Why question the power of women to lead?

Female leader during board meeting

Women taking leadership roles is often portrayed these days as a ground-breaking development, something achieved through relatively recent laws and strong social pressure about equality of opportunity. 

It is good to learn from history. From very long ago across the millennia there have been women taking charge of nations and communities. Hence the capability and particular strengths of female leadership are nothing new. There are many famous women recorded in ancient history, and more recent centuries, across the world and diverse cultures, who led their people successfully in peace and war.

It therefore lacks logic to even question the capacity of women to lead any organisation, and the fact that today a woman leader sometimes gets profile just for being female is more a sign of how society has become unbalanced by males who feel they are the ones destined to be in charge. I speak as an Asian female elected to be Managing Partner of an old established UK law firm, something that seems to surprise other people at times in my experience.

Kate Oldridge, researcher and leadership coach with Forbury People, explains “There has long been a stereotypical expectation that ‘Women take care, men take charge’.  This lies behind the ‘double bind’ hurdle for women, which renders women’s societal roles of being warm, collaborative and nurturing incongruent with qualities required for their leadership roles such as being assertive and in control.”

 In any event, it is good that women are increasingly in leadership roles because of the different attributes they often bring to the role, though again many men can in truth be just as good at the same things if they have the relevant mindset, which probably includes a dose of female thinking. Identifiable flaws in many leaders include lack of emotional intelligence, empathy, and collaborative thinking. The female mind is reputedly much stronger in these departments without necessarily sacrificing other important leadership attributes. Kate points out “It is true that women generally score higher on empathy and collaboration than men, but we need to be careful to ensure that we don’t simply reinforce stereotypical expectations.  Both women and men can benefit from displaying these ‘feminine’ qualities.  In many workplaces there is a power imbalance in favour of men, and in order to level the playing field, women can be enabled through leadership development programmes and coaching to find their own authentic leadership style and identity irrespective of stereotypical expectations.”

 A key factor in leadership is a caring outlook, which manifests in better social awareness, concern to look after future generations, environmental responsibility, and responding to appropriate individual needs. So, do women care more than men? Experience suggests this is probably often true though not of course always. It is so obvious that men have usually been the cause of conflict and catastrophe that one can only ask if women would have made the same errors.

Seeing the recent media reports of schoolchildren going on strike in protest about climate change one obvious feature was the predominance of school girls as protesters and organisers. These are clearly leaders of the future. The impression is that both in terms of their social conscience and ability to organise the young females identified were very influential and effective. It could be women have more natural concern for Mother Earth and more anxiety to do something about it. Good for them, the future adults we badly need.

So in marking International Women’s Day on 8 March it is timely to remind ourselves that women are natural leaders as much as men are, have always been respected leaders in diverse cultures throughout the ages, have perhaps a better historic record on the whole, and whether in politics or business are for the most part, if not always, likely to create stability and constructive collaboration.

Looking to the future, the world of business should be mindful it must not forsake the female mindset in innovation. There is a distinct trend to treating virtual assistants like Alexa or Siri as female voices, while Artificial Intelligence derives from the male dominated IT sector leading to high risk of algorithms oriented to male bias, of which there is already some evidence emerging. If our future oracles are not classical priestesses in temples or wise women in caves, but the search engines we use everyday, then we need to ensure that the guiding intelligence which will dictate much of our personal futures is balanced with female intelligence. More females employed by leading tech businesses will be a very good thing and should be a strong focus in education and Human Resources management.

Monica AtwalAbout the author

Monica Atwal is Managing Partner at Clarkslegal specialising in employment and immigration. Her aim it not only to assist clients when problematic issues arise but to proactively help their organisations thrive.

As well as being recognised as a leading lawyer in legal directories, Monica is an experienced and successful advocate and regularly provides training to clients, who range from individuals to start ups, SMEs to large multinational organisations, working in a range of sectors from IT, utilities, pharmaceuticals, retail, logistics, motor and professional/service firms.

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