Women in leadership

Women in leadership

Last Monday, March 8th. It was the International Women’s Day. A day marking a call to action for accelerating gender parity. And a good moment to talk about women in leadership.

This crisis we are suffering gave us the opportunity to study the impact of female leadership much better than before to provide an understanding of what was happening and how leaders, males and females, can improve keeping in mind these learnings.

Leadership was androcentric, so far.

During all 20th century, men held the majority of those power positions, becoming the role models for new leaders, including women. That made women assumed some traits generally associated with males’ behaviour: very rational, with little space for emotions; some kind aggressive and focused only on results.

These assumptions also came with a strong sense of self-demand (that ‘I need to be better; I need to do more’ thinking) to avoid being questioned by their male colleagues just because ‘I’m a woman’.

This is a regular survival mode. When we tap into a new space, we tend to model the considered right behaviours in that place. If, besides, we feel we need to gain the right to be there, the pressure rises. That is why many women in executive positions think that they cannot afford to fail even if their male colleagues can afford it.

In the last decades, something has changed in this sense.

More often, some courageous women started to do things differently without copying what was expected.

And now we can see the impact. There are many studies (like this from Mckinsey & Company) evaluating how female talent makes a difference when talking about results: companies with gender diversity could potentially do 15% better in terms of economic results compared with their sector.

It’s clear for me that there is something these women in leadership are doing that deserves our attention to see if we all, men and women, can learn from.

To understand what that could be, let me first tell you about a study developed by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 and updated last year, 2020. They defined 19 basic competencies for leadership and evaluated the pre-pandemic impact of more than 60,000 leaders worldwide.

No surprise, they found men in leadership represent 62% in average and this figure raised up to 78% in top management positions. What was a big surprise is that women in leadership positions rated more positively on 13 of the 19 competencies.

Between March and June 2020, 820 of those leaders (55% males) were assessed to see if women in leadership had the same impact managing the crisis. And they had.

Leadership study. Zenger, Folkman 2020
What is different in the way of doing?

If we pay attention to the answers, respondents put great importance on interpersonal skills: “inspires and motivates”, “relationship building”, “collaboration”. In summary, taking care of people, boosting relationships and collaborating is making the difference before and during the crisis.

Female leaders can develop a deep concern for people wellbeing, taking care of their emotions and showing, at the same time, a confidence in their plans.

Many men can argue these behaviours are not property of women. And they, of course, are right. But, in many places, mainly due to traditions and culture, developing an emotional leadership focused on people and results (in this order) is not easy for them.

What matters here is the realization of what works when leading people. And it is proved that emotional intelligence development is not a nice to have thing any more but the key thing to succeed.

Changing culture is a responsibility for all of us. The sooner we commit with this task, the better we will manage the next and coming crisis.