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Women in Leadership

March has been Women's History Month, highlighting the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. The first International Women’s Day was in 1911, but too often all throughout our history the women have been unsung and their contributions unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America are as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

History has shown us that women in leadership will raise the level across your entire organization. Research shows that more women in leadership makes organizations better. Women tend to help the bottom line, help general job satisfaction levels, and raise commitment to the organizations.

Despite all that, many barriers still remain. The pandemic has been especially hard on women. Many have had to leave or reduce hours because they are caregivers for children, elders, or friends. Some women have lost their jobs because of shifts in the labor market. But women have also found success and seen progress. They have demonstrated effective leadership and positively influenced their organizations.

Women are strong leaders. Throughout history there have been many debates about women’s ability to perform and handle leadership. As frustrating and unfair as that may be, it has forced research that clearly shows the strength of women.

  • Effectiveness: Florida International University examined 99 data sets from academic research sources. The study found women and men do not differ in their perceived effectiveness as leaders. Assessing feedback showed there is no statistical differences between men and women.

  • Leadership Behaviors: A new study of 423 companies across the U.S. and Canada by McKinsey & Company and finds women are better than men at providing emotional support to employees (19% of men compared with 31% of women) and checking in on the wellbeing of employees (54% compared with 61%). In addition, they are better at helping employees navigate work-life challenges (24% of men compared with 29% of women) and taking action to prevent or manage employee burnout (16% compared with 21%). Women also spend more time contributing to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts (7% of men compared with 11% of women).

  • Preferences for Women: People welcome having women as their leaders. A recent study from ResumeLab finds 38% of people prefer to work for a female boss compared with 26% who prefer to work for a man. In addition, 35% of respondents have no preference. When asked whether they are better at leadership, 38% believe women outperform men while 35% believe men are better in leadership roles.

However, despite the abundance of evidence for women’s strong leadership, bias still exists.

Research shows that a significant number of people assume women process issues more emotionally than men, and men are more logical. Studies also show that men don’t pay a price in lack of cooperation or support if people don’t find them to be likeable. Women, however, will not get sufficient support and cooperation if they are not found to be likeable. Strangely enough, women are shown to be more trusted to take care of people in a crisis. That is still a problem for men and women both, because it is a judgment made sheerly on bias, not reality.

It's a generally understood perception that women are held to higher standards than men for leadership. The media portrayals tend to reinforce the stereotypes of both men and women in leadership. Men are portrayed as strong leaders and women are seen in support roles. We could go on and on with research and supporting facts that women are under-represented and held back.

We all can help create the conditions for opportunities for women.

  • We can be aware of our own biases and work to reduce them. How we refer to people and situations affects how we perceive them. Recognize the terms you use to describe women and focus on discussions about skills, competencies, and capabilities that are gender neutral.

  • Women can recognize their strengths and demonstrate their capabilities and not shy away from critical situations. When women bring their best, they contribute to their organizations and communities.

  • Women can take care of themselves and support other women. Work hard, set boundaries, and take time off. Devote energy to your mental health. Invest in meaningful relationships with both sexes. Don’t allow jealousy or a scarcity mindset to affect your encouragement and support of other women.

  • Remember that all of us powerfully affect others through our choices and behaviors. Men and women alike can shape the culture around them by the way they act toward women in leadership. This means each woman’s choices and behaviors have a powerful effect on those around her. Women can help other women and all genders, supporting them and contributing to cultures and systems where there is a high level of respect, value, and inclusion for all kinds of differences. We can also contribute to the systemic and structural elements that foster success for women—creating policies and programs for all phases of life and employment from attraction, hiring, and promotion to caregiving and flexible work—empowering and enabling women for career growth and advancement.

Women are capable, resilient, and effective. We all can help women find their strengths, their voices, and share their talents. We who are already leading can shape the conditions for women, supporting and influencing the systems which make the world welcoming for women’s contributions. Getting women into places of leadership is not a women’s issue—it’s an issue for all of us. If you read the ancient account in Genesis, God the Creator gave the man and woman joint rulership in the world He had created. It still works best when men and women work together and tap into the very best from each of us.

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