Women In Leadership

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LEADERSHIP INSPIRATIONS FOR EXCELLENCE (LIFE) SERIES

Leadership is about capacity – the capacity of leaders to listen and observe, to use their expertise as a starting point to encourage dialogue between all levels of decision-making, to establish processes and transparency in decision-making, to articulate their own values and visions clearly but not impose them. Leadership is about setting and not just reacting to agendas, identifying problems, and initiating change that makes for substantial improvement rather than managing change.” – Dr Ann Marie E. McSwain, Associate Professor, Lincoln University

I have read everything I could lay my hands on women as leaders. I understand the controversies that the studies on women leadership may have generated and will continue to generate. It is time for our society to face reality and start to deliberately develop our women to assume greater leadership roles. Women should play key roles in leadership, rather than be confined to the kitchen and treated as baby factories.

In a recent study, it is very interesting that women score higher in 15 of the 16 competencies studied, in comparing women to men leaders. Why are we not engaging and fully employing these exemplary women leaders, especially when these leadership skills are strongly correlated to organisational success factors such as retaining talent, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and profitability? This is food for thought for our society at this time where we have seen multiple failures of male-dominated leadership at almost every level from small community level to national and international levels.

Our society has very good leaders, irrespective of gender; but our selection process makes it harder for women to rise because of male chauvinism and, in some cases, mental superiority complex.

 

Indices

We have all heard the claims, the theories, and the speculation about the ways leadership styles vary between women and men. Recent survey data puts some hard numbers into the mix. Data coming from 360 evaluations tracked the judgement of a leader’s peers, bosses, and direct reports. These individuals were asked to rate each leader’s effectiveness overall and also to judge how strong he or she is on the 16 competencies that 30 years of research shows are most important to overall leadership effectiveness. For instance, how good a leader is at taking initiative, developing others, inspiring and motivating, and pursuing his or her own development.

A recent survey of 7,280 leaders confirms some seemingly eternal truths about men and women leaders in the workplace but also holds some surprises. Dataset was generated from leaders in some of the most successful and progressive organisations in the world, both public and private, government and commercial, domestic and international.

In the confirmation category is first finding: The majority of leaders (64 per cent) are still men. And the higher the level, the more men there are: In this group, 78 per cent of top managers were men, 67 per cent at the next level down (that is, senior executives reporting directly to the top managers), 60 per cent at the manager level below that.

Similarly, most stereotypes would have society believe that female leaders excel at “nurturing” competencies, such as developing others and building relationships, and many might put exhibiting integrity and engaging in self-development in that category as well. And in all four cases, data concurred — women did score higher than men.

But the women’s advantages were not at all confined to women’s traditional areas of strength. In fact at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.

Specifically, at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey — the ability to develop a strategic perspective..

Inferences

So, what should we conclude from these data? Why are we not engaging and fully employing these exemplary women leaders? Yes, blatant discrimination is a potential explanation. If not actual, then certainly perceptual. When women were asked to suggest why they thought their colleagues had been rated so highly on taking initiative and self-development, their answers pointed to the still-tenuous position they feel themselves to be in the workplace:

“We need to work harder than men to prove ourselves.”

“We feel the constant pressure to never make a mistake, and to continually prove our value to the organisation.”

That is, anecdotally, at least, the women queried don’t feel their appointments are safe. They’re afraid to rest on their oars. Feeling the need (often keenly) to take initiative, they are more highly motivated to take feedback to heart.

The irony is that these are fundamental behaviours that drive the success of every leader, whether woman or man.

Why are women viewed as less strategic? This is an easier question to answer. Top leaders always score significantly higher in this competency; since more top leaders are men, men still score higher here in the aggregate. But when measuring only men and women in top management on strategic perspective, their relative scores are the same.

 

Insights

Top leadership roles everywhere is dominated by the men because of “superiority complex” which is worse than inferiority complex.  When will the numbers pick up some speed on the way to 50/50 share between the two genders? Given these studies’ results, I am optimistic it should happen any day from now.

Sometime ago, I read another article on “Do Women Make Better Bosses Than Men?”, a piece referencing yet another study. A male researcher examined the number of women in management positions, and then studied the leadership strategies and performance of those companies. Here’s the summary:

Women in management have a reputation for being demanding and difficult but a new study has found they’re actually better bosses than men. Women bosses were more democratic and easier to communicate with, allowing their employees to participate in decision-making and encouraging feedback on management policies.

Workplaces with a large number of female managers were far more democratic, using employee feedback in all decision-making. As a result, those workplaces made better, more informed decisions and reported higher levels of employee satisfaction because workers felt like they were contributing to the company and having their voices heard.

Women leadership growth is stalled even in advanced countries like USA. If you look at any sector – be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women leaders at a max out at roughly 16 per cent. That is a crime, and is a waste of incredible talent. In developing economies like ours, women account for less than 3 per cent of leaders of corporate organisations. Women have made incredible progress over a pretty short amount of time but it looks as though they have kept one foot on the gas, another has taken up residence on the brake.

The foot that’s on the brake looks suspiciously like this: the fact that the workplace is still built for the 1960s stereotype – the man who has a full-time wife at home. Despite the fact that most families no longer live like that anymore, by and large, the workplace hasn’t changed. In fact, one could argue that it’s got worse: thanks to the advent of things like cell-phones and email, women are supposed to be on call, even when they have finished their job for the day, scrambling to make it to the pharmacy before it closes, or running to meet the plumber, or even when going to the market or grocery store.

The logistical wizardry that’s required to manage both work and a life is daunting and the more intense a woman’s job, the more insane the juggling act.

So, back to the original question: when will things change? What would our company, our country, our world look like if there were as many women in charge as there are men? Really think about it. The world could be a better place really.

 

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