By Maccs Pescatore, CEO of Montessori Centre International
Among the many lessons the pandemic has taught us, is the fact that society needs women at the table.
Female leaders across the world have been praised for their decisive action throughout the pandemic, taking Covid seriously from the start, and showing empathy to the communities they serve. Research shows that women leaders are rated more favourably than men, even without a crisis, because of their interpersonal skills and adaptability.
Over the past decade, great strides have been made in gender equality in the workplace. More women now hold senior positions in traditionally male dominated industries, from banking and finance, to mountain and paddle sports. However, even with record-breaking numbers of women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2020, only 7.4% of companies on the list are run by women.
There remains a long-standing gender imbalance at the top, held up by structural inequalities, social norms, and economic disparities. Having one woman in a particular seat doesn’t mean the job is done and that women have equal access to all available seats. This continues to be a challenge as the ‘keyholders’ to leadership positions remain overwhelmingly male and women struggle to find inspiration due to a lack of female role models.
While the pandemic has highlighted the amazing work female leaders can do when given the chance and has brought some measure of hope, it has simultaneously shown that they face disproportionate job losses and limited access to new positions as unpaid domestic burden increases. On balance, it could be said that the pandemic has turned back the clock for gender equality by years.
However, a more optimistic way of viewing this situation is to look at the overwhelming contribution of women throughout the pandemic in holding together the core pieces of society (notably “family”). This resilience and creativity should be recognised as key attributes to great leadership and a robust challenge to the notion that women are weak.
On International Women’s Day, I sat down with a group of women from across the globe for a panel discussion about leadership and how we can all make a concerted effort to actively support women’s representation.
Leave the ladder down
There are elements of today’s society that encourage a culture of competition that often pits women against each other. As women in positions of power, we are not only role models, but are in a position to cultivate a more diverse workforce, that’s truly reflective of society.
We must continue to challenge accepted attitudes and ways of doing things, and acknowledge that diversity and difference bring greater success across the board. Let’s make it a priority to empower, nurture and support women who are coming up behind us. If you’re a female leader, leave the ladder down. Even better, help someone up behind you.
Support women once they reach the top
Being invited to the top table can be risky for any individual, especially for women. Outdated structures and biases still in place create unique obstacles for female leaders and there seem to be many examples floating about of women and the glass cliff.
To drive change and allow women to succeed at all levels, we not only need to hire and promote them, but to support them when they’re at the top. It’s clear that there’s a need for a coordinated response to issues over leadership, for workplaces to provide safe spaces for women to learn and grow, and for structures to be put in place that value their ideas and allow them to flourish whilst delivering impact.
Make leadership training accessible for all
Anyone can call themselves a ‘leader’, but true leadership requires a certain set of skills and understanding. Curiosity, resilience, flexibility and confidence – all important parts of the Montessori philosophy – are key. Aspiring leaders need to be given the chance to learn these skills and have a safe space to practice them and make mistakes.
Many organisations offer leadership development training, but employers have been shown to put women up for training less frequently than men. Women may also be less likely to put themselves forward because entrenched social biases mean they sometimes don’t see themselves as suitable. Women need an advocate; to be encouraged and made aware of training on offer and given the opportunity to nurture the skills they have.
So, if you’re a female leader, leave the ladder down. Provide an equal playing field of access so that women can follow you up the ladder on merit. Encourage, empower, and give opportunities to other women. If we want to see change, we have to do something about it, it’s not the time to be passive.
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