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Business & Real Estate

Steel magnolias and vulnerable oak trees

Jean on the Job

From the movie, "Steel Magnolias," where Shirley MacLaine and Dolly Parton comfort Sally Field in ways her husband can't, we are reminded of the strength of women. When I am asked to lead an empowerment class for women executives, I think of that movie. Oh, these smart VPs are not always from the south, not usually as neurotic and don't own beauty shops. They are not living their husband's dreams, but they do have the same capacity to comfort and support each other that the film depicted.

Women can show pain to each other. How do women support each other? They provide an opportunity to show vulnerability in crisis and in moments of fear. They talk more, more often, and more openly.

Male executives will not easily talk about their marriage problems or about interpersonal disputes on the job. Some men continue to bring their wives to the office parties rather than confess that they are no longer together.

Some men never resolve personal disputes on the job. Years go by and others do not know of the internal dispute. Reasons? Years of professionalism in which they were told to leave their problems at home. And men are not bred to watch for relationships, to be curious about how people get along.

Women empower each other because they are still in a survival mode in the world of business and in the world of being a home partner and a mother. Every woman sighs deeply over another's discrimination, battering or limitations to caring for a child. The pain is profound and wrenching even if we have never been battered or butchered.

Women have an easier time with unconditional love. Fathers have a harder time with this. I've seen fathers leave ball games because their sons were not playing well. Mothers cheer to the end.

I see the competition differences in sports. In women's basketball, each is competitive and loves to score, but when others do well, the women are profoundly joyous. Men do high-fives. They even jump on each other when it means the team will win, but don't seem to be able to show the unabashed and unqualified thrill of watching a teammate succeed.

There are lots of exceptions to the above. Some of our women have become like men. They are not able to reveal or show pain. They are learning to sublimate certain desires for accomplishment gains. They are learning it is sometimes dangerous to share certain information. And, of course, there are men who can share and comfort and do a better job than women

Jean Hollands is CEO, Growth & Leadership Center, and author. Write her at GLC, 1451 Grant Road, Mountain View, 94040.

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