One of my MA assignments was a critical analysis on leadership. As part of this, I researched women and leadership. Unsurprisingly there is a plethora of evidence demonstrating inequalities on many levels in all aspects of life that women have had to face. And, as is well documented and debated, this is rarely a reflection of women’s’ abilities but due to an embedded prejudice, fear and cultural-rut on behalf of men and society as a whole.
Recent #METOO, #TimesUp campaigns are clear indications that the tide is turning on accepting abuse of powers but the emerging tsunami of examples of power-based abuse by men requires more than a debate and expression of fury.
This explosion of debate is perhaps a symptom of a paradigm shift in the world. Since the financial markets collapse in 2008 our belief in our leaders, and supporting system intent on delivering certainties rather than managing reality, have been severely, and justifiably eroded.
Gone is the sense of safety, that our leaders are in control, and that we can leave them to navigate to a certain future. Reliance on our leaders largely remains, but the framework of our trust in them is gone. In complex world we need leadership that can inspire, galvanize, involve and innovate. Leadership that can build a narrative around a vision that speaks the truth of the challenge, the opportunity and engages our part within it. Our leaders need to be visionaries, sensemakers and facilitators.
Professor Alimo-Metcalf’s 2014 research found clear evidence that those now defined as ‘great leaders’ represent qualities that come naturally to women. It points to a growing belief in the power of enabling, empowering, connecting and networking; sharing a vision and ‘facilitating’ a resolution to complex problems. These traits are not the exclusive preserve of women, but, in the past, where they have been most encouraged to thrive.
New world leaders like Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen, Elizabeth Warren, Hilary Clinton are forging a new brand of leadership – women who have had a breadth of experience, benefitting from ‘career breaks’ . It is worth noting that an intriguing body of psychological research shows that these women are more acceptable as leaders to both sexes, feeling more comfortable with ambitious older women than young – suggesting the conspiracy against women is more complex than sometimes the debate implies.
In a world where portfolio careers and gig economy are having huge impact, maybe culturally we will begin to understand better the value of breadth of experience, see career change, or breaks as vital to rounded experience, and think less of length of experience in one field or organisation.
There are huge challenges that face women in leadership , logistical, prejudicial and cultural. However our success in an uncertain world will rely on our leaders having the agility, strength and creativity to move us forwards. A big step change is required, but the march has begun, and if we all work together, we may yet recognise the full potential that exists if we all embrace our female qualities as leaders.
SpeakTo; inspiring a grassroots attitude within top down down approaches.