By: Brian Eagar, CEO of TowerStone
In the past few years, we have seen an increase in the number of women holding leadership positions as well as a shift in the roles they fulfil. Whilst women leaders are still more likely to be HR directors, there has been an increase in the proportion of women in CEO, CFO and CIO roles. These changes are not merely the result of greater gender diversity in the workplace – a change welcomed (albeit a slow process); it is also one that is being driven by the need for a different leadership style; one that aligns with the realities we find ourselves in post-COVID19.
In the aftermath of the pandemic, employees have been calling for a more transformational leadership style, departing from the well-known authoritative style donned by many leaders prior to 2019. Employees are recognising the importance for organisations to adapt, and for leaders to inspire their teams and ensure healthy and supportive working environments. Studies on the traits of effective leadership (specifically humility, empathy, emotional intelligence and kindness) have shown that women continuously outperform men, are more open minded, able to handle pressure better as well as being better communicators than their male counterparts. These traits are conducive to a (new normal) healthier working environment, one that increases employee engagement, establishes stronger relationships between leaders and their teams, and has the potential to increase productivity and, inevitably, profitability.
The women leaders consulted all listed proactively working on their development needs as a key focus. In comparison to men, they are more willing to do this and have the understanding that a development need is not a weakness, but rather an opportunity to improve. They invest time and energy into developing their skills and abilities, are introspective and open to feedback – knowing that authority is not a given, but something that should be earned and awarded.
Why then, do we still see women struggling to break into leadership positions?
According to our data, women leaders face adversities that, despite their increase in representation over the last few years, still handicap their ability to climb the corporate ladder. The points below have been collated from feedback from our client base and focus on the experiences of female leaders.
Women (leaders) still feel excluded – by men and other women – in the workplace. For some women, the opportunity to advance is so limited that the competition for recognition and promotion is fierce and sometimes even unhealthy. Many women find themselves in a cycle of defensiveness – always feeling that they need to prove themselves. They also feel excluded by the male-dominant leadership – whether owing to unconscious bias or differing expectations, with some even assuming that career advancement is not a top priority for them. In addition to this, they feel that they (and their authority) are taken far less seriously and that they are considered less for the more authoritative roles.
Opportunities for advancement
There are less career advancement opportunities for women when compared to their male counterparts. Women are more likely to be passed up for promotion. This is specifically relevant in middle-management positions, leading to less women being eligible for promotion into the C-suite space. This tendency was also identified in McKinsey and Company’s Women in the Workplace 2021 report which states that for every 100 men promoted to managerial roles, only 86 women are promoted. Women are therefore underrepresented at managerial level, which leaves a smaller pool to be promoted to higher levels.
Gender stereotyping has been identified as a major concern among female leaders. Male decision-making approaches have been described as quick and action orientated, with their leadership styles authoritative and even commanding at times. This contrasts with women who take on a far more measured approach when it comes to decision-making. Women also have a transformational leadership style in comparison to men’s authoritative leadership style. This often leads to an inaccurate perception that women are ’weaker’ leaders.
Amongst the leaders we coach, we recognized a significant trend which is a further reflection of the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. More men than women are given the opportunity to be coached and/or mentored. One facilitator indicated that only one of her 13 coaches was female. Research from the Harvard Business Review indicates the same occurrence; stating that less women have sponsorship and mentoring to assist them in their leadership journeys. Support in this form is vital and often necessary for a leader to break into executive positions.
In an ideal new normal, women leaders should be respected for the different perspectives and gains that they bring to the table. It should not be a case of either/or but rather a focus on creating a partnership for the benefit of the organization and its employees. Organizations need to both understand and leverage the differences between leadership styles in order to build a leadership team that will guide and inspire employees as they continue to adapt to the new norm.
Women bring a specific skillset. To overlook the value that women leaders provide could have dangerous consequences for any organization.
The interview below is with Cornell Solomon on Radio Sonder Grense (Geldsake). With permission from Moneyweb, the entire interview can be listened to in this clip.
BIOGRAPHY – BRIAN EAGAR
In 2006, Brian founded TowerStone in an effort to provide leaders with a constructive space to learn, grow, and inspire brand ambassadorship, following an extensive career leading multicultural teams in a multinational organization.
Aside from his experience, he has a deep understanding and passion for neuroscience, which allows him to influence others to excel. He aims to guide leaders to better understand the essence of neuroscience in order to help them lead at their best and create an inclusive space where everyone can contribute optimally to the benefit of the organization.
With the ultimate goal of supporting clients to achieve their objectives, Brian acts as a mirror that raises team and individual consciousness regarding behaviors that need to be changed and skills that need to be developed. Furthermore, Brian is passionate about helping leaders and their teams achieve greater fulfilment in their professional lives.