The wonder of the wedge

The swan is a majestic creature. There is something entirely magical about them when you see them swimming. They seemingly glide across the water, with what seems like no effort. But underneath the surface, there is a lot of hard work taking place to create that appearance. For the swan is fast as well as graceful. No other waterfowl moves as fast on the water or in the air. They are beautifully unique.

The women in my tribe are swans. Individually, they are magnificent and beautiful. But together, when we fly as a wedge, we are unbeatable. With the passage of time, I have come to appreciate that without my wedge, my life and career would be so much less fulfilling.

Not all women are swans, but they all have the potential to be. For I have found that my relationships with the women in my life have provided something that is entirely unique and invaluable – both at work and personally.

I mean no disrespect to the wonderful men that I have worked with. Although most of my romantic choices in men have been less than ideal, a lot of men have mentored me and guided me through my life.   They have been there for the duration and never gave up on me. And I know that they never will. But that is a different kind of relationship – special in its own way, but not the same as the wedge.

As someone who grew up with two brothers and was a bit of a tomboy, I have always been drawn to male dominated industries. Quite frequently, I was used to being the only woman on the executive team or in the room. Particularly in the 1990s and early 2000s, work wasn’t always a female friendly environment. There was objectification, misogyny, and a lot of really inappropriate jokes.   

But in recent years, as I have navigated enormous change in my career and life, it is the wedge of women around me that has lifted me up and helped me to fly. Let me explain why.

The power of the swan

Swans possess grace, beauty, and the ability to carry themselves in a way that commands attention. But it is not just their looks that make them unique and a source of fascination. Swans are also synonymous with loyalty and honour.  They don’t engage in un-necessary conflict, nor will they betray friendship and love with their nearest and dearest. In difficult situations, they are the first to come to the rescue of their peers.   

 Although known for their gracefulness, they can also be aggressive when defending their territory. They are not cowards and are ready to fight for what they think is right. This also means defending the other swans in their wedge. Loyalty is their thing!

This is the kind of friendship and support that makes a life less ordinary. When you have other like-minded women in your wedge, you feel seen, you feel safe, and you feel invincible. As a woman, finding and collecting other swans for my wedge has become one of my greatest joys.

The wedge in flight

When swans fly together in a team, they do so in what is called a “wedge”. This is a super tight “V” formation, with the front bird leading the way. What is so powerful about the wedge is that the birds take turns to lead the pack, bearing the brunt of the elements and navigational responsibilities.[1] 

The V shape of the wedge also means that they can communicate amongst themselves, it aids navigation and ensures that they can keep an eye on each other. If one of the birds is struggling to keep up, the entire group will slow down or take a break. They have each other’s backs.

In such a formation, the wedge is incredibly powerful and efficient. They can fly thousands of kilometres without stopping for a break. They fly in groups because it is safer and more reliable than flying alone.   

The wedge is fast, efficient, compassionate, and powerful. They achieve more together than they could by flying solo. And it is the same for the women in my wedge. 

The Queen Bee vs the Swan

I strongly believe that all women have the potential to be a swan and to find their wedge. But I have also encountered a different type of woman at work – the Queen Bee. The Queen Bee syndrome describes a workplace phenomenon where a high-ranking woman intimidates and excludes her female subordinates, often leading to a hostile and uncomfortable work environment.[2] Although it is really a power play, it also relates to those women who don’t help other women. 

As I reflect on my own career, where I have often been the only senior woman at the table, I wonder how often I have exhibited such characteristics and made other women feel unsupported. There is no doubt in my mind that I have – even though it pains me to admit it. 

Evidence suggests that the Queen Bee syndrome is often created as a way for women to cope with the gender discrimination that they have faced in their own career. So, there is a sub conscious need to apply gender stereotypes that the woman has herself experienced.[3] Modern research indicates that the Queen Bee syndrome is actually symbolic of a woman who is doing her best to adapt and survive in male dominated environments.[4]

To avoid being a Queen Bee and to strive to be a swan, self-awareness is critical. If you start to exhibit any of these traits, you may be heading in the wrong direction:

  • Are you supportive of other women, including younger women who are looking to you for direction and support?
  • Do you feel competitive with other women?
  • Do you give other women the credit they deserve?
  • Are you more critical of female subordinates?
  • Are you behaving in a way that is true to your self or in a more masculine manner?
  • Are you actively supporting and being positive toward other women around you?

It is important to remember that adult swans have few predators, but when they’re young, they’re vulnerable to attack. So, fostering the young swans until they have found their wings is critically important for us older birds! They need our help, wisdom, and guidance.

A symbol to aspire to

Across the ages, the swan repeatedly turns up in a variety of symbolic ways.  In most cultures, seeing a swan is a sign of prosperity and is a good omen.  Many also believe that if you see a swan, then it is time to acknowledge the power of the self. The swan is letting you know that you are amazing, it is time to let your talents unfold and your heart shine[5].

Swan symbolism also teaches us that we all have inner beauty. Never was this more evident than in the old fable “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen.[6] In the fable, upon hatching, one of the ducklings is perceived as an ugly creature and suffers much verbal and physical abuse. Ultimately, we discover that the “duckling” was a beautiful swan all along – she was simply not with her tribe. The fable is often cited a metaphor for inner beauty. But it is also a symbol of the power of transformation of self.

A final word

To the women in my wedge, I thank you deeply for teaching me, supporting me, and inspiring me to reach for the stars.  You encourage me to embrace my inner dreams and envelop me in a blanket of acceptance and support. Thank you for checking on me when I am quiet and for never making me feel less than visible and important. To the young women that I am constantly discovering and adding to my wedge, I will strive to do my best to help you to soar and add to your own wedge. 

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Image credit: Mike Dunn