In 2016, a Peterson Institute for International Economics survey of over 21,000 firms from 91 countries found that increasing female leadership representation in profitable firms from 0 to 30 percent is correlated with a 15 percent increase in net revenue margin.
Women have made one big mistake as leaders (I personally have made this mistake myself): trying to lead like men and not owning our leadership abilities. The underlying issue is that we associate leadership with masculinity. That thought is so ingrained in us that our language for leaders follows that premise. Women of my generation and the generation before me thought we had to be more like “the boys” to be accepted into leadership roles. We believed we had to train women to be leaders like men, as if leadership were an innately male ability. When women embrace their leadership traits, however, it creates a better environment for all.
What are the traits and attributes that women bring to a leadership position that emerging evidence shows is linked to increased profits? There are five key leadership skills we need to foster in all female leaders at the top.
1. Win-Win Solutions
In my experience, most male leaders see business as a zero-sum game (“If you win, I lose”). Because of this view, coming up with win-win solutions is a challenge. Women tend to see business – and life – as a win-win game (“If I can help you win, I can win too”). This philosophy makes it easier for them to compromise and come up with creative business solutions. We need all leaders to develop this trait as we move through the information age.
2. Diversity of Strategy
If all leaders have the same experiences and same view of the world, your pool of fresh, new and innovative ideas is limited. The more we open up to what women leaders bring to the table, the better our ideas, products and services will become. Profits go up when you can understand your consumer, and women are major consumers!
3. Resilience in the Face of Change
The pace of change in the 21st century is faster than in any other time in history. Because of their experiences, women innately understand how to be resilient in the face of change, and they can help businesses manage the pace of change to be productive.
4. Empathy Helps Build Relationships
Every modern leadership book talks about building trust and relationships as the key to building teams. Empathy is about putting your ego aside and seeing the other person for who he or she is. Because our culture has encouraged women to show empathy more than it has for men, women are better able to use this trait positively. When negotiating in politics, business and life, being able to see both sides clearly helps build relationships.
Generally speaking, women tend to be protective of children, spouses, co-workers and strangers. What that means for business is that women understand that to be a leader is to serve the people that you lead. The leader’s role is to develop, inspire, hold accountable and obtain results from the people on his or her team. Because of their protectiveness, women tend to more willing to create learning organizations. As we move from the age of information into the age of smart technology, we need leaders who understand organizational health and the human experience in the workplace.
The truth is that leadership has no gender but needs traits of both genders to be successful. Working together and honoring masculine and feminine skills will not just improve the number of women in leadership but will benefit everyone in the organization. The more diverse the leadership pool is, the more talented our leaders will be. It’s good for the bottom line to draw on the creativity of a diverse staff and recognize the purchasing power of women. It’s good for families, whether they rely on women as the breadwinners or share a two-earner income. It’s good business to shift stereotypical ideas around gender roles. It’s good, period.
March was Women’s Leadership Month at TrainingIndustry.com. Check out our research report “Women’s Access to Leadership Development: A Tale of Two Experiences” by clicking here, watch our webinar recording, listening to this podcast episode or read the other great articles we published this month on developing women leaders:
- Women Lead the Way in Learning and Development
- Cracking the Code For Inclusion: How the Power of One Can Make it Happen
- Developing Women Leaders in the Public Sector
- Coaching as an Equalizer: Closing the Gender Gap in Leadership
- The Catalyst for Balanced Leadership: Best Practices for Women’s Leadership Development
- 8 Ways L&D Departments Can Help Women Break Down the Leadership Barrier
- No Boys Allowed? Engaging Men in Women’s Leadership Development Initiatives
- Three Ways Women Leaders Can Rid Their World of Imposter Syndrome
- How Learning and Development Can Help Close the Gender Gap in Sales
- A New “Mommy Track”: How Returnships Can Help Close the Gender Gap
- 5 Leadership Skills Women Can Use to Improve Their Company’s Bottom Line