THE BLOG
05/22/2014 11:43 am ET | Updated Jul 22, 2014

How Compassion Can Unleash Third Metric Success For Women in Workplaces

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"There is always pain in the room," cautioned Peter Frost, one of the world's leading researchers on compassion at work, and he was absolutely right. Yet when was the last time you sat in a meeting with your colleagues in the office and actually took the time to look at the pain of others?

Most of us don't. We're too busy, too focused and too frightened by what we might see and how we would need to respond.

But if you look up -- just for a moment -- you would see far too many good men and women functioning, but clearly not flourishing, in workplaces.

Arianna Huffington notes that her eyes opened to what's happening in our workplaces, and every conversation eventually came around to the same dilemmas we are all facing -- the stress of over-busyness, overworking, over-connecting on social media and under-connecting with ourselves and with one another.

And for women this pain is particularly prevalent. In new research released this week, 85 percent of Australian businesswomen describe themselves as just functioning at work, rather than flourishing.

Is it any wonder, though, when so many women in organizations are told to blend in, don't make a fuss, suppress your femininity, don't be too special or have different needs, and god forbid, don't let anyone actually notice that you are, you know, a woman?

As a result, women are opting out of corporate careers, sidelining themselves or starting their own businesses when they feel demoralized from trying to fit a model that doesn't serve them well. Clearly the current approach for most women in business is unsustainable.

But what if instead of trying to "fix the women" by urging them to step up, be more assertive or lean in, organizations approached this opportunity with compassion instead.

Professor Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan recommends we can show more compassion at work by:

  • Noticing when there is pain in the room and creating a safe place for people to be able to express their pain when needed.
  • Not judging or trying to make sense of someone's behavior, simply listening to what they need to share.
  • Not worrying about doing the right thing or acting perfectly. Just being present and letting them know they've been heard.

The Australian Pulse for Women In Leadership set out to do just this.

The results of the survey showed that it's time for women to be valued for the bottom-line benefits that come from embracing their feminine traits of empathy, kindness, collaboration, openness and flexibility rather than repressing them in order to fit the required leadership mold. It's time for women to fully step into their power, for all that they are and all that they can be.

And it's time for business leaders and organizations to recognize the qualities that have long been seen to be weaknesses, are actually the strengths that can help address many of the issues that business, government and the economy are facing today.

Only then will Third Metric success start to become a reality for business women everywhere.