I originally wrote this piece on Forbes, titled “Equality is Great, But What About the Real Benefits of Women in Leadership?“
Back in grad school, I spent a summer researching the Bangladeshi madrasah system, seeing if it had key qualities similar to the Pakistani system, which would indicate it could become a hotbed for terrorism. Well, the data pointed to a different situation – one where societal unrest was based on simple things like food, water and economic health. Terrorism wasn’t generally the first thing people thought of in Bangladesh. The wanted a roof over their head, and a way to make money.
Kate, why do we care?
Because the other thing I found solidified several feelings I’d been having about the leadership qualities of women, and the necessity for women’s participation in things like local politics, governments, boards, business, etc. In Bangladesh, case studies suggested that some of the most healthy societal constructs had strong woman in or near the center of them. My paper
presentation went from terrorism to the benefits of giving women more power and voice in society.
I’m a believer in the theory that women have certain character traits that are beneficial for leadership, society, and in the above situation, public stability. But are we looking at this enough?
The European Commission is currently drafting a proposal that would raise the minimum percentage of large-company board positions within the EU that are held by women to 40%. While I appreciate the goals of this proposal – equality and gender balance – it still fails to accept the idea that this may actually be a good idea based on the positive leadership qualities that women bring to the table.
Even the write up in Financial Times immediately framed the issue as something being constructed to meet requirements: “Europe’s listed companies will be forced to reserve at least 40 per cent of their non-executive director board seats for women by 2020 or face fines and other sanctions under a proposal being drafted by the European Commission.” Gee, sorry to make you even consider the possibility, EU.
At one point, he says:
“Several studies have shown that gender equity in senior management and at the board level brings many tangible benefits. A report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute revealed that those firms dominated by men had recovered more slowly since the 2008 financial downturn than those with a more balanced male-female ratio.”
This is great, but guess where it is? Waaaaay at the end of a bunch of equality stuff. It still puts little focus on the fact that women posses unique qualities to be strong leaders. Branson still manages to frame it simply as “something we should do.”
It’s really great to be shooting for equality, but the only implicit benefit of reaching an equality goal is simply that we’ve reached an equality goal. Why aren’t more people talking about why this is good for us? Truly good?
Some people are. I was really pleased at this article by Caroline Turner – dripping with sarcasm – criticizing the suggestions put forth in a recent Stanford study about how women can increase their positions in leadership by… you guessed it… emanating men. Eek! We’re still saying this now? SERIOUSLY? And it’s not just emanating men, it’s knowing when to turn on and off the “masculine switch” within them (I kind of hope I don’t have a masculine switch!).
This report, and countless others, still focus on the male characteristics that exist in leadership. Without any real research in front of me, this whole outlook is a big chicken/egg scenario. When it was truly an unequal system and women rarely even worked, men held all leadership positions. Was it masculine qualities that got them there, or were leadership skills thus put into the context of a male-dominated leadership rank, and therefore became the standard?
Who the heck knows, but it’s about time that people get comfortable with the fact that there are separate and different leadership skills that women have that are equally as beneficial as those held by men. Turner reminds us that there are positive qualities of both men and women – maybe the magic equation is that everyone finds the rights balance, or creates a team with the right balance.
“…appreciate masculine men, feminine men, feminine women and masculine women for their authentic ways of getting results.”
Back to women’s unique leadership skills. I’ve been enjoying some of the recent focus on how women lead differently (did you know that that women direct up to 90% of their income to community infrastructure and improvement, whereas men reinvest 30 to 40% of their income?). In a call to harness the power of women leadership, Nelson highlights “collaboration, conviction, inclusiveness, creativity, and mentorship” as being key unique.
I could talk more on these qualities (leave some in the comments, just for fun!), but what I really want to leave you with is that everyone should be wanting to talk more about of these qualities. We should accept more than just that equality is the right thing to do. It’s actually good for us.