Developing leaders is critical to the success of virtually all organizations. Developing more female leaders and adding diversity to management and executives are equally important.
As in many areas, leadership development isn’t a “one size fits all” process. Helping women become strong, successful leaders requires a different approach. The benefits are more than worth it.
Benefits of Female Leaders
Currently, approximately 15% of the Fortune 500 have female CEOs, a significant increase from even a decade ago. Roughly 29% of all leadership positions in the U.S. are held by women.
The reason those percentages are steadily increasing is simple: organizations that focus on diverse leadership development have found that companies with a higher representation of women on their board, as CEOs, or in other senior roles tend to outperform in revenue—and any other metric they use—than organizations that don’t.
A report by McKinsey & Company found that greater gender diversity on the senior executive team corresponded to higher performance. For every 10% increase in gender diversity, earnings before interest and taxes rose by 3.5%.
Organizations with gender diversity also tend to perform better in other metrics, such as employee turnover. Women in leadership roles tend to bring different cultural perspectives to the business. Because they often have more inclusive leadership styles, female leaders can appeal to a broader group of employees.
Why Do Women Leaders Need Specialized Development?
“When a man walks in the room, they are assumed to be competent until they prove otherwise. For women, it’s the other way around,” Lindsay Hudson, CEO of BAE Systems, noted in The Confidence Code.
All too often, executive development overlooks the differences in the way men and women work, think, communicate, and lead.
Men tend to be more self-reliant and lead from the position of “I have an accountability to my company and to my boss to get things done.” Even though they use their team members to accomplish those goals, they think of those accomplishments as their responsibility. Of course, this does not apply to all male leaders and all situations. But the pattern is a holdover from the top-down management style of the past.
Women often have a more collaborative view of leadership and believe much more in the contributions of team members. They tend to encourage more dialogue, more innovation, and more self-direction in their teams because of their community-focused leadership style. Again, this generalization isn’t true in all cases, but these are common behaviors.
Sometimes, women can also achieve more effective decisions because they’re often more alert to team dynamics and subtle differences in the ways that people think. They can capitalize on these differences to help their teams generate better decisions through consensus.
Critical Skills for Women Executives
There are several skills that female executives need to succeed.
The first is self-awareness. Female leaders need to be aware of how they’re perceived and how that aligns with their intentions. Identifying these gaps is the first step in resolving them. Self-awareness also helps them to build the confidence that they are competent leaders who deserve to hold significant roles.
The second skill is assertive communication. Often, women have great ideas, but they may present them differently. One key finding in studying how men and women communicate shows that, when women share their ideas, they tend to say, “I think we should do this.” When men share their ideas, they tend to say, “We should do this.” This apparently small qualification makes women’s communication sound less confident. Men drop the qualifier and sound more forceful.
Also, women tend to nod when they’re listening to someone. What this gesture often means is, “I hear you.” When men see someone nod, they interpret it as a sign of agreement. This can lead to a perception of betrayal if the woman later disagrees—especially if this occurs in public. Awareness of how the other gender communicates can help avoid misunderstandings and some of the tensions that may arise in senior-level conversations.
A third skill that female executives need to learn is strategic thinking, which is an essential part of effective leadership. The ability to anticipate future opportunities and challenges is required to navigate an ambiguous business environment.
Fourth, some women need to demonstrate that they are tenacious and can persist in the face of challenges, such as having to break through the glass ceiling. This can include being deliberate about how and when to ask for a raise.
The fifth critical skill that women executives need to learn is effective networking, including coaching or mentoring other females who are prospective leaders. Women tend to be effective coaches, so this skill capitalizes on strengths they already have. But women may not seek out a network or mentor for their own career development (or don’t have the time to find one). To lead successfully, they need to learn about the politics of the organization and how it works from those men and women skilled at navigating in that world.
The Lindenberger Group can help organizations develop strong, effective women executives and managers. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.