Women as Leaders
Women as Leaders
More and more women are rising to the leadership challenge, even in some of the most male-dominated industries. The increase in the number of women attending university, in the workplace or starting their own business has demonstrated to men who own businesses that women can be both managers and mothers, thus showing their male counterpart that women can in fact “do it all”. In this paper the history of women in the workforce will be outlined, as well as the challenges they face. The changing attitudes towards women taking over family businesses will be looked at briefly, how women lead along with a comparison to how men lead, and a critique and conclusion of their leadership style will also be discussed.
History and The Challenges Women Face
A number of events have occurred over the last twenty-five years or so that have resulted in the rise of the female in the work-for-pay world. Beginning in the mid-1970’s, women began going to business school and earning their Master’s of Business Administration and, as a result, building on that education and gaining work experience (Nelton, 1999). The days of the one income family are over. Females need to be armed with a university or college degree to be a contributor to this century’s model of the family unit and in this time of “education inflation”, the demand for higher education is growing at a staggering rate. In the corporate sector, the generation of women who entered the corporate world two to three decades ago have blazed the trail now followed by ever-growing numbers of women (Shaiko, 1997).
The great strides women are making in the work force can be attributed to numerous factors including the:
“passage of equal employment opportunity
legislation’s, modifications in job requirements,
more females on the buying side, elevated
educational achievements by females, more
women in business schools, the huge percentage
of female business school graduates with
‘androgynous’ orientations, and the willingness
of many young women to postpone marriage and
child-bearing.” (Comer, et.al, 1997)
While women continue to make progressive strides toward equality, few have risen to the highest positions-leading companies to the new millenium (Andorka, 1998). Fortunately, women can now demand equal treatment in their respective organizations as a result of the aforementioned changes in history. Many companies have policies in places that require equality at work and punishment for those who do not adhere to such policies.
There is a vast amount of evidence that women tend to occupy less powerful, lower paid, and lower status organizational positions than men. These divisions not only occur vertically, but on a horizontal scale as well. Women who seek to enter management level positions fight against stereotypes, discrimination, and myths, not to mention the fight to balance work and family. They have also been overwhelmed by unfamiliar products, skeptical clients or customers, guy talk, a scarcity of female associates and little or no empathy (Comer, et.al., 1997). Sheila Wellington, President of Catalyst, a non-profit organization for the advancement of women to corporate and professional leadership, said in a speech on October 23, 1996 to the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit Michigan:
“Let me be clear, I believe that most obstacles
to women’s advancement to the top are not
intentional, they are a result of unexamined
assumptions about women’s career interests
and of policies and practices that have existed unquestioned over time in the corporate culture.
With real commitment to change, the situation
is remediable.” (Wellington, 1996)
Perhaps, the “glass ceiling” that women are under is not the intent of their male counterparts. I believe that it is the socialization of men and women in our society that has lead to this imbalance in the work force. But, somewhere along the line, men have to realize and acknowledge the socialization they have endured is creating much disharmony and discontent among their female colleagues.
The Torch is Passed- to the Daughter
Twenty years ago, there was no place for women in most family businesses (Nelton, 1999). If they did have a position, it was presumably as secretary, assistant, or some other “behind-the-scenes” role. The traditional successor to the family business was the first-born son and if there was no son, then the widow was discouraged from running the company and urged to sell the business. Those days have since past. As women are achieving higher levels of education and are being employed in more prominent positions, their leadership roles in family organizations have increased (Brody, 1994]. Many young women are refusing to accept the rule of “primogeniture” (Nelton, 1999). Primogeniture is defined as a birthright or an inheritance. Although women are making great strides in this arena, there is still the feeling out there that the son should be considered first and the daughter as a second option, only if there is no son or if the son declines the offer. But, Nelson says that, “young women by and large feel that if they want to go into the family business, the opportunity is there.”
In each of the cases described by Nelson, the fathers encouraged their daughters to become involved in the family business. As well, each father let his daughter run the show once she was named CEO-the surest sign of support (Nelton, 1999). In more and more families and in business in general, gender is becoming a “non-issue”. As roles increasingly change on the home front, the business world will soon mirror the changes taking place in the family structure. Nelton also urges women in leadership roles to not lose sight of the bottom line. She says it is “easy for women to get caught up in the management of people” (Nelton, 1999). She goes on to say that if you cannot prove that you are also profit-driven, you will never make it to the successor level.
The Battle of the Sexes
There are many characteristics that women inherently possess that make them great leaders. Women tend to handle juggling many tasks at the same time better than men do. Because women have traditionally been the primary caregiver in the home as well as taking care of the household chores, “juggling” or time management has become second nature to them. Although women are skilled in handling many tasks, studies have shown that women are for the most part, people-oriented, rather than task-oriented (Comer, et.al., 1997).
Women also value relationships and tend to spend time nurturing those relationships with their family, as well as subordinates (Andorka, 1998). Coaching, counseling, and mentoring, and the building of relationships are among the many characteristics needed to be an effective leader. In the past, commanding and controlling were thought to be the answer to gaining compliance and hard work from employees. The majority of men lean toward the traditional ‘command and control’ style and were more likely to view job performance as a series of transactions with subordinates offering rewards for services rendered or punishment for inadequate performance (Brody, 1994).
Women understand the effectiveness of immediate praise and tend to be more supportive of one another and the people who work for them. Men wait for proof of achievement before extending gratitude or compliments.
In the book, Selling is a Woman’s Game, Nicki Joy outlines the characteristics she feels are unique to women that make them prone to leadership roles:
“The talent to multi-task, willingness to pay
attention to detail, their interest in people, their
skill in picking up body language, moods and
undertones of conversation, and their superior
listening skills” (Comer, et.al., 1997)
It is important to note that while the majority of women do possess all or some of these inter-personal skills, men are quite capable of exhibiting these same characteristics and it is also possible that there are women who do not possess any of these characteristics. Women are also said to be easy to motivate, are trustworthy and cooperative, and are careful planners (Blanchard, 1988).
Current studies suggest that women tend to have strong skills in collaboration and group processes. Many behavioral scientists have concluded that, in general, women’s leadership style seeks consensus among subordinates rather than the more typically male independent decision making style. Women are sometimes faced with criticism for being too passive, but if she opts for a more task-oriented, directive style of leadership, she is seen as too aggressive or masculine-a “bitch” (Andorka, 1998). They use an interactive approach to management in which they encourage employees participation but also attempt to “enhance other people’s sense of self-worth and to energize followers” (Brody, 1994).
Women in leadership roles in organizations are usually highly involved in the day-to-day operations and they seek advice from the community and their peers. When it comes to leadership and management, women “tend to lead in circles rather than pyramids” (Brody, 1994). That is to say that they lean towards creating a cooperative atmosphere rather than a hierarchical, competitive environment. They possess superior creative problem solving and intuitive management skills, these among their other interpersonal skills have been encouraged throughout their lives and they have relied on those very skills in each and everyone of their relationships.
Because of women’s socialization, these characteristics have come to the forefront. As children, women are encouraged to listen, to build relationships, to be considerate of other’s feelings and opinions and so on. As a result, a new breed of leaders was born.
The Leadership Challenge
What, if any, characteristics of a leader outlined in the Leadership Challenge, do women possess? Well, to begin with Part 4, Enabling Others to Act. Kouzes & Posner found in their research that in cases of success, it was almost never done alone. Women possess a superior sense of teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration.
“If the goal is to improve performance, the
winning bet will be on cooperation over
competition every time. Competition almost
never results in best performance; pursuing excellence is a collaborator’s game”
(Kouzes & Posner, p. 152).
Especially in joint tasks, cooperation and collaboration are keys to success. Enabling others to act is innate in women. Again, as primary caregivers, they are subject to letting their children go and experience life and make their own mistakes, this is just second nature to women.
Reciprocity is key in executing effective leadership. Women focus a lot of their energy and time in maintaining and building relationships with the people around them. Reciprocity is one of the components of building a relationship, “reciprocity also leads to predictability and stability in relationships, which can keep both relationships and negotiations from breaking down” (Kouzes & Posner, p. 157). Reciprocity is described as having the willingness to be cooperative and an unwillingness to be taken advantage of.
To foster collaboration encompasses what women leaders are. The sharing of information and resources is, again, like second nature to women. This is through their socialization. That is not to say that all women possess these characteristics, but it is based on the majority through studies and extensive research. Building trusting relationships is the embodiment of the female psyche. Without trust in the people around them, their effectiveness as a leader, employee, wife, mother or friend is non-existent. Women strive for trust in the people they connect with on daily basis and they strive to be trusted. “Trust is at the heart of fostering collaboration. It’s the central issue in human relationships within and outside the organization” (Kouzes & Posner, p. 163).
It is a universal fact that women are exemplary listeners. It is the key in understanding the people you work with. To understand what is important to them is crucial to a successful business relationship. To know what an employee needs to feel fulfilled and to work to capacity, superior listening and communication skill are necessary.
Celebrating accomplishments are also a fundamental practice in leadership. As mentioned previously, women are more likely to celebrate accomplishments and provide immediate praise to successful subordinates, unlike their male counterparts. Women are drawn to creating social support networks. Once again, women’s socialization comes to the forefront. Females are taught by example that to be happy and fulfilled you need your own little “support network” made up of friends and family. When women have problems or need advice they immediately call upon their network for assistance. Unlike men, who by nature, tend to withdraw and put the decision making process solely on their own shoulders.
Although women do possess many of the characteristics of effective leaders, they are not prone to lead by example (Comer, et.al., 1997). Due to the clash in the scheduling of work and their personal lives, women are torn between being a driven leader and being an effective leader in the home. But, again, gender is not always the determining factor in leadership capabilities. There are exceptions to each of the rules outlined within this paper. It is important to take note that there are male leaders that possess each of these qualities and are superior leaders. Alternatively, there are men and women who possess little or few of these characteristics and have still risen to the top of their ranks in terms of leadership style and capability.