Political appointments don’t usually excite me, but the recent headlines following New York Governor Como’s resignation that three women now hold the top three positions in New York, caught my attention big time.
On August 23, 2021, New York Times reporters Dana Rubinstein and Luis Ferré-Sadurní wrote that:
“Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will become the first female governor of New York on Tuesday, selected experienced political aides to fill her top two administration posts. Ms. Keogh’s appointment, along with the selection of Elizabeth Fine as Ms. Hochul’s counsel, means that a trio of women will be at the helm of the executive branch roiled by allegations of sexual harassment by the outgoing governor.”
Kathy Hochul, 2017, Wikipedia Commons
Why does this give me hope?
Because it’s time. If you’ve read my speculative fiction novel, Heart Wood, you know that the power of women working in triads is one of the main themes.
It’s time that the feminine approach to decision-making and getting things done becomes our leadership style. Just look around at what we’re experiencing: environmental destruction, political unruliness, polarized communities. I don’t need to rant on about how the masculine approach has brought us to the brink of self-inflicted chaos. (Please note, I’m not talking about males and females, but about masculine and feminine approaches to life. It’s not necessarily gender-based).
Have you ever awakened in the dark of night with the answer to a problem? When I wrote Heart Wood, I struggled with how to portray how feminine leadership is different. I kept putting it off until I had written myself into a corner. I went to sleep, knowing that when I work up in the morning, I had to create a scene to illustrate how the feminine style of decision-making and getting things done differs from the masculine. To make it more challenging, I gave this task to Eliza in 1915.
In a dreamy haze, I awoke thinking about a class I took back in 2007 as part of Sierra Health Foundation’s Health Leadership Program. The instructors, Dave Logan from the Marshall School of Business, USC, and John King, JLS Consulting, had us experience the power of setting up triads in our work setting instead of the more traditional leader-at-the-hub-of-the-wheel or top of a pyramid. I don’t have a background in sociology or organizational development, but this model has been helpful to me ever since. (You can research Dyads/Triads online for a deeper description).
Triads? Threesomes? Trios? Each person is connected to two others, forming a triangle that can independently problem-solve and move forward. Stable like a three-legged stool, each triangle is connected to other triangles for support. It felt like a feminine way of working: cooperation, collaboration, communication. It wasn’t a perfect model, but it felt right.
When I began writing that morning, the creation of an analogy came easily. What did women in early 1900s do? Quilt. I envisioned Eliza working on a quilt made of triangle-shaped pieces as she talked with her daughter about how she would organize her departments as the new president of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.
Here’s the scene from Heart Wood, Eliza, 1915 ( page 383)
Eliza reached for the pincushion, pulled out a needle with enough pink thread to work with, and started on the pink calico triangle. They continued stitching in a silence, punctuated by needles slipping in and out of each triangle with a quiet pop. Eliza thought back to all the times she and her mother had worked on quilts together. And the Bowtie quilt her mother had hung on the back porch. Who would have guessed it was a signpost pointing the way to safety for escaping slaves? Hidden in plain sight, it was. “Mother?” Eliza didn’t reply, for she was deep in thought, drawing her index finger along the seam lines, moving from color to color, edge to edge, triangle to triangle. “Mother, are you finished?” Eliza held up her hand; she needed more time to think. After a few moments she rose abruptly. “Of course!” Dottie followed her to the dining table and watched her rearrange the stacks of files from one side of the table then back again. “Help me take these into the parlor, Dottie. This table is simply not the right shape.” After pushing the furniture back against the walls, Eliza worked trance-like, for the next hour. She covered the carpet with her department files arranged into sets of three, each set forming a triangle by bordering with and connecting to the other two; each of those creating another triangle with its neighbors, until the floor was like a quilt of interconnecting triangles. It was a bit awkward using rectangle files, but as she straightened her aching back, she saw what had been hidden in plain sight. “Do you see how this works, Dottie? Each department head is connected to two other heads. They form a unit; help each other out, share resources. On either side of each woman is, in turn, another triad of women, making each woman and department stronger. You can go on and on, creating as many connections as you need. This is as stable as a three-legged stool. And no one woman has to bear all the weight.” Eliza threw open her arms with excitement. “This is how women work - we reach out to each other, we set personal issues aside in order to strengthen the whole. This is women’s power.”
And so I have hope. Hope that the newly installed New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, along with Karen Keogh (Secretary to the Governor) and Elizabeth Fine (Counsel to the Governor), will usher in a fresh wave of New York politics; that they show us how to work together for the community’s benefit, and that we are all smart enough to learn from them.
As Eliza concluded: “We’re all so accustomed to the organizing structure that men have handed to us,” she told them. “But it is a structure that keeps women from our power. I propose we try something more aligned to our female nature: a structure that facilitates sharing connections and power, not merely an exclusive hierarchy of power. One that promotes the integrity of our planet, not one that destroys the planet for man’s selfish gain.” This, the women understood.”
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