Female leaders bring a different approach to the traditional view of what being a leader means but, more importantly, research has shown that organizations with more women in senior roles are more profitable, employees are more motivated and consequently retention rates are higher.
While many industries are making a real commitment and real progress towards a diverse workforce, unfortunately, still only 15 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are female according to a McKinsey report. So perhaps it’s time to look again at the benefits of female leaders and how their particular skills breed success.
There are, of course, good and bad leaders across all genders. However, the instincts and qualities of males and females do play a role in the characteristics they are able to bring to leadership roles, so this is worth exploring in more depth. Then we can better understand how male and female leadership styles influence a team to achieve success and learn from each other, so organizations can benefit from the different leadership skills.
Let’s delve into what females can bring to a management role and what we can learn from this.
Is it still a man’s world in the C-suite?
Gender-specific obstacles have not been eradicated, as the McKinsey data shows, although we are making improvements and moving closer to greater gender-balance. However, many female managers report that they struggle to overcome the typical stereotypes and gain acceptance at a senior level. There has also been a scarcity of female role models at senior levels in many industries, such as the project management profession and the construction industry.
With females under-represented in leadership positions, there is a misconception that they ought to be more like males in business. Yet we know from research by McKinsey and others that when there are more females in top leadership roles then profitability, revenue, employee engagement and retention rates are all higher. That suggests females already have the skills to succeed in leadership roles, and perhaps we should encourage more exchange of ideas and approaches between men and women at senior levels for the benefit of all, and, not least, the bottom line of an organization.
We also know that most men lead by focusing on strategy and goals, whereas women tend to focus on communication and collaboration, plus planning and processes. It seems that having a senior leadership team that has all of these qualities can be nothing but positive. What might be viewed as more typically female approaches to managing: communicating, empathizing, motivating are not just HR tick box exercises – they actually make for more profitable businesses.
Men and women have different qualities. For instance, they approach risks and problems differently. This can be an advantage in the workplace, recognizing that both male and female leaders can bring different characteristics to the table. Combining these different characteristics also enriches the business landscape, making it a more enjoyable place to spend so much of our time.
What specific qualities can female leaders offer?
1. Encouraging an innovative environment
The best female leaders combine a meticulous and logical way of working with creativity, and this combination can bring about innovation, which is often the way to true business success.
We talk about successful projects time and time again. We talk about meeting business objectives and deadlines. Not only that, but we talk about building the right strategy, but it is only when a strategy is executed effectively that it leaves a lasting impact, exceeds expectations and delivers something truly innovative.
2. Discouraging a blame culture
Female leaders also appreciate that any project will fail when egos are allowed to get in the way of the end goal, and different departments or groups do not work together in a collaborative way to reach that shared goal. That’s why their greater focus on communication and collaboration can benefit all areas of business. This is especially true in work environments that have allowed a blame culture to develop or flourish.
Instead, female leaders seek a culture of acceptance when something has not gone to plan and place the focus on finding a solution. A non-judgmental environment will help teams to be open about their challenges and their needs.
3. Seeing all perspectives
Females, in general, are more empathetic – that doesn’t mean all females are empathetic, or no males are empathetic, but empathy can be used to gain a business advantage. Every good leader has the ability to view situations from a macro perspective, but understanding a varied point of view or “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes” is also an essential leadership quality. Sometimes, what may seem trivial on the surface can end up being a critical business driver. When a leader truly understands their individual team members, then the team as a whole can share the same vision and desire to succeed.
4. Motivating teams effectively
Female leaders are also known to be good motivators. One of the reasons for this is that they are effective communicators. They have a tendency to take a personal interest in individual team members. They want to build motivated and loyal teams who are willing to adapt and be flexible. When it comes to delivering a successful outcome, especially in complex situations, motivated teams are always going to have a distinct advantage.
This is not to say that men cannot motivate teams but women more instinctively know when to criticize and when to praise. Because of this, female leaders can bring out the best in a team. They discourage individual team members from trying to compete against one another.
They are also highly effective when it comes to defusing conflict. A high emotional quotient enables female leaders to spot interpersonal conflict before it flares up. Combine this with effective communication skills and team building expertise, and women in leadership positions are able to excel.
5. Simplifying complex problems
Female leaders tend not to use technical jargon or complexity to overwhelm or impress their peers. Instead, they will only add complexity if it is needed to clarify requirements. Even then, the best female communicators can describe complex problems or tasks in an uncomplicated way.
6. Effective communication skills
Female leaders like to talk to others, and they will instigate impromptu conversations. Simply being chatty does not make someone a good communicator. However, the inclination to talk and explore topics in more depth can be of great benefit in a leadership role.
Frequent, informal conversations with staff can make everyone feel more valued and, hence, more motivated. Team members will find it easier to highlight issues or raise any concerns that they may have. This means that potential issues can be acted on quickly before they become serious problems.
7. Creating environments where people thrive
Female leaders want to nurture their teams, and this is one of their distinct advantages over male counterparts. This innate ability to nurture and motivate, and to encourage their teams to improve their skills results in better career growth and development for everyone on the team.
Collaborative projects tend to flourish with female leaders. They are able to get people together to work effectively towards a shared purpose. This means that there are fewer delays and better on-time performance.
Final words on female leaders
There is no denying that more female leaders could bring a different approach to the traditional view of what being a leader means but, more importantly, research has shown that organizations with more women in senior roles are more profitable, employees are more motivated and consequently retention rates are higher.
Of course, not all female leaders will have the qualities mentioned above, and many male leaders will have those qualities. But understanding how organizations, their leaders and their workforce can benefit from male and female approaches to leadership can result in more successful businesses.