Connecting women with their leadership powers

We were honored to speak with Manal Omar, who has an amazing background working the field of humanitarian and conflict resolution for over 20 years. Manal recently founded Across Red Lines, which aims to connecting women with their leadership powers. During our interview Manal spoke to us about the importance of women in the workplace, how to overcoming barriers to gender diversity as well as great advice on professional conflict resolution..

You founded Across Red Lines to connect women with their leadership powers. Please tell us more about this organization and what inspired you to start it?

I worked in the field of humanitarian and conflict resolution for over 20 years.  One of the main things I learned in my career was the importance of women in unlocking stability and prosperity. I wanted to shift my career away from resolving violent conflict, to preventing it. Women are the key to that happening. And not just any women – but well integrated women who are in touch with their feminine power. So, I founded Across Red Lines – dedicated to women accessing their full potential through a place of joy.  In addition to individual leadership, ARL helps foster a community where women uplift other women. This is done through an online community, publications that demonstrates the power of women, and quarterly retreats.

You have said that women are a vital part of a workforce – why are women in the workplace so important?

I could write a whole dissertation on this question alone. First and foremost, by accessing women in the workplace you automatically double your talent pool. Also, women are growing tremendously for purchasing power, and so you will also get insight into a crucial target audience.  Not to mention, the plethora of research that strongly demonstrates the added value of women being included on teams. For example, research based on the Center for Creative Leadership demonstrated that women in the workplace translates to strongly organization development, employee engagement, retention, linking purpose with product, and decreased burnout. Its also worth noting, that these positive outcomes impact the entire company – whether male or female employees. In fact, the male respondents were equally as female respondents on the personal benefits in incorporating more women.

What are the differences between men and women in the work place?

Unfortunately, the male ego can be a bit delicate, so its worth constantly repeating that each gender brings a value added and specific insights. In terms of women, there is a specific leadership style often associated with the feminine. This includes a more horizontal management style, building in feedback loops for employees, and a consultative decision-making process.  Overarching throughout the ages, women play a crucial role as the developers and preservers of culture. So you can imagine how this translates into the workforce. Organizations spend thousands on building organizational culture, and research shows women actively build community in workplaces. Again – this leads to better employee retention and less burnout.

In your opinion, how can we successfully tackle gender bias and promote diversity?

Embrace conflict. I know – as a peace builder for 20 years everyone gives me a bit of the side-eye when I say this. But it is one of my crucial messages within Across Red Lines – especially for women. Sometimes we are so afraid of conflict that we will unconsciously revert to a passive/aggressive or manipulative style of working.  In the past, this may have been necessary. Yet the reality is that it does not serve us. All my training include conversations around conflict. In my retreats, we spend an entire day understanding our unique conflict styles (most women tend to be avoids or compromises).  I also run a training dedicated to brave conversations. In many circles, we have lost the art of dialogue around difficult conversations. So we avoid any confrontation. Often, things can be addressed and solved in early stages when a confrontation is needed. We may avoid and avoid, then it is no longer a confrontation and instead we find ourselves in a midst of a nasty conflict that could have been avoided by an early conversation.  Its important to create safe space, but it is equally important to allow for dissent and questions. Avoiding the brave conversations around race, religion, and gender is often a sure way to have conflict in the workplace (even if it is not visible, it will be an undercurrent in the energetic of the office). This means human resources has a key role in setting up guidelines and forums that create authentic dialogue.

Culture in the workplace can be an obstacle; mothers, part-time workers and religion in the workplace can raise a cynical eye. How should we celebrate the best, and not suspect the worst of our peers and colleagues?

Open and honest dialogues. One of my golden rules with my teams is an Islamic term that translates to “benefit of doubt”.  Before we make any conclusions, we promise to assume good intentions. This allows for an easier foundation for confrontation. I also frame confrontation as an act of kindness. If there is something you believe I have done wrong, then please confront me so I have the opportunity to explain myself. It is important this is part of the organizational culture and shared in times of “peace”.  To try and do this when feelings are hurt or a deadline is looming will not have the same impact. Again – my goal is always prevention.

Dialogue is a very unique skill, and often times I see organizations wanting to create a town hall or forum, and without a trained facilitator can actually create harm in the workplace. The first step is creating ground rules that everyone can agree to, and a good facilitator can do this in ways that are inclusive and fun. Tackling difficult conversations does not have to be tense and burdensome if a proper container for the conversation is created.  The challenge is it is a process, and most organizations do not want to invest in a process and prefer a one-off training, or if time is allotted, would rather dedicate it to strategic planning. The fact is that productivity and the bottom line are positively impacted when you invest in organizational culture.  The key element I have found is when people feel safe, they perform beyond expectation. I also believe there is a need to really challenge how HR departments are organized in this day and age. Human Resources have become so intermingled (for valid legal reasons) with protecting the company, that unless there is an active employee/staff association, most people will choose to avoid than confront peers

Your retreats welcome and attract all women, but what to the working women specifically get out of them in your opinion?

First – I believe all women are working – whether formal or informal sectors. I am an economist by training, and so can’t help but revert to studies and statistics. The contribution of women to the GDP includes mothers who stay at home. So absolutely every woman is an active contribution to economic, social, and developmental growth. Yet for women to really play the role of creating abundance and generation in society, the need to be in a place of alignment and integration. The retreats at ARL are a reminder for women that their personal health, well being, and joy is a form of service to the community. We have been taught for so long that sacrifice and suffering builds character. ARL tries to flip the script. Joy, pleasure, and alignment will build character and community.  In some ways the retreat gives women an opportunity to prioritize themselves, and not just in theory. You will walk away with clear tools to integrate into your daily life, rejuvenation by being out in nature, and perhaps more importantly, access to a global community of women dedicated to uplifting other women.  Every person who attends an ARL retreat is linked into the global network worldwide of other women who have attended the retreats.