What kind of leaders do you need in your organization? Do you need more individuals who can build relationships? Navigate complicated relationships in and outside the business? Innovate and understand client needs? Resolve conflict?
Here’s why women are uniquely poised to fill some of these critical needs.
Women Offer a Different Perspective
Women’s experience in the world is different than men’s. There are both “nature” and “nurture” components to this different experience. There are differences in the ways each of us interact with men and women. This reality means that women have a unique perspective. That different perspective is important—especially when you consider half of the population are women.
If you have decisions to make that involve women (and you’ll be hard pressed to find a decision that doesn’t involve or affect women), it will be important to have women on your team and at the decision-making table.
Here’s a simple example. I interviewed a manager who supervised the product development for a popular snack company. She had a team who presented her with a design for a bag of popcorn—and the design came out very masculine. However, this bag of popcorn was not to be marketed to men alone. Their target audience was composed of men and women. She said to me, “If I had women on that team, it would never have been designed that way.” Additional time and effort was required to redesign the bag so it could be marketable across their full audience.
So what does this mean for you? If you have a product or service that serves men and women, or involves men and women in the delivery or sale of that product or service, you will benefit from having women in the room. They can speak to their experience and how they see the product or service coming across to others.
This principle applies within your company as well. If you have a policy or procedure you are considering, you are not going to want to exclude 50% of the population in that decision. Women can help you see when a policy may not be equitable. It will likely pay in large dividends to have women in the room—and as part of those responsible for the decision-making.
Women Can Increase the Collaboration of a Group
Does collaboration need to increase in your organization and among your teams?
A study on the role of gender in team performance and collaboration states that “evidence strongly suggests that team collaboration is greatly improved by the presence of women in the group.” Other research supports this, sharing that women demonstrate caring for the success of the group, rather than just their own. So, women exhibit collaboration individually and they increase collaboration of the group by being in the room.
While some researchers look at the collaborative nature of women as a detriment to their personal success, we need to shift our mindset. Women shouldn’t focus on being less collaborative to be successful—especially where that comes as such a strength. It means we need to value it in leadership, both collectively and the individuals that demonstrate it.
When leaders exhibit behaviors that look out for the group instead of the individual, studies show that both quality and quantity of work increases. If those hiring and promoting leaders seek for those who have these qualities and value these qualities in their process, their whole organization will benefit.
Women Rate High in Categories of Emotional Intelligence
A group of researchers aimed to measure what factors play a part in the general effectiveness of a group (which they called “collective intelligence”). It turns out that the collective intelligence wasn’t based on the members of the group individually having high IQs.
In fact, they found that high performance on a variety of tasks was positively correlated with the proportion of females in the group. This number was also correlated with the percentage of those measuring high in social sensitivity. The women who participated in this study had a higher measure of social sensitivity to the men and that increased performance. Other studies corroborate this idea, with women having an advantage in recognizing emotions, in cognitive empathy, and identifying complex emotions.
These abilities are among the key traits recognized in highly emotionally intelligent leaders. Emotional intelligence is proving itself to be more of a buzzword or a trend. Researchers have found that leaders with emotional intelligence are more innovative. In addition, TalentSmart found that among 34 workplace skills, emotional intelligence was the highest predictor of performance. Not only did it rate the highest, it explained 58% of success. Imagine what having emotionally intelligent leaders can do for your organization.
Collaboration. Emotional Intelligence. Perspective. Chances are high that the leaders in your organization need these traits.
The good news is that research supports what we already should recognize about these traits: they’re not entirely fixed. We shouldn’t use this research to box men or women in, create normative expectations of what an individual will be good at, or limit our expectations of what men or women can accomplish.
What we should do is recognize that having many women in leadership will help raise the bar in these areas for everyone. As more women fill leadership roles, emotional intelligence, ability to collaborate, and perspective can increase among men as well. Those with lower abilities in these areas (whether men or women) can develop skills in collaboration, gain perspective that’s not their own, and increase their ability to read others’ emotions.
This will happen as more women are called into leadership and are supported in their leadership development. It will happen as we recognize the high value of women’s unique perspective. And, it will happen as we reward those who demonstrate collaboration and emotional intelligence, considering the high value of these traits for our organizations.
Do you want to introduce opportunities for improved gender balance within your organization? ExecOnline is working with organizations around the globe to help shape the optimal leadership environment for women. Schedule a conversation today.
Angela Fisher Ricks
Senior Learning Designer at ExecOnline
Angela is a Senior Learning Designer on the Product Team at ExecOnline. In her role, she creates online and blended learning experiences, inviting participants to engage more deeply with each other and with their own work. Prior to joining ExecOnline, she designed online courses and wrote content for Harvard Business School Online in their suite of leadership courses. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.