The Female Face Of Leadership
Can women break the stereotypical leadership mold and still position themselves as leaders?
It has been almost 30 years since women started entering the workforce in large numbers, yet we have barely made a dent in the executive boardroom table.
Women account for 50% of the workforce in the US but fill less than 5% of executive positions in corporate America.
Despite the groundbreaking advances made by the previous generation of women, have we broken through the glass ceiling or merely cracked it? Is the dearth of women in leadership roles reticence on the part of the gung-ho, warrior-like corporate chiefs to hire a woman, or is it reluctance from the would-be female leaders to adopt roles they feel uncomfortable or incapable of fulfilling?
There is no doubt we are making progress, and our female leaders have accomplished huge transformations in the styles of leadership now adopted in many executive suites throughout the US. But at what price?
Preconceptions about what leadership looks like are embedded in our collective psyche, as well as in the structures and policies of society. The implicit requirements for a high-flying position are being able to work a 12-hour day and being on-call 24/7. This assumes that someone else will be there to pick up the slack for family responsibilities.
Another difficulty women face is that their behavior in leadership roles is defined differently. While a dictatorial style is seen as necessary in a man, it is interpreted as aggressive in a woman. A male boss who pushes his team will be admired for demanding high standards, while a woman will be called domineering.
The Role Of Female Leaders In The 21st Century
Research measuring traditional leadership roles shows that female and male leaders do not differ in overall effectiveness.
The challenge for women in taking on leadership roles is to reclaim and redefine the accepted stereotypes. Rather than camouflaging their identity in previously male-oriented roles, the new female leaders are bringing their own values and principles to the job and redefining what it means to be a leader in the 21st century.
As we move forward, the blunter transactional style of leadership previously adopted by many a corporate boss is making way for transformational leadership, a style that embraces many of the qualities women naturally tend towards.
Transformational leadership centers around communication and a positive working environment, where people are inspired and energized to achieve organizational goals through team-oriented pursuits. This is where women excel.
Studies have shown that women leaders are better communicators, have better social skills, are more tolerant, more willing to adapt to change, better organized, better at motivating others and less bound by social traditions; skills essential for effective leadership.
It took the previous generation of women 30 years to crack the glass ceiling and clear the debris for those following them to clearly see a path forward. So realistically, it is going to take a long time for women to not only accept, but be accepted, in the evolving leadership roles now presented to them. What has become clear is that the newly defined terms of leadership offered by women are a desperately needed panacea in an increasingly cut-throat and dog-eat-dog world.
All we can hope for is that it doesn't take another 30 years.