Be­ing a fe­male leader is about un­der­stand­ing what you can change, when you need to back your­self and get oth­ers on board and in turn cre­at­ing a path for younger fe­male lead­ers, writ­ers Jane Chater.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS -

What’s so dif­fer­ent about fe­male lead­er­ship? By Jane Chater.

FOR YEARS WOMEN have kept their heads down and played by the rules. We've been cer­tain that with enough hard work, our nat­u­ral tal­ents would be recog­nised and we would be re­warded.

We've made un­de­ni­able progress and yet, as we've worked, ever dili­gent, the men around us of­ten con­tinue to get pro­moted faster, paid more and achieve their goals.

I am of­ten asked about fe­male lead­er­ship and why this is an im­por­tant topic. Shouldn't we just be­lieve that women can be, and are, good lead­ers? Why do we have to make a spe­cific dis­tinc­tion be­tween male and fe­male lead­er­ship? Why does it have to be a ‘thing'?

There are many rea­sons, with one be­ing that typ­i­cally we as­so­ciate lead­er­ship with be­ing male (McKin­sey, Women in the Work­place study, 2016). When we look at the facts, it is no won­der this is so. Re­cent NZX sta­tis­tics showed us that 32 per­cent (39) of the 122 com­pa­nies that are listed on the NZX have no fe­male di­rec­tors, while an­other 45 per­cent (55) have boards that are at least 70 per­cent male. (NZX An­nual Sta­tis­tics) As of July 2013, there were only 19 fe­male elected pres­i­dents and prime min­is­ters in power around the globe. In the busi­ness world, women cur­rently hold only 4.6 per­cent of For­tune 500 CEO po­si­tions.

As women look to con­tinue their up­ward tra­jec­tory in the busi­ness world, they have yet to be fully ap­pre­ci­ated for the unique qual­i­ties and abil­i­ties they bring to the work­place.

Even when they man­age to reach the top of the lad­der, the is­sue of gen­der equal­ity re­mains, where women are of­ten not al­ways viewed in the same way, or paid the same, as men.

A high-pow­ered male boss is of­ten ad­mired for be­ing strong and as­sertive, whereas a woman in the same po­si­tion may be re­ferred to as ruth­less or over­bear­ing, if she op­er­ates in the same way. We also see a re­lated is­sue por­trayed too of­ten in the movies, where a hard-work­ing pro­fes­sional woman has to choose be­tween ca­reer suc­cess and a fam­ily. These can be­come sub­lim­i­nal truths and make it harder for women to achieve their full po­ten­tial.

A lot has been writ­ten about why women are so un­der-rep­re­sented in se­nior lead­er­ship with rea­sons given rang­ing from poor child­care pro­vi­sions to in­sti­tu­tional bias. One thing re­searchers can't agree on is whether there are fewer women lead­ers be­cause they're less ef­fec­tive at the job, or be­cause so­ci­ety ex­pects them to be.

One the­ory ties into that men­tioned above, where so­ci­ety gen­er­ally as­so­ci­ates suc­cess­ful lead­er­ship with stereo­typ­i­cally ‘mas­cu­line' traits such as assertive­ness and dom­i­nance, and so dis­ap­proves of fe­male lead­ers be­cause they go against these gen­der norms.

As a re­sult women ex­pe­ri­ence greater ob­sta­cles to reach­ing the up­per lev­els of lead­er­ship. In the 1970s, Vir­ginia Schein came up with the phrase ‘think man­ager-think male' to ex­plain the au­to­matic as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween lead­er­ship and mas­culin­ity. It is dis­ap­point­ing to note that 40 years on, that as­so­ci­a­tion still ex­ists, in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, to­day.

But with the re­cent rise of ‘trans­for­ma­tional' lead­er­ship and its em­pha­sis on tra­di­tion­ally ‘ fem­i­nine' traits like em­pa­thy, col­lab­o­ra­tion and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, per­haps the ex­pec­ta­tions on fe­male lead­ers is shift­ing. The value of more “fem­i­nine traits”, is now be­ing in­creas­ingly recog­nised which is why it is now time to fully em­brace fe­male lead­er­ship.

Fun­da­men­tally it's about be­ing con­fi­dent in op­er­at­ing in a way that uses your nat­u­ral tal­ent and traits, be­ing true and au­then­tic to who you are as a fe­male leader.

We be­lieve work­ing on key el­e­ments such as un­der­stand­ing what your pur­pose is, (why you do what you do); un­der­stand­ing your strengths, and your block­ers (the key bar­ri­ers that will hin­der your suc­cess); un­der­stand­ing who you are and what you stand for; are all vi­tal to your suc­cess as a fe­male leader.

Be­ing a fe­male leader is about un­der­stand­ing what you can change, when you need to back your­self and get oth­ers on board and in turn cre­at­ing a path for younger fe­male lead­ers, fol­low­ing in your foot­steps.

It is about hav­ing courage and choos­ing to lead, rather than choos­ing to fol­low. Jayne Chater is a busi­ness part­ner at Al­tris and is pas­sion­ate about work­ing with fe­male lead­ers. www.al­tris.co.nz

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