senate had thrown down the gauntlet, and these first steps were what led to the eventual end of the government shutdown.
It’s a natural human tendency to seek out and spend time with people who share our viewpoints, opinions, attitudes, and methods. But smart women recognize the importance of crossing the aisle. They seek out women who have skills and strengths they don’t already have. Remember that as long as respect and civility are present, debates and disagreements are a good thing. That’s how amazing, higher-level creativity is fueled.
Women know progress comes from mutual respect.
The examples above show that women in the Senate have learned to work together despite their differences. Of course, the progress they’ve made together wouldn’t have been possible if they were also engaged in back-stabbing or name-calling. To prevent that kind of pettiness from derailing what they want to accomplish, the Time.com article points out that amongst women in the Senate there is an “unspoken rule” against publicly criticizing one another.
Nothing squashes creativity and innovation faster than a perceived lack of respect for others’ opinions. And that is something women in Congress have come to understand when it comes to lawmaking. It isn’t always comfortable, but setting aside your original vision and staying open to 360-degree feedback is the best way to spot problems, work out kinks, and discover the most innovative ideas.
Women know the importance of truly listening.
In the Time.com article, North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp suggests that women in the Senate are simply good at listening to one another.
Being able to truly listen is a skill that all women should work to strengthen. Practice being interested rather than interesting. When you’re talking to someone new, ask her about herself and really listen to her answer.
What we’re seeing in Congress is a microcosm of what’s happening with women across the country. In the past, some women have allowed low self-esteem and fear to drain their power and block the amazing connections they could have been making. But now the pendulum is swinging the other way, and a whole new movement has begun. Women have finally realized that connection and collaboration, not competition, is the answer.
Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, is an author of “Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life” and urges women to connect to help each other create a better world. She is a clinical psychologist, motivational speaker, and women-empowerment expert who devotes her energies to helping women achieve the lives they want. O’Reilly is the founder of Women Connect4Good, Inc., and for seven years she has interviewed inspiring women for online podcasts available on her website.