Female Leadership: “There’s chicks in charge everywhere.”

[This post reprinted with permission from Burn After Reading Magazine.]

Harley K. Dubois and Rebecca Anders (Photo by Sidney Erthal)
Harley K. Dubois and Rebecca Anders (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

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No one takes a tool out of anyone’s hands. That seems to be the golden rule that truly fosters leadership. “The more the teacher resists the urge to take the tool out of the hand of the student, the better the student learns,” attests Rebecca Anders who has been apart of large Burning Man art since 1997. She’s worked with the Flaming Lotus Girls, helped to build the Temple of Flux and currently makes within the Flux Foundation. Her cohort for the Female Leadership lecture at the Burning Man Global Leadership is equally amazing. Harley K. Dubois attended her first Burn in 1991 and it has spiraled out of control from there. Harley is responsible for creating the infrastructure of Burning Man. She was the first person to suggest theme camp placement and has served as the City Manager for fifteen years. Now she is the Chief Transition Officer and facilitated the recent transition of The Burning Man Project.

One of the main things these women have learned by being leaders in their communities – it’s about collaboration not competition. The more projects embrace the “We” instead of the “I” the more everyone involved is able to succeed. This kind of attitude leads to the doacracy culture that we all so greatly appreciate.

Thoughtful responses were plentiful from the crowd. (Photo by Sidney Erthal)
Thoughtful responses were plentiful from the crowd. (Photo by Sidney Erthal)

Rebecca has a great example of this from her Burn in 2011. While building the Temple of Flux there was no lead carpenter. The person with the clipboard was the person in charge but that individual was constantly rotating. When it was quitting time for one, another would come in, get briefed, grab the clipboard and take their place. The balance of power was never skewed because everyone had a chance to be in that leadership role. At first the professional carpenters who came to volunteer with the temple at the Burn were fairly confused. There was no main foreman only someone standing there with a clipboard and all the information. “There’s chicks in charge everywhere,” Rebecca joked that this must have been the possibly unnerving realization of all these carpenters who were used to a very different situation. This radical model was insanely successful and to this day The Temple of Flux, which was created by a crew that was 80% women, was the only temple to finish early and under budget.

This success should come as no surprise. “Women have been running Burning Man since the getgo.” Harley states with sincerity and a bit of levity. Marian Goodell, Crimson Rose and Harley were incredibly instrumental in the creation of Black Rock City. Harley built all her teams by making dinner and feeding them. One of Harley’s tricks is to be nourishing and accommodating, it gets the job done.

Throughout the entire workshop and the open discussion that began to take shape between all the participants in the room the concept of the We continuously came up. Everyone needs to feel empowered and if you give value to the volunteers there’s a sense of ownership that creates a work family not just a work crew. Our consensus was that the most powerful thing that a leader of any gender can do is to give their power to others.

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One comment on “Female Leadership: “There’s chicks in charge everywhere.”

  • Moreover says:

    Burning Man really does have a feel that women are in the key leadership positions. This is one of the reasons that event continues on as it does, with efficiency. Women are great at efficiency, like they are born to be managers. And that how Burning Man feels, efficiently managed. It’s the main reason why ritual and repetition are prominent out there. Once you have good recipe, you don’t mess with it, and that’s how women lead.

    If men lead the event, they would have been shit-canned after 1996, after it became a big business and strayed from its roots as a TAZ. That’s what men do – they build and then they destroy. Slash and Burn. When something starts to suck, men destroy that thing.

    Women, on the other hand, just happily go about managing things and slightly modifying things when administratively appropriate: Wash/rinse/repeat. Let’s have a meeting about it, who is bringing cupcakes? Who wants to be the CEO this week? Oh, I feel empowered, do you feel empowered? Here, have some of my power.

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