It’s Time for a New Discussion on “Women in Leadership”
While most companies claim that gender diversity is a high priority, statistics tell a different story for working women. Globally, women have more access to education and more social mobility than ever before. If education and ambition were the sole indicators of leadership, every second corner office would be occupied by a woman. Yet, the number of women in leadership roles still lags behind.
According to the 2018 Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Company, women have been earning 57% of bachelor’s degrees since the late 1990s and are entering and remaining in the workforce at a similar rate to men.
While the wage gap is often attributed to the impact of motherhood on women’s career development, the study found that only 2% of women leave the workforce to focus on raising a family.
Furthermore, women are taking action in the workplace. They are asking for leadership opportunities and negotiating better remuneration at the same rates that men are. In spite of the investments women are making in their careers, limited face time with senior associates and gender biases are still putting women, especially women of color, at a disadvantage.
Case in point, as a new member of a board of directors, I am still the only woman in the room. I thought back to my early career days at the bank I worked at. As I progressed to officer levels, I was either the only woman in the room or one of two. After 30 years, it is disheartening to see this imbalance.
Where’s the Disconnect?
While women and men are hired into entry-level positions at the same rate, women are underrepresented more and more up each rung of the corporate ladder. McKinsey & Company found that only one in five C-suite roles are occupied by women, and one in twenty-five is occupied by a woman of color.
While there are ample explanations for this disparity, natural leadership aptitude is not among them. Despite the tendency of both male and female leaders to associate masculine traits with leadership potential, evidence suggests that factors like emotional intelligence and developed communication skills are a largely undervalued asset in senior leadership.
These traits are not only associated with women but also associated with more engaged teams and more productive, profitable businesses. Morgan Stanley’s 2017 report showed links between gender diverse organizations and better output, employee satisfaction, and stock price stability.
Emotionally Intelligent Leadership
The link between emotional intelligence and effective leadership should not come as a surprise. Leaders who are more astute at recognizing their own emotions and those of others tend to be better relationship builders and more adept at motivating their teams.
While not every woman is naturally gifted with advanced emotional intelligence, our culture tends to socialize women to value many of the key tenets of “EQ”. Self-regulation, social skills, and empathy are highly correlated with real or perceived emotional intelligence. These “feminine” experiences prepare us for every leader’s most important job: managing people.
Stronger relationships between these leaders and their teams lead to a higher level of comfort with discussing difficult issues or asking for help. These relationships offer myriad bottom-line benefits to their organizations, like better retention rates, increased productivity, and stronger morale.
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A Shared Responsibility
That doesn’t mean it’s up to men to change the way women’s leadership contributions are perceived. We all have a role to play to achieve equality. It’s time for women to examine their unique contributions from a different lens.
As female leaders, we can change the way we talk about gender diversity and focus on striving for gender balance. We can choose to re-examine how valuable our divergent skill sets and communication styles are – and how putting them front and center open doors for other women.
Of course, equality will never be possible without engaging men. Contrary to the idea that equality empowers women at the expense of men, an equitable workplace is beneficial across the gender spectrum. Placing a higher value on perceived ‘feminine’ attributes frees men from pressure to conform to outdated leadership archetypes.
Making Space for Gender Diversity
Building a culture of gender diversity isn’t as easy as claiming to be an equal opportunity employer. It involves commitment, work, and follow-through. If you’re ready to commit to a more welcoming, more engaged, more profitable business, try these actionable steps.
Look for Bias in Your Processes
Leaders of all genders can lay the groundwork for a gender-diverse culture by cross-referencing their people management practices with common threats to workplace equality, like offering rewards based on time worked instead of quality of output.
Look for Bias in Your Behavior
Within our respective organizations, we are also accountable for creating a culture of gender diversity, not only with our hiring practices but in the ways we lead by example. We can start by practicing mindfulness in our interactions with team members. Pay attention to the differences in the questions you ask men and women, your body language, and the language you use.
Look for Bias in Your Leadership
Ask yourself, am I acknowledging the members of my team fairly? How in-touch am I with their individual contributions? Am I giving each person on my team a fair opportunity to interact with me face-to-face? When I offer accolades, do they more often end up at the bottom of an inbox, or am I acknowledging achievements in ways that positively influence my team member’s reputation?
If you’re finding it difficult to take this approach, starting building the right skills with our Balanced Leadership™ Framework. This framework is designed with CEOs in mind to connect the dots between self-management, relationship building, and the bottom line.
Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to build the world we all want to work in. If you need an outside perspective on how to build a more diverse corporate culture, I encourage you to contact my team and I at East Tenth Group today.