Women, Leadership and Society

Two straws in the wind this week which illustrate for me what seem to be rapidly shifting expectations about women’s full participation in the workplace.

In Can women fix capitalism? Joanna Barsh sets out why having more women leaders in business could be the key to a better future for us all. She describes what she terms ‘centered leadership’, an approach which builds upon what we are often described as ‘feminine’ qualities. Centered leaders, she says:

  • lead from a core of meaning by tapping into strengths and building shared purpose, with a long-term vision for positive impact
  • reframe challenges as learning opportunities by shifting underlying mind-sets to replace reactive behavioural patterns
  • leverage trust to create relationships, community, and a strong sense of belonging
  • mobilize others through hope, countering fears to take risks and to act boldly on opportunities
  • infuse positive energy and renewal through deliberate practice to sustain high performance.

Encouragingly, she found quantitative evidence that this leadership approach resonates strongly with men too – and that it seems to be linked to organizational performance improvement.

She points to research indicating that women in leadership in society tend to invest differently—for example, on health, education, community infrastructure, and the eradication of poverty. And she quotes survey evidence suggesting that women’s full and equal participation at all levels of the workplace has to be at the heart of the reformation of capitalism:

“In a global survey of 64,000 people, John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio found that most respondents wanted to see more feminine characteristics in their leaders, and two-thirds agreed that “the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.” Feminine qualities that respondents chose included “plans for the future,” “expressive,” “reasonable,” “loyal,” “flexible,” “patient,” “collaborative,” “passionate,” “empathetic,” and “selfless.””

It’s not just that women have special strengths in some qualities. They often operate in different ways, able to draw from a wider spectrum – as  Tom Peters, veteran business guru, pointed out in a recent interview:

“They know how to do a work-around. Men don’t know how to do work-arounds, because the only thing we understand is hierarchy. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but then again the neuroscientists tell us it’s not that big an exaggeration. The male response is, “I can’t do anything about it ’cause my boss is really against it.” And the female response, by and large, would be, “Well, I know Jane who knows Bob who knows Dick, and we can get this thing done.” They do it circuitously.”

The zeitgeist runs ahead of the reality of course but there do seems to be so many encouraging developments – and worldwide.

Related Posts

16 Mar 2014   The Motherhood MBA

25 Aug 2013   New Economics: Women’s Crucial Role


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