Female leadership matters. All other considerations aside, it results in better performance. Studies have shown that companies with greater gender diversity, not just among the workforce as a whole but specifically among senior leaders, are more profitable. So, one answer to the question “why is women’s leadership important in our world?” is simple: it gives us better results.
But when it comes to stepping into our power as leaders, it’s clear that we face some pretty big challenges.
If you’re a woman keen to have your biggest impact, here’s what you need to know.
Why is women’s leadership important in our world?
Let’s start with the basics: women leaders have a measurable impact on the bottom line.
In a 2015 report, here’s what McKinsey and co found: “In the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in our data set: for every 10% increase in gender diversity, earnings before interest and taxes rose by 3.5%”
And yet, when it comes to representation of women in senior positions, we still have a long way to go. In 2018, Goldman Sachs undertook a report into gender diversity . Whilst noting the limitations on available data, they reported that “Women make up about 40% of all employees – but just 6% of CEOs.”
So why is this? And what can we do about it?
Why do we see fewer women in leadership positions?
Well, it won’t surprise you to know that the answer to this is complicated. We women are a diverse bunch and the individual decisions and choices we make – or have made for us – about stepping up to more senior roles are as unique as we are.
Still, in our experience supporting grassroots women leaders, there are some common threads.
One of them is the cultural paradigm. The social context most of us have been raised in continues to promote certain gender stereotypes.
Have a quick think now about what you consider “feminine” attributes.
When we ask participants in our programmes and training to do this they often share they’ve been surprised to uncover some very negative entrenched views.
(Being told you “throw like a girl” or comments like “typical woman driver” spring to mind.)
When we hear these comments being made, we’re rightly outraged.
And yet however hard we try to resist them, they have an impact.
We internalize a certain set of associations with being a woman compared to being a man. That impacts our confidence when it comes to stepping into leadership roles.
This phenomenon is something the Goldman Sachs report picked up on.
“Women may be uncomfortable exhibiting more stereotypically “masculine” traits such as ambition and self-promotion in the workplace. They may fear a backlash if their behavior is at odds with prevailing gender stereotypes.
In fact, traits and behavior that are often rewarded in men may be seen as inappropriate, discomforting and perhaps ultimately counter-productive when demonstrated by women.
In colloquial terms, aggressive men may be perceived as being “go-getters,” while similarly aggressive women may be perceived as having “sharp elbows.” Closing the Gender Gap: Advancing Women in Corporate America, Goldman Sachs
When it comes to male and female leadership the playing field isn’t level. Leadership characteristics that accelerate the careers of our male colleagues can actually be seen as negative when applied to women.
So what’s the solution?
What can we do about it?
Changing our culture when it comes to gender stereotypes is a great place to start! As a parent, I’m passionate about ensuring the next generation isn’t raised with these outdated ideas of women and men’s roles and characteristics.
But I think we also have a real opportunity to change things right now when it comes to modelling what effective leadership looks like. With courage and confidence, it’s time to change not only the diversity among our leadership teams but to create a new form of leadership.
We don’t have to squeeze ourselves into old-fashioned ways of working. Instead, we can radically shift our organizations.
When we learn how to lead from a feminine perspective, we can create a more balanced, diverse, and ultimately resilient way of leading.
Stephanie S Mead, author of The Art of Strategic Leadership: How Leaders at All Levels Prepare Themselves, Their Teams, and Organizations for the Future, sees this ability to change as being fundamental to successful business.
“If you want to be relevant in the future, you have no choice but to change and evolve…
Leaders have a responsibility to build and support a culture where breaking down ingrained habits and old standards is recognized as an important part of rebuilding and creating a stronger, more successful organization.
They not only see the need for change, they work hard to identify and manage resistance in order to push the needed change forward.” – Stephanie S Mead
When we are given the support we need to become powerful female leaders, we strengthen our organizations.
Every one of us is a leader
You might not be in a corporate setting right now – but I believe you are absolutely a leader.
Whether for your family, your community, in the public or not-for-profit sectors. All of us are role models for the upcoming generations; as citizens each of us has responsibility for changing our corner of the world.
So, I invite you to connect to this inspiration in whatever form your leadership takes.
To recognise that while the world we are living in is often unfair, if we connect and support each other we have the power to create an entirely different system.
Change starts with you
Wondering where to start? The simplest way to begin to create big change is by getting comfortable with small shifts.
“Whether you are a leader or not, I think you have to pay attention to thought patterns and processes so you start to recognize when resistance is emerging, either in yourself or in others…. You can also coach yourself and others to get out of the routine and try new things that will encourage you and them to work outside your comfort zones and look at the change as an opportunity to grow.” Stephanie Mead
Getting more comfortable with change is something that can start in the smallest possible way.
- Take a different route on a well-worn commute
- Speak up when you might stay silent
- Reach out to someone you don’t know that well, and invite them for a virtual coffee
- Apply for a role that’s slightly outside your comfort zone
- Show up in a way that’s more authentically you instead of “fitting in” to the expectations of others
I’m sure you can think of more ideas. Whatever it looks like for you, I would love you to share somewhere you’re overcoming resistance or trying something new in the comments.
Together, we can create a ripple of change that goes far beyond our individual impact – and adds up to a wave that could change the world.
Ready to overcome resistance?
If you’re feeling the pull to have more of an impact on the world, you might be interested in Living the Change. It’s our powerful, affordable online coaching community packed with tools and resources to help you handle the day to day and activate your leadership. Click here to pop your name on the waitlist. We’ll let you know when we next open the doors to new members.
Our intention is simple. To support professional women to handle the day-to-day so they can unleash the bigger impact they feel called to make in the world.
We believe real leadership is less about skill, and more about having a well of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength to draw on. Every week we support thousands of grassroots leaders globally with our free articles, videos and online trainings with powerful tools and methodologies created BY women FOR women.
Become One of many™ women creating strong, meaningful connections in our community.
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