By amel murphy MSc, MCIPD Leadership Consultant, Diversity &Inclusion Partner and Business Mentor
For years now, the topic of gender diversity makes headlines. Researches were conducted to demonstrate the business case for more females in the workplace, however little progress has been done to address it at its roots.
Women in leadership positions are becoming an emerging trend in many countries and organizations, yet female leaders are continuously having to embrace masculine traits if they want to progress in the organization.
For 10+ years, I have read books, reports, findings and research on the topic of leadership and women in leadership in particular. When examining the findings, I couldn’t help asking myself, what is so different between the gender and what are we looking for to leverage on? as I failed to see the difference in the workplace even though we had more female leaders at the top.
I couldn’t understand why organisations wanted more female at the top, when those female looked and acted no different to their male counterparts. Why make the fuss about something that creates no value.
When looking carefully at the research, specially the one published by Mc Kinsey’s since 2007 entitled “Women Matter”, my quest on leadership was no longer driven by gender equality, however it was more about the traits/qualities that gender diversity served. It was more about the leverage of both feminine & masculine qualities as a business case for innovation.
With this in mind, my question shifted slightly to not only how can we increase the presence of women at board level but more about, Why is feminine leadership important for organizations? How can we bring more feminine leadership to our organizations? Why gender diversity is key to business innovation?
According to the third annual Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor published last year, it’s top-level female leaders who are best at getting their message across.
More than 6,500 responses from individuals around the world provided perceptions of leaders in business, community, politics, non-profit, and union or organised labour organisations.
In five out of seven metrics of effective leadership, female leaders out-did their male counterparts. The survey identifies ‘feminine’ leadership communication as the way of the future and suggests the end of the ‘macho’ style in senior ranks.
In the top four metrics – “leading by example”, “communicating in an open and transparent way”, “admitting mistakes” and “bringing out the best in others” – more than half of the respondents felt that women leaders performed better than men.
According to the Ketchum survey, Female leaders offer transparency, collaboration, genuine dialogue, clear values and the alignment of words and deeds, which are cherished by employees and stakeholders.
Feminine leadership isn’t a male vs. female issue, as men are capable of accessing those traits as much as women do, however culturally and biologically, women have the tendency to embody them more.
In 2013, The Athena Doctrine: How Women and the Men Who Think Like Them Will Rule the Future book asserted that “feminine values could be the answer to many of humanity’s & corporation challenges.
Based on a worldwide piece of research with 64,000 people. The study highlighted a growing dissatisfaction with what many perceived to be masculine values and traits dominating global business and politics.
Also business culture favors the masculine perspective, not because of an intention to marginalize women, but because men designed it. As a result, we recognize and reward masculine leadership. Women sometimes report to be left out from promotion just because they don’t fit the traditional leadership model of the organisation.
Women are able to succeed in a “man’s world,” but it can come at a high psychological and physiological cost. Many women find that in the process of fulfilling personal and professional expectations, they have only partially developed their capacities despite significant external achievements.
Many women leaders make the decision to leave the organisation rat race and start their own businesses, as they are no longer willing or keen to fit in to a model/system that doesn’t appreciate or value difference. Those women who do pursue the leadership track face significant unconscious bias.
So what is the answer?
According to Janet Crawford, “there isn’t only one answer but these four are essential”:
- Raise awareness of unconscious bias. Until biases are made visible and we find creative ways to neutralize them, unconscious bias will trump conscious values, resulting in well-meaning people inadvertently perpetuating the status quo. We should have programs in place to address it.
- Be a daily observer of how you are reacting to others, and how others are reacting to you and be willing t0 and Question your points of reference and challenge your own beliefs and assumptions.
- Involve men as gender inequity isn’t a special cause or a women issue but it affects all of us, it affects economies, organizations and families so we need the involvement and the participation of the system stakeholders to combat it.
- Create workplace culture that promotes integrated leadership style where both the feminine and masculine attributes, strengths are leverage, appreciated and rewarded.