Women Lead Differently . . . And It Matters

By Linda G. Wiley, PhD, CDE, CRS

What happens when a woman leads a business? . . . Everything!

In the United States, women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men. They make up half the workforce and are closing the gap in middle management. Women have made undeniable progress but, we still have a long way to go.

When people call for more women in the workplace, it may sound as though they’re just trying to meet a quota. Diversifying a variety of top positions, specifically executive roles, is more than a movement to level the corporate playing field — it’s about using the best resources to maximize every organization’s potential. The truth of the matter is, women leading businesses can be game-changing.

Half a dozen global studies have found that companies employing women in large numbers outperform their competitors on every measure of profitability. The competence of women has never been more obvious. According to a Morgan Stanley report, “more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

However, as of 2016, women only accounted for 20% of all directors of companies on the S&P 500 despite making up 47% of the U.S. workforce, controlling about 75% of household spending, and more than 50% of personal wealth in the U.S.

While a number of industries are showing trends of a growing female workforce, women still face many challenges including being underrepresented in key fields like science, technology, engineering, and math. There is still gender bias – conscious and unconscious – in the workplace. The women who are in leadership roles or want to position themselves for leadership often feel they come under particular scrutiny. Where men may be encouraged to be ambitious or assertive, women are programmed from a young age not to be “bossy”. Underlying gender bias means the same behavior and characteristics—initiative, passion, and taking charge—can be interpreted differently in men and women in the workplace. And, women are less successful when it comes to negotiating, especially negotiating salary. It is almost an accepted truth that men have a better sense of self-belief when positioning themselves for leadership roles or negotiating pay. In many instances, women’s experiences have led them to underestimate their worth.

There are many advantages to women in business. Women add diversity and a diverse workforce is an innovative workforce. Diversity—from gender diversity to culture, age, and race—has been shown to foster creativity and innovation. Gender diversity in business is not just about fairness and accessing our total workforce. It makes businesses more profitable and it allows us to benefit from the perspectives of individuals who are proxies for all of your customers. 

Another advantage is that women excel in the soft skills needed for business leadership. While technical skill and knowledge are fundamental to career success, CEOs consistently cite soft skills as the most desirable professional attributes. Although characteristics like effective communication, empathy, and self-awareness are difficult to measure, they are highly valued and can make a real difference to the bottom line. Recent research has drawn a connection between strength of character (e.g. integrity, responsibility, forgiveness, and compassion) and business performance—with CEOs who rank highly for attributes like compassion and integrity also enjoying a 9.35% return on assets over a two-year period.

Soft skills and emotional intelligence may prove a key competitive advantage for women in business. A 2016 study published by the global consulting firm Hay Group found that women outperform men in 11 of 12 key emotional intelligence competencies. These competencies included emotional self-awareness, empathy, conflict management, adaptability, and teamwork—all essential skills for effective leadership in the workplace. In fact, recent research from McKinsey shows that gender-diverse businesses are 15% more likely to outperform financially above the industry median. 

Lastly, women represent huge economic power and offer important consumer insight. Women drive purchasing; they are typically the main purchase decision-makers in a home. The connection between this consumer base and a company is critical for success.  

if diversity, inclusiveness, and gender equality become policy and are embedded in business strategy, businesses thrive. Here are 3 key things that companies can do to help women be more successful.

  1. Promote a welcoming culture
  2. Invest in companies that champion diversity
  3. Make the results public

The employee also bears some responsibility for her success. If you are a woman who desires to be a more effective leader in your organization, here are some steps you can take.

Steps to becoming successful in business:

  1. Read about successful women. 
  2. Research women in your field. 
  3. Increase your business skills. 
  4. Understand your business to the core. 
  5. Prepare your mindset. 
  6. Be confident. 
  7. Be assertive. 
  8. Handle criticism well.
  9. Be willing to fail. 
  10. Start a business doing what you love with the skills you’ve acquired (before you leave your current job). 

The particular qualities of women’s leadership take on a new significance and new power in today’s world. The strengths women possess and the behaviors that set them apart will lead companies forward in the coming years. 

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Dr. Linda G. Wiley is a certified diversity executive and certified relationship specialist and the CEO of Turning Point Leadership Group, LLC an innovative relationship management firm specializing in diversity and inclusion. With more than 20 years of experience, Dr. Linda trains and coaches individuals and consults with organizations for more effective relationships in this diverse and complex world. www.TurningPointLG.com Follow her on LI, FB, Twitter, and Instagram.

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