“A woman is like a tea bag, you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
International Women’s Day is observed on March 8 every year. I would like to write a few words on building women leaders as a mark of respect to women. Although leadership is not gender specific, we find a very few women leaders globally due to cultural, religious, social and other factors including glass ceiling. The good news is that currently women are kicking the glass ceiling and excelling globally to carve a niche for themselves.
Women leaders such as Melinda Gates, Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Sonia Gandhi, Ursula Burns, Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg and Indra Nooyi stood out from others due to their extraordinary contribution in their areas, thus becoming a source of inspiration for upcoming women leaders. Despite several limitations and constraints women are proving their credentials and capabilities on par with men. They are not behind in any way when compared with other male leaders.
Historically women played a key role in leadership positions and the same is gaining momentum with more women leaders playing an instrumental role in leading in all sectors. However, presently the percentage of women leaders is still low when compared with male leaders. It is basically due to gender discrimination and above all, perceptions of men towards women that prevent women from excelling as global leaders.
Strengths of Women
Women are usually collaborative while men are competitive by nature. Collaboration is essential for smooth functioning of organizations and equally essential is competitive spirit without which organizations cannot succeed. Blending both collaboration and competition is essential for organizational excellence and effectiveness.
Here are some of the strengths of women:
Biologically women have a huge potential and are compassionate by nature. They empathize with others and are sensible to others’ feelings. They are good at soft skills and interpersonal skills. They can handle stress levels better than men. By nature, men are more aggressive. However, women are soft and well-behaved. Women are also good at hidden data of communication. That is why they know the knack of understanding male egos, emotions and feelings better and act accordingly. Women are leaders at home. They lead their spouses and children effectively. They are more responsible towards work. Additionally, they are good at multitasking.
There are several myths on women leadership:
For instance, there is a myth that women cannot perform certain roles in military organizations. The truth is that they too have the fire like men and they also have ambition to excel on par with men. Additionally, women stand up for what they believe in and they work with flexibility and compromise.
Are Women better Leaders than Men?
There is a debate globally whether women are better leaders than men. A research study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman shows that the majority of leaders (64%) are still men. Their study substantiates that women are better than men in various aspects. Women have several strengths to their credit and the major six aspects include: taking initiative; practicing self-development; displaying high integrity and honesty; driving for results; developing others; and inspiring and motivating others. However, women have more challenges than men such as they have to manage their family, take care of children and do other household chores. Additionally, they encounter organizational politics and gender discrimination in the workplace.
Women are basically leaders as it is a well admitted fact that behind the success of every man there is a woman. Historically, most women led behind the scenes by guiding men. Businesses too can improve if they encourage women to lead as they can bring in lots of value to the table thus improving organizational bottom lines.
There is a strong feeling that men are promoted due to potential while women are promoted due to performance. It is basically because leadership is synonymous with men, not women. Hence, there must be a shift in the attitude and perception of the people toward leadership and women. Both men and women leaders are two sides of the same coin and the coin is incomplete without anyone. Hence, leadership is incomplete without the active participation of women leaders. Global Inc must spot, support and groom women leaders to keep them in the leadership pipeline to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.
A Blueprint to Build Women Leaders
Currently the efforts to build women as leaders globally are lukewarm. Hence, there must be clear cut strategy for grooming women into leadership roles and responsibilities. Here are some of them:
Encourage girl scouts globally where the leadership skills are cultivated early among the women.
Remove the prevailing strong feeling that men are promoted due to potential while women are promoted due to performance.
There must be coordinated efforts and integrated approach from all stakeholders including organizations, women associations, NGOs, and government to build women leaders globally to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.
According to the Forbes Insights study with Grant Thornton, more women are occupying leadership positions in Asia Pacific region and China. The research further shows that global status for women occupying leadership is very promising. However much needs to be done to prepare women leaders in the pipeline.
Women must work harder to prove themselves to excel as leaders in this male dominated society. Remember that the society cannot grow when one sex is denied with opportunities. It is essential to let both sexes grow equally based on merit and talent.
It requires empathy on the part of men and broad heart to handhold women to groom them as global leaders. If women also participate in leadership roles and responsibilities we will find a better society with lots of prosperity and stability.
The race to top leadership slot not an easy thing. It is very challenging to go to the top slots and stay. That too, when a woman reaches a top slot, she is really far more capable than men. There is need for all of us to break the stereotypes. Women should break their traditional mental and psychological barriers and move forward towards leadership roles and responsibilities.
Both men and women are biologically different. The difference cannot be treated as deficiency. It is natural for them to lead differently. Let us understand and appreciate the differences and respect them. If mankind takes the support of women there will be all-round prosperity for the entire humankind.
Let us look at women not from gender perspective but from human perspective and judge their competencies and qualifications purely based on merit. Let us look at women with new lenses. Handhold women and take them forward to leadership positions to enable them to endeavor and explore to achieve leadership effectiveness and success.
Prof. M.S. Rao
International Leadership Guru
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