Could business success hinge on having female leaders?
Women really do make their mark in the boardroom, yet the progress by companies to recognise the qualities brought by women to the top positions is a struggle.
It really should not be that hard, but in many industries, especially those seen as stereotypically male, progress on getting women in the boardroom is slow.
Having female leaders in the top spots of chief executive (CEO), chief operating officer (COO) or chief financial officer (CFO) can bring many benefits to businesses and thankfully, there has been much research on benefits to the bottom line that a female leader can bring, which may have done something to convince those stuck in a state of stasis to consider making changes.
Female leaders can bring instinctive qualities and skills to their roles that benefit a company and influence workforces to achieve success in totally different ways from the traditional and (hopefully soon) outdated all-male boardrooms that some companies are hell-bent on hanging onto.
Of course, it’s about appointing the right person for the job, but with the benefits that women can bring to the roles, the net could be cast wider when looking for suitable candidates.
What benefits could female board members bring?
Male leadership tends to focus on goals and strategy, and some see only the need for strength and stealth leadership that undoubtedly is more likely to depersonalise them to the rest of the workforce. Men are more likely to rule rather than communicate, forgoing the motivational and collaborative side of the role that would see a more rounded leadership.
Having a balanced boardroom gives a chance to combine the naturally different characteristics and perceptions that men and women have. A more typical female approach will generally show greater empathy, motivation, and communication, assets that can lead to more profitable relationships, better-rounded business decisions and ultimately, profits.
The numbers don’t lie
Research shows that companies with lots of women are actually more successful. Yet to truly benefit from the unique skills that female leaders in top positions bring, it must be more than simply removing gender-specific obstacles and looking for a female that behaves more like a male.
A woman on the board needs to be a voice, not just a number. When men and women combine the best of their natural talents to run a company, the whole company benefits.
Combining male and female qualities and natural strengths and characteristics offer the chance for companies to benefit from a coming together that will enrich the business landscape, not just in the boardroom but throughout the entire workforce. Achieving a higher female executive headcount can benefit even the most male-oriented environments.
Female leadership qualities that breed success
It’s essential we don’t forget that there are many successful male leads, but there are certain qualities that many women naturally derive that could make them an asset in the boardroom.
Top female leaders combine logical thinking and meticulous creativity with seeing things in a different way that can be an asset and genuinely innovative. Their path to the top will be different, and they will have different experiences that bring other ideas and solutions.
Females motivate by focusing more on communication and collaboration and are more likely to take a more active role and personal interest in team members to build loyal teams. A motivated and appreciated team is likely to be more receptive and adaptable, which is a great benefit when things are tough.
Women are more likely to hold informal conversations to make staff feel valued and part of the business. If staff feel that the powers that be are more approachable and are provided more opportunities to explore topics and discuss issues earlier, they will generally be more sharing. Potential problems can be identified and addressed more quickly and without the formality necessary if they become more serious.
It is never right to stereotype, yet females generally are more empathetic, and this can be a great asset as a leader to gain business advantage. Many good leaders can see others’ points of view, but genuine empathy is hard to fake. Getting it wrong can be damaging.
Seeing perspective and accepting varied viewpoints readily are essential leadership qualities that can bring teams together for the greater good.
Removing blame culture
Female leaders are more likely to seek a non-judgemental culture, where in the face of failure, their attention is given to finding a solution, not looking for someone to blame.
Generally, women leaders seek to remove the harmful effects that egos can cause as they get in the way of the end goal. They will place their energy and focus on the project goals and outcomes and are more likely to put egos aside and see the benefits of collaboration and bring groups to work together effectively to best support the goals and objectives.
By fostering a non-judgemental culture and one of collaboration for the greater good, will enable teams to express challenges and needs openly without fear.
Simplifying the complex
A natural ability to simplify complex issues, enables workforces to feel valued, not talked down to and thus, makes them more receptive to ideas or motivated for challenges, as they feel able to participate at a level that suits them without being overwhelmed.
Female leaders tend to use less overwhelming and complex technical jargon when talking to peers than their male counterparts. The most talented female leaders can describe complex problems or express their requirements in an uncomplicated way, saving the technical complexity only for clarification.
Women have the skills businesses need
Many women already have the skills that businesses need, yet recognition for these skills is pretty hard to achieve. With just 8.1% of Fortune 500 CEOs being female and only around 30% across the US, there is a long way to go.
The UK FTSE 100 companies are now seeing almost 40 of the 100 boardroom positions held by women, allowing the UK to climb to the second spot in the international rankings for female board representation.
A more diverse board is good for profits and attitudes. It better diversifies the company’s ability to reach out and mirror its customer base and benefit from the broad talents that each gender can bring. When females are valued and their contributions recognised with appointments at the top of the pyramid, an organisational culture that values and encourages diversity benefits far more than simply meeting a gender quota.
Paul Naybour is the Business Development Director for Parallel Project Training. He is a well-known speaker on the Association for Project Management (APM) Network in the UK and a regular contributor to the APM blog.
He is also one of the voices behind the popular series of APM podcasts. He has contributed insightful thought leadership articles to a range of publications for more than 10 years.
Photo by Semina Psichogiopoulou