Women in Leadership

By Mike Cook for the BBJ 

One thing is certain, as long as we associate leadership with masculinity women will be overlooked.

I founded and operated a management development company for almost 25 years. Among my employees 80% were women. You might rightly ask if the positions held by my female employees were traditional roles played by women and my answer would be that, in some cases, yes. If we stopped the conversation at this point, you’d be missing what I am attempting to shine some light on today. What I found over time was that many of our female employees gravitated towards leadership roles. By allowing the women who expressed interest in more responsibility to simply and naturally evolve into leadership roles. Rather than having traditional jobs these employees absorbed responsibilities that made the best use of their interests and abilities. Now, my business we relatively small, 15 employees, so I am sure that contributed to the ease with which we were able to adopt the practices I observed. Nonetheless, over time I began to notice my preference for working with women.

I always thought that perhaps my experience was unique, or that I was lucky in some way that a number of highly responsible women just happened to gravitate to our business. However, a recent article in Harvard Business Review on women and leadership reminded me of my experience and validated the opinions I had developed. Are there women in leadership roles in your organization? Think for a moment, do the women in your business play a more active role in leadership, regardless of title or position, than their male co-workers? Do they speak out on topics unrelated to the tasks they may perform, such as the direction the business is headed or the type of work the company is accepting; my female employees did. On more than one occasion I recall a woman insisting on a better understanding of the profitability of certain offerings she observed were more favorites than income generators. In another case I was considering a merger with another local firm. As the due diligence process unfolded a pair of my female employees asked for meeting during which they laid out their case for why they felt the proposed merger was a bad idea. Their thoughts were grounded in the best interests of the business and the special culture that we had developed. As a result of that meeting I reassessed the decision and dropped the merger plans. The point here is that without specific encouragement various of our women employees assumed the attitude of owners in our business and naturally to express themselves from that posture.

Here’s another thing I learned about working with women and allowing them the assume leadership roles and attitudes, they are amazingly tolerant of being underestimated by men!

Often, they do not have the “big dog” mentality that men in leadership positions adopt, they do not have a need to express themselves in this way. This is not to say that they are unwilling to be expressive when something needs to get done, no doubt you have benefitted from the energy and expression of more than one woman when something needed doing and it was dragging or lagging. Unfortunately, because of the delicate egos of many men expressive or determined women are the beneficiary of unattractive labels.

So where am I going with this line of thinking. By now it should be obvious that I am encouraging local employers to consider taking advantage of the leadership instincts of some, not all, of their female employees. More than likely my comments today will raise the hackles of some of the more traditional of our local employers. So be it!

Are there women who would thrive and rise to the opportunity in your organization already? I encourage you to take a look. No doubt answers are going to vary from one business to another, that’s understandable but consider this list…

Leadership Capability Women’s percentile Men’s percentile
Takes initiative 55.6 48.2
Resilience 54.7 49.3
Practices self-development 54.8 49.6
Drives for results 53.9 48.8
Displays high integrity and honesty 54.0 49.1
Develops others 54.1 49.8
Inspires and motivates others 53.9 49.7
Bold leadership 53.2 49.8
Builds relationships 53.2 49.9
Champions change 53.1 49.8
Establishes stretch goals 52.6 49.7
Collaboration and teamwork 52.6 50.2
Connects to the outside world 51.6 50.3
Communicates powerfully and prolifically 51.8 50.7
Solves problems and analyzes issues 51.5 50.4
Leadership speed 51.5 50.5
Innovates 51.4 51
Technical or professional expertise 50.1 51.1
Develops strategic perspective 50.1 51.4

As you read through the list you will quickly note that in all but a couple of cases, women scores higher on leadership capabilities than men. This is not simply my opinion, these are research- based results. But, if you are happy with your experience and attitudes feel free to ignore my words.

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