shestainability: the mindset and practice of cultivating connection, collaboration and innovation, which lead to sustainable business results through an inclusive company culture.

Elevating Feminine Leadership for Sustainable Results

What Drives You?

As a coach who professionally explores purpose and intentions, I felt a sense of glee over Oilwoman’s lead question for this article. Based on deep conversations with hundreds of women over the past four years, I’ve developed a knowing that women possess creative ideas that we need to solve environmental and social challenges, as an energy industry and a society. When women speak, creative solutions emerge. How do I know that? I am an example of it myself!

In 1995, my son Benjamin was only six months old and infected by Clostridium, a bacterium that is life-threatening for infants. I was told that the antibiotics didn’t work this time around, and that he might die. Distracting myself from this painful thought in a magazine, a tiny column caught my attention which told a seemingly unrelated story about combating Clostridium in cows by using feces as the main ingredient. Most of all, it suggested that perhaps one day this could be a promising treatment for humans. I immediately called the pediatrician. The solution, I saw, was possibly in the poop!

As expected, my idea was first met with criticism and resistance. “Mrs. Hausken, under no circumstances are we doing that. I understand you’re bringing up crazy ideas considering the difficult situation, but this is reckless and cannot be done.” With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I responded firmly with strength and grace, asking the doctor to do one simple thing before he made his decision: contact a professor in Bergen, Norway, and ask him what he thought about testing the cow treatment on my son. With my emotions fully intact, I added, “If for nothing else than to comfort me, please consider it.”

Ultimately the doctor made the call and, with the help of the professor, Benjamin was cured within a matter of hours. Beyond my family’s benefit, this seemingly “crazy” procedure continues to help thousands of people with Clostridium, internationally recognized as an effective treatment for the condition. Later, at age two, Benjamin was diagnosed with the progressive disease Hurlers Syndrome with a life expectancy of 12 years. Today, Benjamin is 26. For almost three decades, I’ve been called to lead in unexpected ways and work in partnership with medical experts as the advocate for “out of the box” solutions to my son’s ongoing medical issues.

This is where my awe and appreciation of feminine leadership emerged in my own life. And yet, while I experienced success fighting for my son, it took me decades to cultivate a practice of slowing down to connect with myself to communicate authentically at work. With the support of mindfulness practices and a deep dive into my “inner work” with a leadership coach I trust, I quickly learned the skill of noticing my fear, and consciously transforming that energy into courage and curiosity. This self-awareness journey ultimately led me to an entrepreneurial path, where I believe I can shake up the thinking of male-dominated industries from the outside.

Equity reports and honest conversations reveal that thousands of women keep their powerful ideas quiet due to non-inclusive work environments. My mission as a coach and a mentor is to remind women one transformational truth: Your ideas matter. This empathy is ultimately what drives my sense of urgency to empower women to innovate the energy industry.

Sustainability is a Mindset

In my experience, sustainability is a way of thinking and an inclusive culture, from which sustainable business outcomes naturally emerge. When I imagine a sustainable company, I see a happy organization that is genuinely interested in the end result of what it is producing. Every team member is enrolled in the company’s vision and demonstrates shared values through how they make decisions. Each person is treated with respect. Managers let go of hierarchical expectations and instead invite their people to set mutual agreements on how to best contribute toward the business mission. People feel a sense of belonging, which creates a sense of safety to share their creative ideas. Their life is better. And when people’s lives are better in the workplace, they produce better work.

You know an organization has reached this state of employee empowerment and inclusion when team members begin to initiate and openly question their leaders: “What do we stand for? How are we progressing toward our mission? Why haven’t we reached this sustainability goal?” As human beings, we need to be able to visualize the desired outcome and feel the impact we are being asked to create. The steps to achieve specific sustainability goals emerge from first focusing on how people are working and collaborating with themselves, customers and community stakeholders. A company culture that evolves to wholeheartedly value empathy, collaboration and creativity is one in which entrepreneurial thinking thrives.

Beyond discovering clean technologies and minimizing our environmental impact, we must expand the sustainability conversation to include the wellbeing of people in the here and now. When I was speaking up with ideas to help find medication for my son Benjamin, I didn’t think about longevity. I was thinking about how to create the happiest life for him while living. This same principle holds true for companies. Imagine what’s possible if we expand the concept of sustainability in the future to include wellbeing in the present? When we commit to creating a sustainable organization, the effect is immediate. It starts today. Rather than a future goal, sustainability is a mindset of working in a healthy, authentic, meaningful way right now.

Could the CSO Be the New CEO?

The most promising “innovation” toward empowered company cultures is the rise and centering of the chief sustainability officer (CSO). When given permission to fully lead, the CSO holistically checks the pulse of the company as a unified whole. Through listening and building trust with every single stakeholder group, this person monitors how the company is, or is not, staying accountable to its values, its mission and its public commitments.

According to EXCEL Partnership, a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the global economy is entering a phase in which environmental and social issues must be integrated into core business decisions and processes. Its 2018 report concluded that in order to achieve this, CSOs need organizational authority in order to mitigate the sustainability risks at hand. Investing time, money and decision-making power in this designated leadership role certainly demonstrates a company’s prioritization of social and environmental responsibility. What remains to be measured and optimized is how effective CSOs are in their challenging role of being the communication bridge between boards of directors, executives, employees, customers and impacted communities.

Elevating Feminine Leadership for Sustainable ResultsInnovation is Deep Listening

The key skill required of sustainability leaders is deep listening, a practice which creates space for empathy. When we cultivate a practice of listening to ourselves and the intuition in our bodies, we are well equipped to truly listen to our colleagues and stakeholders. Practically speaking, an effective CSO gives empathy to employees and the community, who in exchange share valuable stories about business practices that create a negative impact and are thus unsustainable. This honest feedback is then mindfully communicated to executives and board of directors, with recommendations on how to restore trust, both internally with employees and externally with customers and community stakeholders.

Managing up and down with empathy is a foundational skill of the CSO, allowing them to communicate inconvenient truths while coaching other company leaders out of inertia and resistance to change. From a calm state of self-awareness, CSOs in tune with their core values and intuition are more equipped to deliver complex feedback, initiate honest conversations about responsibility and accountability, and pitch new ideas for solutions without the fear of needing to appear perfect or right.

Elevating Feminine Leadership for Sustainable ResultsThis is the sweet spot in which the Shestainability mindset and practices offer the highest impact on accelerating the energy transformation. In supporting the CSO to be consistently empathetic, collaborative and creative, the support of one-to-one coaching helps sustainability leaders exert influence in companies that are lagging in their acknowledgement and acceptance of softer leadership skills and openness to responsible business practices. This support is especially necessary for female CSOs, who simultaneously are the best match for CSO communication skills and responsibilities, yet often the least valued members when it comes to trusting their “authority.”

So, why SHEstainability?

“We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” – Albert Einstein.

As profound as Einstein’s wisdom, the feminine energy within all of us is the key to unlocking sustainable solutions to our energy crisis. When I talk with leaders with strong empathy and intuition, I observe them effortlessly take their thinking beyond money and focus on how decisions impact people and the planet. Through thousands of hours of vulnerable conversations, I’ve witnessed these people with influence question the traditional financial bottom-line. Instead, they share a desire to talk about purpose, meaning, helping others feel valued, a desire to have fun at work, and a deep concern for how we are impacting nature, children and future generations.

While the “She” of this philosophy was born out of my conversations with women, it quickly developed beyond gender roles and into a leadership style which anyone can develop, so long as they have a collaborative mindset and consistently practice the skills of listening, slowing down and asking curious questions. In the introduction to her book, Venus Genius: The Female Prescription for Innovation, author and innovation expert Fabienne Jaquet emphatically states:

“This book is not about women versus men; it is not even about gender. It is about celebrating the duality of feminine and the masculine in all human beings and making sure we activate both energies to create innovation that brings true value to our world.”

I wholeheartedly agree and propose that honoring the feminine today is but a journey toward achieving a state of balance. Shestainability, as both a coaching practice and a leadership mindset, signifies the harmony of masculine and feminine energies within an individual, an organization and a society at large. This rebalancing within ourselves, our lifestyles and our business practices is the work of our generation, and the new paradigm from which we must lead at every level.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” … We Will Collaborate

The energy transition will only become more complex as our “rainbow” of clean technologies and energy sources are continually improved upon, thereby requiring intra-industry collaboration between companies in order to meet the challenges of storage, fluctuation and grid optimization. Trying to power the energy load of our current modern lifestyles on clean yet intermittent fuel sources is a heavy lift, technologically and culturally. Leaders who can effortlessly transition from a business mindset of competition to a mindset of collaboration will ultimately lead this global-scale transition in the decades to come.

For example, one emerging issue that requires a strong dose of empathy is the shame and judgement associated with working for oil and gas companies. While we need brilliant minds to create new sustainable fuel sources, innovation is equally needed on the inside of the old energy companies that currently power our lives. Honoring the dignity and effort of all people along the energy transition continuum is critical to our ability to accelerate sustainable practices. Who might be best suited to guide this unique balancing act of gratitude and grit? Leaders with strong feminine energy, who can hold space for complex emotions alongside concise project execution.

If we are to meaningfully respond to the environmental crisis and social inequity mounting across the world, we must urgently learn to value sustainable and inclusive ways of thinking, leading and living. Imagine what’s possible if we approach our colleagues and the environment with empathy, deeply feeling nature’s suffering within all of us? What might we do as an industry then?

My son lives today because I chose to trust that inner knowing that my idea had potential. The innovations we desperately need to survive and thrive through this energy transition are patiently waiting in our collective feminine energies. When we choose to mine our own inner reserves to ignite the human impulses of empathy, intuition and collaboration, our sustainable future will be a daily reality.

Are you an acting or aspiring chief sustainability officer? Strengthen your “Shestainability” mindset and self-awareness practices through one-on-one leadership coaching, team workshops, online courses and ongoing public conversation. Request a coaching conversation or connect with Rita directly on LinkedIn.

Reprinted by permission. This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of OILWOMAN Magazine.

Author Profile
Rita Hausken

Rita Hauskencoaches women to increase their influence in male-dominated industries. In 2019, Hausken launchedShestainability, a leadership development firm driven by the belief that women possess creative ideas desperately needed to unearth environmentally and socially sustainable business practices. Beyond gender, this executive coaching work merges diverse feminine and masculine energies within individual leadership styles and the wider company culture, resulting in employee wellbeing and sustainable organizations.

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