There is a mountain of research revealing unequivocally that what people want from their leaders today is changing, and changing dramatically. And the good news is, women have never been better placed to lead, as we transition from an old style of leadership based on command and control, short term…
Stop trying to fix the women
You only have to look at the statistics on women in leadership to see the stark reality facing those crawling up the corporate ladder in this country. To say there is little upward movement on the proportion of women in leadership would be an understatement of epic proportions.
We know this. We have heard it all before. And there’s little evidence to suggest we are going to see dramatic changes in the numbers coming anytime soon. That is, of course, if we actually keep measuring the numbers in the first place – given corporate reporting on gender diversity may be falling by the wayside in the near future.
There are well-intentioned strategies in our corporate boardrooms that are trying to address decade-old issues around how to get, keep and progress more women at work. But unfortunately, many of the issues such strategies are trying to address are systemic within structures and cultures that can themselves take decades to change.
What happens to the women in the meantime?
Change is not easy. If it was, it would have been done and dusted already. But the time for waiting is over. We need a new conversation that is less about the male power structures that are our organisations and more about women stepping into their own power, and making change happen for themselves.
For so long we have been telling women to change who they inherently are in order to find their seat at the boardroom table. Step up, be more assertive, and in recent times, ‘lean in’. The message has invariably been about ‘fixing the women’. Make women more like men so they can seamlessly fit into patriarchal organisational structures. Blend in. Don’t make a fuss. Suppress your femininity. Don’t be too special or have different needs. And, God forbid, don’t let anyone actually notice that you are, you know, a woman.
But research and science tells us that women and men are different. Their brains, needs and how they ‘show up’ is different, as well as how they authentically lead. It’s time we really understood this and embraced these differences for the benefit of our businesses and bottom lines. The recent white paper Unleashing the Butterfly Effect for Women, Leadership and Work documents how and why our current approaches to move more women into the boardroom continue to fall short of the targets. It highlights new research that shows people from corners far and wide are now placing more value on inherent feminine traits, like compassion and collaboration, and less on command-and-control as a form of leadership, whether these traits show up in men or women. It lays out an evidence-based roadmap for a change in leadership behaviour to get us out of the current global mess. And it demonstrates where change is already starting to occur.
It starts a new conversation.
A conversation where we talk less about equity, and more about the unique talents all people bring to the table and how we can collectively harness these for the greater good. A conversation that will help us wake up and realise the current models of leadership behaviour in our organisations are not serving us as well as they could be, and that we need to embrace and enhance the value in true feminine traits, which can show up in men as well as women, and ultimately serve us all.
It’s also a conversation where we can finally stop trying to make women fit unnaturally into a culture and set of behaviours where it is so challenging for them to sustainably thrive, and instead create new structures and cultures that support everyone equally.
It’s time to forget trying to break through the glass ceiling or get off the sticky floor. It’s time to create an entire new building.
The truth is what the market is seeking in terms of leadership is changing. Indeed, 2013 research shed light on the real differences between how men and women lead, as well as what people are looking for to drive positive change in the world. John Gerzema and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael D’Antonio surveyed 60,000 people in 25 nations across a wide swath of cultural, political and economic diversity. They gathered data everywhere from Canada to Chile, Mexico and Indonesia.
Their research showed that people globally are frustrated by a world that’s dominated by codes of male thinking and behaviour: codes of control, aggression and black-and-white thinking.
In a world that’s increasingly social, interdependent and transparent, it’s clear feminine values – like empathy, openness, collaboration, transparency, patience and humility – are rising to become more popular than the macho paradigm of the past. In fact, two-thirds of people feel the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.
Women are more naturally inclined to lead with these qualities but most women have grown up in organisations where these things are actively discouraged. The female brain is hardwired for these behaviours. With a bigger communication centre, bigger emotional memory centre, and an almost psychic ability to read cues in people found deep inside the female brain, women can more easily deliver a kind of communication, connection, emotional sensitivity and responsiveness that people are now seeking in their leaders.
It’s time women embrace their inherently unique and authentic qualities, rather than trying to dumb them down, stamp them out, or repress them in order to fit the required leadership mold. It is time for women to fully step into their power. And it is time for business leaders and organisations to recognise that some qualities that have long been seen to be weaknesses, are actually strengths that can help address many of the issues that business, government and the economy are facing today.
Getting to gender parity within our organisations is going to take a radical openness and willingness to embrace new thinking and progressive strategies.
Becoming leaders of the future will require new skills, a new level of permission and a different kind of roadmap. There is no one answer. But we need to start asking new questions and looking for different solutions. And we need to start now.
This piece first appeared on Women’s Agenda.
Have you signed up for the Positive Leadership for Aspiring Women program yet? There are just a few places left and it all starts 25 March. Check it out here. You can also join the free webinar to learn more about unleashing the butterfly effect for women, leadership and work. Sign up here.
Thanks for being part of this important new conversation. It only takes one person to create change. Let that one person be you.