Donna Peeples, CEO and Chief Engagement Officer of consulting company Motivated Inc, explains why the business world needs more female leaders – and fast.
As technology opens up opportunities and allows people to work on more complex issues, the need for great leadership has never been greater, and women are more than qualified for this task. To actually obtain and thrive in top roles, however, the unique skills they bring to the table have to be acknowledged and empowered, both in the office and at home.
The current state of female leadership
Female leadership is growing – the number of female-owned businesses increased by 4.5 million over the past 11 years, and female business ownership has gone up from 4.6% in 1972 to 36% in the present day. This may be due in part to multiple studies that show that females tend to outperform males and are more likely to demonstrate emotional intelligence, self-awareness, humility, moral sensitivity, and other soft skills that are in high demand from those in charge. They consistently deliver higher profitability and stock performance, proving women are beneficial for the bottom line.
But the majority of companies (60%) are still male-owned, and financial institutions still give men funding more often than they do women (38 vs 31%, respectively). In 2020, there were still 13 male-run companies for every female-run one, with a Mercer analysis of 1,100+ companies showing that there continue to be fewer and fewer women the higher up the corporate ladder you look. Globally, women hold just 24% of senior leadership positions, and 60% of publicly traded organisations have no female board members. The pay gap also persists in the United States, with women earning 79 cents for every dollar men earn.
To complicate the situation, much of the gains women have fought so hard for over the past several decades are at risk of disappearing. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 out of 4 women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce altogether. As companies lose women in leadership positions, they face a stark crossroads about whether to invest in them.
All of this reflects a cultural difficulty allowing women to the fore, even when the data supports having them lead. As Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Cindy Gallop assert in their article for Harvard Business Review, “the real problem is not a lack of competent females; it is too few obstacles for incompetent males, which explains the surplus of overconfident, narcissistic, and unethical people in charge.” They suggest that, instead of asking women to act like men, it’s time to ask men to adopt the effective leadership behaviours women commonly demonstrate.
How to hone your own leadership skills
There are three key ways to give your own leadership a boost as the fight for gender equality continues:
1. Think ahead
Nobody has a crystal ball to tell the future with, but you have the ability to plan and make decisions – even with limited data. Start by embracing a growth mindset and a willingness to trust your own instincts. Get a sense of what your own risk tolerance is. Then practice zooming in and out. See the bigger picture, but develop your ability to take a micro-view of issues, processes, and systems.
As you look at both the details and larger vision, know how your business model works inside and out. Do your research to understand your products, the competition, and the market. Look for the “white space” to find opportunities for improvement. Control what you can and manage the rest.
Once you have an idea of where you want to go and what you’re up against, communicate your concept of the future and make sure everyone understands it. Clarify how people fit into the equation and what’s in it for them, and create a safe environment that creates comfort with experimentation. As business writer Tom Peters puts it, to encourage innovation, “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre successes.”
2. Hone your Emotional Quotient (EQ) “Soft Skills”
Women are natural, nurturing multi-taskers who typically are wired to be more mindful. They are excellent at collaborating and building teams because of these traits.
So, on the job, follow Ronald Reagan’s advice and “trust, but verify”. Be aware of office politics, listen for what’s not being articulated directly, and be sensitive to issues that could become roadblocks. See all the ways that people, processes, and systems interconnect and help people connect the dots so that goals become aligned between functions and departments.
As you try to communicate and bring people together, remember that it’s not just about what you say – it’s how you say it. Craft your messages carefully and thoughtfully to productively influence how others think and behave. Be fully transparent and serve as a natural conduit for open conversation. Give credit and recognition to others rather than playing the victim, and overall, model the behaviour you want to see consistently.
3. Be brave and courageous
Being brave doesn’t mean you’re fearless. It just means you move forward despite the fear you feel. As the Hollywood actor John Wayne explained, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
Optimise your strengths and work to fill your gaps – always keep learning. Demonstrate you can make tough decisions and take real responsibility. Work on a strong executive presence void of the victim mindset. And because the world is so fast and messy, step out of your comfort zone and get comfortable with the unknown.
Look at your interactions and associations, too. Ask for feedback or find a mentor. At the same time, be a mentor yourself. Share what you know with the outside world, whether on social media, a blog, or other platforms. Volunteer and get involved in organisations outside of your business, such as serving on committees. Grow both your real and virtual connections and get comfortable sharing your opinions.
Equality begins with your own journey
Women are more than capable of filling leadership roles, whether it’s at home, in their communities, or the corporate environment. Even so, culture has some work to do to let them claim those positions and perform. It’s necessary to nurture female leadership skills, both in yourself and others, to prevent backsliding and encourage further progress.
Our daughters are depending on us! Take charge and begin that journey for yourself today because the sooner more women take the reins, the sooner the entire world will see big benefits.
Donna Peeples is CEO and Chief Engagement Officer of consulting company, Motivated, Inc.