I recently came to realise that I do in fact punch like a girl. And let it be known, I’m actually incredibly proud of that fact.Context: attempts at a slightly healthier lifestyle have led me down a rabbit hole of fitness experimentation, including a bit of light boxing. Comfort zone be damned, it’s really quite a thrill (and a life lesson, as it turns out). My instructor, however, constantly needs to remind me to put a bit more pack into my punches. Dainty little punches are not of course what one looks to aspire to in a proverbial or literal ring, but we need hardly be that literal here. My strategy for improvement with my fists is very much my strategy in the vocational world of communications: to keep punching like a girl in all the invariable ways this is a brilliant thing and keep improving as I go along. And why, you may wonder, is it a great thing?.Well, punching like a girl is not, for me, a question of strength, a criticism of lack of power, force or even target. It is not about being too soft, or not packing enough of a punch at all. These may oftentimes be seen to be the very epitome of why women in the workplace may be regarded in a lesser manner (Emotion? Hell no! Doing it with feeling? Weakness, no doubt!) Rather, “punching like a girl” means punching like you mean it, channelling every might within, both physical and emotional, visualising the target and hitting like holy hell. At least, this is what it means to me and for me. And who couldn’t apply this (figuratively) to life in all its glory?Some of the best of those around us punch like girls. And they’re in damn good company, with no shame or criticism for sensitivities or softness. In fact, increasingly, our apparent fairer sense, historically maligned for not being strong enough, are increasing in both power and influence and it’s a well worth sipping from as far as I am concerned, whether we are looking at the corporate world, social justice, social enterprise and more. The status quo has changed and changed for the better, and while issues of gender parity or gender stereotypes have a long way to go before we may consider them healthy or fixed, the progress thus far is encouraging to say the least..According to Grant Thornton (2021), 39% of senior management positions in African businesses are held by women, higher than the global average of 31%. The report goes on to note that 52% of African businesses (59% globally) believe that new working practices as a result of COVID-19 have enabled women in business to play greater leadership roles. Botswana itself is listed third in the list of countries with the highest share of female managers (2019). Culturally, we have women as leaders of communities and have done so for decades, women chairing the boards of some of the most highly regarded listed entities, and women running major corporates as well as advocacy groups. The idea of women in power or a woman leading is as un-foreign to us as can possibly be, at least on this end of the world. Where we may need reminders that women hold high seats in our cultures and societies, we need simply to recall our past and our present.We are not starved for examples around us; not by a long shot. Look no further than Michelle Obama, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousefzai, Thuli Madonsela, Khanyi Dlhomo, Dr. Shiela Tlou, Kgosikgolo Mosadi Seboko, Diana Dickinson, Joy Phumaphi, and more. As advocates, leaders, activists and communicators, every action and every word is pregnant with purpose and passion. They are re-writing the rules, shaping new experiences and creating new uncharted paths for the generations that follow. With a greater demand for authenticity in brands and businesses all around us, gone are the days where women of the world are (or at least should be) divorcing the emotion that fuels societal growth with the rational mindset to still ensure practicality in progress – if these women (and many others) are anything to go by, their unapologetic passion and care have fuelled immeasurable change that inspires the rest of us in more than just one fell swoop..From seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, both Margaret Thatcher and the Dalai Lama saw weight in the softer skills possessed predominantly (or at least thus far) by women. Thatcher said “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country,” while the Dalai Lama noted that “According to scientists, women have more sensitivity than men. Sometimes I really feel that more women should take responsibility for the leadership of our planet. It would mean less violence.”With growing efforts to fight for gender parity on a global scale, the idea of feminist-shaming ambitious, outspoken and bold women is becoming harder and harder to get away with. The Madonna or whore dichotomy has no room in any modern-day society let alone conversation, nor does the idea that certain stereotypical or archetypical behaviour may colour badly in a professional environment, because some of the very best women and “sheroes” in fact demonstrate day in and day out not only that the proverbial “punch like a girl” confident, deliberate and purposeful emotional push can work, but that when balanced in its delivery, can wield true magic. Much of the strength of successful women around us (much, albeit not all), I would argue comes from that very defiance to compartmentalise the things said to potentially hold them back. Channelling their softer skills is proving more progressive than paralysing, and we are seeing the results..Perhaps the answer lays in no longer critiquing just the construct, but in embracing the gender construct to bridge the gender gap. The need for greater EQ and empathy has become more relevant across the gender divide since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Greg Orme in a recent piece for Forbes cites the now infamous KPMG Bill Michael incident (in which the leader, during an online meeting for 500 staff, told people to "stop moaning" about the impact of the pandemic and to stop "playing the victim card") as the epitome of how NOT to engage people. It makes the clear case for enhanced human kindness, compassion and empathy, with no room for insensitive or tone-deaf remarks that may otherwise have been acceptable in a strict professional environment. “As we move into the post-pandemic era, empathy – the ability to feel or imagine another person’s emotional experience - will become even more important,” Orme notes. He continues, “Connecting to people via video requires superior observational and listening skills, as well as a deeper understanding of the emotional temperature in the group. In a word: empathy.”Maybe a little more emotion and compassion ought to be the order of the day, with every man and woman “punching like a girl” in life and work in the reclaimed sense of the phrase. The so-called softer skills and softer emotional requirements clearly have a more profoundly central role to play not simply in leadership but in colleague camaraderie. The very things chucked to the side in the historical practice of what it means to run a business, lead a team or manage a department or simply a single human resource demands to be looked upon with a fresh lens. Given that the entire future world of work has been turned atop its head, what’s abundantly clear is that we need not, and cannot afford, to keep doing things the way we used to. Care and empathy are paramount, engagement and compassion crucial, and softer people skills absolutely essential towards survival and success in a way they may never have been before..They bring trust, confidence and comfort, and in turn have the potential to inspire, motivate and support. We can all stand to “punch like a girl,” both men and women, a little more and a little more often. Doing so means channelling soft skills harmoniously balanced with the same ambition, determination and verve that the best leaders, both men and women, show more and more of each day.I’m quite happy to keep punching like a girl, because dammit, we punch hard and we punch with purpose..Originally published on MarkLives.