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Blog : The feminisation of leadership (a non-feminist view)


The feminisation of leadership (a non-feminist view)

I was recently persuaded to attend a ‘power women’ lunch – not something I’d usually do; ‘Women only’ stuff is just not my thing. I’m anti-quota; pro best fit, male or female. Diversity is key; an all female board, for example, seems no more desirable than an all male one.
Despite initial misgivings, it was a good event; I met lots of great women leaders, made new contacts and had fun in the company of like-minded people. It also made me think about leadership in business.
Although around the same proportion of mid-level female and male managers say they'd like to advance to higher levels in their companies (69% and 74%, respectively), only 18% of women say they'd become C-level leaders ‘if anything were possible.’ That's just half the proportion of men, according to a McKinsey study of 60 leading companies. Numerous women said they were put off by the corporate politics of the C-suite. I can understand why - I’ve been on the receiving end of male board members who believed their opinions were more valid than mine. Maybe it’s a ‘female thing’ to bide your time; to pick your moment, but I’ve always been able to bring them round to my way of thinking. Why? Persuasiveness, listening, creativity, thinking, tolerance, flexibility…  And this is why organisations must deal with these issues otherwise they’ll miss out on these critical ‘female’ skills and attributes within their boardrooms.
Positively, people are beginning to wake up to the feminisation of leadership. There’s evidence that male and female brains work differently and this provides a great opportunity for the sexes to learn from one another’s inherent skills and attributes; therefore becoming more rounded in their approach.  The changing requirements of the workforce towards more collaborative working, flexibility and openness have led to the necessity for a more emotionally intelligent type of leadership. Key leadership requirements have moved away from harder skills such as autocracy, compliance, resilience, decisiveness towards the natural skills many women possess such as nurturing, harmony, intuition, ability to multi-task and cope with change. The Baby Boomer dictatorial ways of leading are declining in favour of a far more inclusive, trusting approach. Generation Y expect to work collaboratively, to be trusted, nurtured, coached and consulted. Leaders need to possess good people skills so as to build good teams, communicate with them and get them solving the issues. This is not the traditional way of doing things so people will need to change. Leaders will need to listen more and talk less, to be adaptable rather than rigid in their approach, to set expectations and boundaries and, within this, allow freedom. 
So the feminisation of leadership is upon us and people are going to have to change. At the risk of annoying numerous feminists, however, I have to say that I still don’t believe it’s acceptable for leaders to lose control of their emotions within the workplace, even though Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg believes it is okay for women to cry at work. Although people should be challenged, they also need to need to feel safe, secure and supported by their leaders – quite difficult if yours is in the ‘Ladies’ having a good howl. Instead leaders should focus their energies on a constant state of excellence and ‘lean in’ – this applies to men too.
 What are your experiences? Do you agree?

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