Women Executives: Leadership Role Models (Part 3)

If my 2 previous posts have seemed less than optimistic, let me assure you that there is hope (for us all!).

Below is an article by Professor Ginka Toegel the Director of Strategies for Leadership Program, International Institute of Management Development, Switzerland.

Companies are not setting themselves these targets out of some generalized notion of equality but because there is a strong business case for them to do so.

There has been a great deal of research in this area that suggests the value of having gender diverse management teams.

For example, companies that have more than three women in management positions tend to have better return on equity and assets than do those with fewer women.

They also tend to score higher on organizational effectiveness criteria. Equally, women board members tend to be very well-prepared for meetings, which raises the benchmark for others.

This subsequently leads to better discussions, and better decisions.

So, there is a clear business case for companies hiring and promoting more senior women. But what is life like for the women who are already in these roles?

When we have less than 15 percent of a minority in a social category, we talk about tokens.

And anyone who is in that position is likely to be under a huge amount of pressure, as they are highly visible, and frequently will feel that they represent not just themselves, but their entire category.

At 25 percent – in many companies this is currently the target – they are still in a minority, but they are no longer tokens.

The tipping point is 35 percent: once we reach this level, visibility becomes less of an issue and women’s identity as women becomes less salient.

Past this point, when women speak, they are heard as individuals with their own separate backgrounds, values and personalities, not as “the woman”.

Her opinions and views are not reduced to her gender.

The problem at the moment is that we have so few senior women in management positions that they are perceived as outsiders.

This creates a kind of legitimacy gap, in that they do not fit the (male) stereotype of what it is to be a leader.

This leads in turn to another problem, which is that male leaders tend to be associated with “agentic” behavior: they are more likely to be proactive, assertive, dominant, in control of the situation.

Female leaders, by contrast, show what we call “communal values”: friendliness, support, warmth and a caring attitude.

When we look at these two sets of values, it becomes clear that it is the agentic approach that we associate with leadership.

Many women come to the conclusion that, as a result of these stereotypes, the only way for them to be perceived to be legitimate leaders is to emulate male leaders.

However, the real answer is not so straightforward.

If women simply emulate men, they violate the gender stereotype, which creates a perception that they are being phony.

This creates a real problem, and can lead to them being penalized for being inauthentic leaders.
Women should instead blend both sets of characteristics.

Indra Nooyi, the Chief Executive and Chairwoman of PepsiCo, does this very successfully; she can make tough decisions and is very assertive in negotiations, but her direct reports also describe her as extremely warm and caring.

What then of the future? Well, despite the disappointing statistics there are many good reasons to be positive.
The next 5 to 10 years will see a dramatic change for the better.

Women managers can contribute to this by understanding that there are certain expectations related to organizational leadership, and developing their skills accordingly.

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