The Feminisation of Leadership – A call to action

Now here’s a subject that has the capacity to make me rant out loud for a very long time so stand by ya beds!
I recall penning an article on women in leadership in this very magazine back in March 2010 entitled ‘OUR TIME IS NOW’ and I can see little movement in the marketplace since. Maybe paradigm shifts demand big interventions so maybe it is time…

In 2007 The McKinsey report found that companies with at least three women in senior management scored highest on nine dimensions of organisation: Most notably leadership, capability, accountability and motivation. Furthermore, having at least three women on the board increases profitability threefold, yes THREEFOLD!

There are no more questions to be answered or evidence to be gathered in relation to whether women make a difference at board level – we do! and the mistakes of not listening or involving women at the top litter every major political and commercial catastrophe so why oh why are we still crawling up the corporate ladder, embarrassingly under represented in public office and still forced to justify our existence in any senior role – arrgh!

Bottom line – we operate differently, we behave differently and most importantly we lead differently and the establishment is neither ready for this, nor embracing our added value.

All male boardrooms do not work and neither do all female – if you need any evidence of this other than global financial meltdown take a look at BBC’s The Apprentice. In the first two weeks of every series Sugar achieves car crash TV ratings by pitting the girls against the boys. It may provide some great moments and be good TV but all female and all male teams are never entirely effective. The men become egocentric, testosterone fuelled tyrants whilst the women get easily distracted by detail and gossip, lack the focus and aggression Sugar is looking for and find it hard to stand out, as team becomes more important than ego. Often they adopt unattractive male behaviour to overcome this and end up in a bitchfest! Once the teams are mixed up, we see a different group dynamic.

Now I know as I attempt to define these differences in relation to leadership there will be some women reading that vehemently oppose my thinking, they will defend their position and right to lead in the same way as men do or see no difference and that is OK, I am outlining some universal truths well documented by people far more intelligent than I and for my part I have spent the past 10 years creating and delivering female centric personal development programmes so I hope my opinion has some merit? However, I also know from my experience, whenever this topic is raised some of you will simply NOT agree and that is fine, I get it, but I would welcome the opportunity to open this dialogue so feel free to email me or comment on the article – talking is good!

Here goes….
In my experience women lead by values, they are more focussed on doing the right thing in relation to the big picture than the immediate impact on their ego or position. For example, If honesty, loyalty, security and authenticity are key to their identity then these will overpower other decision making criteria or at the very least make them feel compromised and uncomfortable if they do not form part of the process. This can be an issue when working in an organisation as the corporate culture and values and indeed, Director level decision making clout does not always operate on this basis and women can be left feeling disconnected, out of the loop and devalued. Often the response to this is to exit and set up in business, or go freelance and we can see from the stats that the female corporate talent pool continues to decrease at an alarming rate. Alternatively, women conform to the dominant culture and become one of the lads and learn the rules for advancement! Neither of these options, in my opinion, will help up gain parity in the long run. I also know that some women get to the top on their own, female terms but sadly these examples and role models are hard to find.

We need to accept we have an abundance of natural, powerful skills to bring to the table so we must stop apologising for having a different perspective and then we need to bring it girls!
Yes we are brilliant and nurturing relationships, teams, customers and suppliers.
Yes we are amazing team players with that natural women’s intuition.
Yes we prefer harmony to conflict so will always try to solve issues fast and efficiently
Yes we communicate, that’s it we communicate!
Yes we are emotional and what of it? Emotion is necessary and very powerful when channelled so stop apologising for it, no emotion equals no rapport, no passion and no interest
Yes we are brilliant change agents – we inspire and move people
Yes we have a far more strategic and sensible approach to risk. We prefer to discuss all options before making rash decisions. We tend to be the voice of reason in a room bursting with testosterone and impulsive energy.

I believe the world needs us to step up to leadership. All areas of the global economy would benefit from our female wisdom, the reason for lack of progress and snail pace responses is complex and uncomfortable to hear. Tokenism does not work; diversity programmes focus too much on fixing the women as opposed to fixing the organisation; men are often alienated from the debate and therefore uncooperative and defensive;, the lack of positive, feminine role models at the top halts aspirations in their tracks and to date there is no global buy in for a more balanced playing field.
In my opinion, we need to raise our game, grasp the campaigning mantle and keep hold of it until words, case studies, empirical evidence and activism makes the difference.

Deep breath Jane, rant over……

1 Comment on The Feminisation of Leadership – A call to action

  1. Thanks Jane. Forthright as always. I like the Apprentice example and also the reference to women adopting male behaviour to succeed. Each to ther own but in starting this magazine I was, and very much still am, convinced that “female values” have to come to the Board rooms. It does seem that things have not changed but thats what we are here for – change agents all, irrespective of gender.

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