Debby Carreau MBA,CHRP
I am a huge advocate for women in the workplace, however I am even more passionate about ensuring organizations are leveraging all of their talent: men and women. As long as we segregate women for separate leadership programs and groups that are not open to men we will never achieve parity or have organizations that are truly working together as a unified team.
'Women in the work place' is a subject that has been tackled from different angles. Recently Avivah Wittenberg-Cox (HBR, The Magazine, 28 March 2014) suggested that 'It’s Time for a New Discussion on “Women in Leadership.” It is indeed. The discourse must move on - and this, for several reasons. That women are in the work place has long become a given. Further, the gradual increase in the number of women in leadership positions in visible spaces both in the public and business sector has demonstrated sufficiently that women can lead. (Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Mary Barra, Angela Merkel, Christine Legarde, Janet Yellen and many others)Over the years the discussion has shifted to trying to identify if there are ways of leading and or managing that are peculiarly 'feminine' and if so whether such are more effective than those that have long been practiced by men. This is yet another discussion that needs to be discontinued as it seems akin to assuming that one gender may be better than the other for no reason other than the biological differences. The futility of such a view is further highlighted by observations that have been made that point to differences in leadership practices that are attributable to social, cultural, task and other variations not at all related to one's gender (Avolio 2007). The conversation needs to be what diverse leadership attributes to we need as an organization collectively to succeed?
Given that organizations now have to contend with faster technological growth, globalisation, a diversified and educated work force and intensely competitive environments (Eagly 2007) which are challenging the traditional methods of leading and managing, how does the female leader or feminine leadership factor give an organization an advantage. It is clear that the achieving organizational objectives requires a mixture of both the masculine leadership behaviour that tends to be task oriented and the feminine approach that is associated with a leaning towards relationships. Gartzia and van Engen (2012) found that individuals who are potentially effective leaders are those who manage to rise above gender stereotypes and recognise the importance of both what is considered masculine and feminine practices.
The future of our economy is heavily reliant on knowledge work, which means building relationships; communication and inter-personal skills are now business imperatives.
As we take a break from talking about women in the workplace we find ourselves faced with more questions than answers. Instead of debating whether men or women are stronger leaders, let’s ask the really important questions which are:
- What type of leadership will best advance the organizational objectives given the changes that have occurred in the way in which work is both configured and undertaken?
- What can organizations benefit from the practices associated with leveraging the new diverse workforce demographics, which incidentally is not just women but also young workers, older workers and other diverse groups?
- What opportunities are there for women? And how do we integrate and develop our entire workforce together recognizing their unique strengths and skills?