Have you ever described yourself as THE Alpha female in the room? Some of you are more direct: Badass. Chingona. You are proud to dominate the room, the conversation or any situation in your quest to be successful entrepreneurs, community leaders, and executives. Or maybe you bring out these warrior instincts at home with family—driven to let your family know who’s the boss. In 2003, Europes largest daily newspaper, The Guardian, published one of the first articles asking the question: Do Alpha females exist? It cautioned that being an Alpha male or female was not exactly a positive way to describe either men or women! Since then, stories about the emerging traits of the Alpha female abound.
My question: In our current quest to create opportunity for all--to build an inclusive society--a strong united sisterhood to advance women of color does it make sense to adopt the qualities of an Alpha male or could this undermine our true power?
The Alpha male is typically characterized by hierarchy—striving to be the one with the most power to control others at any cost. Power is a zero sum game. There is only so much and the more you have it the better. Power is good for one purpose and one purpose only: Be in charge. The Alpha male came to be epitomized in popular films with “successful” men though reckless, selfish and narcissistic—think Gordon Gecco in Wall Street. Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas. It’s their way or the highway.
Is this the leadership style for women to follow? Isn’t it possible we can do so much better and model the way?
As Latinas continue to advance in so many sectors, there is no question that a common trait shared across the spectrum of success is fierce determination and assertiveness. It takes real focus and positioning yourself to navigate up the corporate ladder, get elected to public office or to run your business—and have a personal life. The word “no” means nothing to us. And it is so easy to lash out when we’ve been slighted or made less than in our work life. But Latinas bring something more to the quest for leadership. We can still bring the best of our cultural values for community, integrity, respect for others and advance without resorting to what’s been done to us. And, this may be a small manifesto to call each of us to stay true to those ideals—because those values turn out to be actually good for the soul, good for business, and fundamental to the kind of society we may all want to create.
One of the most prolific writers on the value of developing strong supportive social networks is Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Success. In one of his epic posts on LinkedIn (a must read!) he described how important it is not to cave to the belief that leaders who build big businesses or disrupt industries must also be assholes! And his book offers so many examples of “Takers”, “Matchers” and “Givers”. Turns out the truly successful business leaders thrive on giving back, helping others, staying accessible to those who actually can’t do much to advance us, and offering authentic support is key to success. Look at those attributes! Don’t they align with some of our most cherished Latino values?
As much as I want Latinas to Rise to the Top---let’s not do it at the expense of our deeper values that shape our Latinidad. Tell me about the values that shape your career and how you bring our culture to the work you do. Andale Mujer! -Maria