In honor of International Women’s Day, cherished author, great grandmother and Interface’s culture coach, Marj Barlow shares her insight with us on leadership, change and freedom. Her holistic approach to human development and leadership inspires teams and organizations to cultivate healthy cultures based on recognizing individual strengths. This is “base camp” if you will – the foundation for Interface’s climb up “Mount Sustainability.”
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I was born in 1929 when women were limited in career choices. I never questioned that my destiny would be to act out the roles of wife, mother, and possibly teacher, secretary, or nurse. Wife and mother were paramount roles for me. College degrees were sort of an insurance in case we didn’t marry well. I chose a degree in business because I thought I might like to be a secretary since they could “dress up.” My world changed in my mid-thirties when I was widowed and left with 4 young children. Imagine how it was for me to lose my husband, his degrees, his income, and his partnership. That was when I began to comprehend myself as a whole human being, not just someone playing a role. You might say I became a grown-up human being. I was an independent woman as well as a mother. I was the bread winner.
This day of recognition for women helps me realize that, in that mid-thirties crisis, I gave myself the liberty to be/do/and have all that I could create. Today, I meet women of the next generation who were born knowing that kind of freedom. Times have changed! These are the Possible Women of the future and I invite them to create a future that wants to emerge. Women have natural abilities born of centuries of being disenfranchised. We developed our multi-tasking talent, our way of doing business in circles rather than pyramids, and our capacity for caring and compassion—all born of centuries of being the one who stayed home while men went to war. Today, in 2014, we are choosing to lead and become fully empowered members of the human race in equal partnership with men. The good news for our beloved males is that it gives them the freedom to become fully human also! Men no longer have to carry the whole load of leadership. We can share in partnership, using the best talents of both genders!
The theme of International Women’s Day in 2014 is “Inspire Change.” What does this theme mean for Interface as a company?
My experience with Interface has seen the growth and development of leadership, especially from women employees. Joyce LaValle was my colleague and we had many discussions about the development of women in leadership roles. She was a great role model for women at Interface. It was Joyce who handed the book, “The Ecology of Commerce,” to Ray Anderson before his epiphany. I celebrate the changes women are making today and am hopeful that future generations will experience true parity, creating a new “partnership way.”
Drawing from the spirit and legacy of Interface founder Ray Anderson, how does Interface cultivate a progressive corporate culture?
In Ray’s first book, he spoke of women as the best source for implementing his “sixth face” of the climb up Mt. Sustainability. He actually said women are better equipped to bring forth the sensitivity hookup.
Can you tell us about your role at Interface and share your perspective on the company’s evolution during your partnership?
I have worked for Interface as a consultant in the role of relationship coach since 1996. Watching the growth and development of many individuals has been my great privilege. We have built the foundation for a Strengths-based culture and that includes all the talent, male and female.