The spotlight has been shining brightly on the continued disparity between men and women in leadership and positions of influence. There have been many headlines about the lack of gender diversity in leadership in multiple industries ranging from politics, to engineering, to STEM to healthcare.
In contrast to the Australian Prime Minister’s speech on International Women’s Day, #IWD19, which has been widely criticized in many forums for missing the point that #BalanceIsBetter, ex- Prime Minister, Julie Gillard nailed it. Her short piece in the Guardian entitled, “Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’- it’s good for men too” focuses on how reforms in the work place, specifically flexible working hours and parental leave for fathers, ultimately generate increased productivity, better life-work balance and overall improved well-being.
The advantage to men of having women leaders is much more than an improved family life. Men too are stuck in the patriarchal cloth that is woven into our society.
Women leaders provide for men alternative role models for leadership and life, helping to loosen the patriarchal robe.
Traditional Patriarchal leadership
The traditional role model of leadership, particularly in hierarchical systems, is that of “command and control”. This type of leader embodies the characteristics, as described by Dr Michael Flood, an internationally recognised researcher on men, masculinities, and violence prevention, of what it to be a man: tough, strong, invulnerable, heterosexual, in control and to avoid feelings. This same archetype sets men up to have higher rates of mental health issues, including suicide, poorer family life and makes for the creation of toxic workplace cultures including bullying, discrimination and violence.
Value of Women as alternative role models for leadership
Increasing women in leadership facilitates a widening of the definition of what it is to be a leader, provides examples of how other leadership styles can be implemented and increases appreciation of the role of other characteristics in leadership. It also increases awareness of the characteristics and behaviours that women respect, which assists men in leadership to understand their team better, men in heterosexual relationships to better understand their partners and fathers to better relate to their daughters.
Alternative Leadership Qualities
Qualities that women (and certainly some men) can bring to leadership to help break the mould include the following:
Authenticity vs Authority
Authority in leadership is having the power to enforce various rules, regulations, and processes and make decisions that will be enacted upon. It is very much tied to position and reflects, “do as I say”.
Authenticity is acting in a way that is consistent with beliefs and with what is being asked of others. It also embodies the ability to be thoughtful, have realistic perceptions of reality, a willingness to own and learn from mistakes, express emotions clearly and freely, accept ones self and other people. Authenticity embodies leadership by example, “do as I do”.
Collaboration vs Control
Control often leads shutting out those who could help most through either micromanaging or dictating. This is a classic situation in a hierarchal structure. Micromanaging in a leadership position leads to exhaustion and isolation, and stubbs out creativity. Dictating assumes the leader is the only source of knowledge and breeds discontent.
Collaboration enables the sharing of responsibilities, invites ideas and sparks creativity. It contributes to building a sense of belonging in your team, and allows you to draw upon the various strengths of each team member to improve productivity and outcomes. Collaboration provides opportunity to find different solutions from different perspectives.
Courage vs Bravery
Bravery is the hero on the battlefield, the ability to confront danger or intimidation without any feeling of fear. It is to be tough, strong and have the ability to appear bigger in the face of confrontation. Bravery is action based, doesn’t necessarily require critical judgment and is not driven by cause or motivation.
Courage results from mindfulness. It is the decision to continue forward in the presence of fear for a purpose. Courage is owning your decisions and their outcomes, speaking out when you could be penalized for doing so, admitting your errors, and it is accepting and openly expressing vulnerability in order to experience personal growth, well being and connection.
Empathy vs Ego
The ‘command and control’ leadership style invokes the need to be self-assured and promotes a paternalistic “I know best” approach. Ego focuses on the ‘I’ in leadership. Whilst ego is essential to self-identity, inflated ego is a characteristic often seen with this style of leadership, tying back into the masculine identity of needing to be being seen as strong and invulnerable. To ask for help would be associated with weakness.
Empathy focuses on the ‘we’, the ability to understand your team, their perspective, how they feel, and have real concern for their well-being. This is the magic that builds the relationships that generate a sense of self worth and support for your people, which in turn motivates them to help achieve your goals as leader.
There is no one style of leadership that works in every situation. A modern leader needs a suite of styles in their tool box. The traditional patriarchal leadership model of ‘command and control’ does not sit naturally with many men, but to say so would be seen as unmanly. Women in leadership help to broaden our definition of what it means to be a leader. They provide role models for both men and women. As women have learnt from men leaders how to be more assertive and self-confident, men can learn from women leaders how to be more empathetic and collaborative.
Melbourne’s lord mayor, Sally Capp, pointed out, “You can’t be what you can’t see”. There are simply not enough women in leadership and it is not due to lack of merit. Men in leadership need to embrace the courage to appoint more women to leadership positions. While women will think differently, behave differently, and will be less likely to keep the status quo, the evidence is overwhelming: #BalanceIsBetter for everyone.