Unconscious gender bias doesn’t’ appear exclusively in the corporate world. As illustrated by a true story a friend recently told me, it resides in small business, too. Our unconscious (and gendered) images of leadership are everywhere. In a family business, a woman who had worked for years was passed over when the founder retired — by a much less experienced, but male, relative. How can we broaden our “pictures” of leadership?
Have you ever seen people not only judge, but actually fear, a way of doing things different from their own way? I already knew that leaders may not think of women because they do not “look the part.” Now I know they may actually fear giving assignments and promotions to a woman. They have a harder time envisioning her succeeding. And they may fear that her different (feminine) approach will not get as good a result as the more common (masculine) approach.
The 2014 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor joins a growing body of research that concludes that today’s leaders must have feminine as well as masculine leadership strengths. This study shows that women score higher on 10 of 14 key leadership attributes, including the top four. They are feminine strengths so, naturally, show up more in women than men. Key feminine strengths include communicating in an open way, admitting mistakes and bringing out the best in others. If you follow the work of DifferenceWORKS, you understand these strengths.
Are there different or more difficult challenges in the area of business development for women vs. men? Women in general express less confidence and have a harder time “tooting their own horn” or selling themselves. In building relationships with male prospects, women have to choose a social setting that is comfortable for both – and does not look like a “date” or “come on.” Women need to stretch their boundaries and learn to enjoy “male” sports – like golf; that is where business is developed! There may be leftovers of old ways of thinking about women. Male prospects may have different or lower cultural expectations about women.
A recent study in the UK concludes that women are seen as just as good, or even better, leaders than men in areas including business. The issue is not whether men or women are better leaders. All women do not think or lead the same – just as men do not. I join John Gerzema in the proposition that leaders today need both masculine and feminine strengths. The point is to raise feminine leadership style (in both men and women) to a position equal to masculine leadership style – to value both.
I recently read about a theory called “stereotype incongruity.” It means that stereotypes of leaders “match” stereotypes of men more closely than they do stereotypes of women. This kind of thinking is real; it is behind the gendered view of leadership. The thinking is flawed, first, because stereotypes are not true; many women fit masculine stereotypes. Second, it is flawed because the stereotype of leadership fails to recognize the value of feminine leadership strengths. I agree with John Gerzema that leaders today need to have both masculine and feminine strengths!