The research says we expect women everywhere to do transformational leadership rather than transactional leadership.
We assume that women will be nurturing to their teams and be team players. Furthermore we anticipate they’ll bring people on and that they’ll take on all those developmental roles in the organisation. And they do! So, we expect women to do all of that. In addition we imagine they will fulfil all the unconsciously internalised models of leadership.
First of all, we think about strong, powerful and directive leaders. Especially relevant is that we more readily associate all these qualities with men. And yet, we criticise women when they internalise that role.
Gender bias is clearly high on the agenda for students of leadership and management. As a guest speaker at Manchester Metropolitan University recently, several students have asked me how being a female in the private sector has impacted my leadership ability.
This is a great question which has prompted much reflection. As a female I’ve observed that I have some innate leadership qualities (empathic, compassionate and collaborative). And yet I mainly worked for male CEOs who weren’t good at those things and didn’t value them. Furthermore, some bosses actively encouraged me not to use those qualities, so that I didn’t come across as ‘touchy-feely’. While demonstrating innate male strengths (power, competitive nature, and directive) are seen as positive.
So, the double bind for women is that we must display all the classic so called feminine leadership qualities as a given. And we are to display the other qualities associated with leadership. And yet, the risk in behaving that way is that we come across as inauthentic.
The point here is that a man who is enabling and empathic and who develops his people gets credit for that. We value men who are collaborative and a team player. On the other hand, a woman is just expected to do it. And when a man is forceful, commanding and directive people simply think he’s a good leader.
So, how can female managers play to their strengths without undermining their credibility as a leader?
My advice would be to draw on those innate attributes to deliver results for the organisation. Personally, I have found that having compassion for the people I serve enables me to hold clients to account. For implementing the changes they’ve agreed to make and that are vital for the business.