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Will our daughters become role models?

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

The lack of female role models is still alarming. With a workforce that starts 50-­­50, why do only 2% of CEO and less than 20% of senior positions on average end up being held by women? And with the pandemic we are at an even worse starting point with 45% women. What will it take to change the game?

Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” was a call to action for all. Looking at the results we failed the test we cannot afford to fail. Accepting where we are may be a start: Men and women are wired differently. These highly complementary differences are deeply rooted in anthropology, biology, and neurology and affect our behavioral preferences. If we learn to trust and work with the natural strengths and talents of men and women, we can truly change the game. The aim is not to build on gender stereotypes but to capitalize on the male and female aspects of leadership every person brings to the table. We can get there much faster if we put on different glasses to see what’s innately there and what we can create with it. Let’s get curious and start to explore.

Together we are strong.

The makeup of our brain drives our thinking, our emotions, and behavioral tendencies.

Scientists have clearly shown that men and women access different parts of the brain while performing the same task. There gender-based differences in the brain make up and hormones impact the way we think, collect information, make decisions, how we perceive power, connect and influence. Many studies have shown women to be faster and more accurate at identifying emotions, understanding facial differences and vocal intonations. Men are more likely to focus their attention to one thing at a time and discard what they consider as noise. Not surprising since higher presence of testosterone helps one focus. Women tend to have a more participative and collaborative style. Women’s decision-making styles are different, they tend to be more inclusive: “I didn’t want to make a decision without hearing everyone’s opinion” is common. The best news: These differences are very complementary when it comes to leadership and teamwork. Together, we stand strong.

In these trying times tap into the power of women.

We are in need of female leadership more than ever. Some of the qualities women naturally bring to the table are perseverance, determination, developing others, engaging people, flexibility, resilience, and intuition. Women’s ability to hold many things simultaneously in their minds helps them deal with ambiguity and uncertainty and long-term planning. All of these are leadership skills that are increasingly in demand in today’s world.

We need to become gender bilingual.

Do you see the value of having women in your team? Most likely, yes, you do, absolutely. How do you put this knowledge into action, especially when natural tendencies get in the way? Consider this: there are two candidates for the job, both equally competent in their own unique way. The communication with the male candidate is likely to be much more focused, direct to the point than their female counterpoint. If this is your own communication style, you will inevitably and naturally have a preference for it and the male candidate will win over. To go from good intent to real impact we have to be “gender bilingual” as Helen Fisher puts it. Understanding preferences and how we are wired can help us avoid the default behaviors. This requires conscious deliberate behavior.

Women: Here is what you can do

· Show yourself. Champion what you are capable of.

· Stop expecting to be understood. Make sure you are heard.

· Stay focused. Be clear and concise.

Men: Here is what you can do

· Make an effort to listen deeply. Be more patient.

· Create space for women, ask for their opinion.

· Hold back the criticism.

Women must claim their seat at the head of the table.

Women tend to see power as a network of connections whereas men tend to see power as status. Women tend to give the power away; for instance, many will not sit at the head of the table even when they are the leader in charge. Women are more likely to strive for friends, and men mostly for rank. Women tend to ask for advice even when they don’t need it, majority of women give suggestions rather than orders.

So claim your seat at the head of the table and:

  • Show yourself and what you are capable of.

  • Stop expecting to be understood and being disappointed when you are not noticed.

  • Take responsibility for your own growth.

  • Don’t give compliments unless you mean it.

  • Don’t ask for advice when you don’t need it.

  • Accept praise. Take the credit.

Women find themselves in a double bind.

Sandberg illustrates the double bind brilliantly in her book with the classic Heidi/Howard study and many other examples. The very thing that makes female leaders successful with behind the scenes work also makes them less visible. There are widely shared conscious and unconscious assumptions and expectations from men and women in leadership. Same actions tend to be interpreted very differently based on gender. When a man leaves work early, he is a great dad, when a woman does it, she is not committed to work. Women are most likely to be described as “helpful”, “friendly”, and “sensitive” while men are “ambitious”, “dominant”, and “self-confident”.

How to cope?

· Do not try to be everything to everyone.

· Let go of the desire to be liked. Build credibility and respect.

· Listen to yourself. Do the right thing regardless.

· Do not expect to be found out by others. Show yourself.

· Take responsibility for your own career development.

We are changed by the ability to experience.

Neuroscience shows that even if the hard wiring of the brain remains unchanged, the function of the hardware is constantly altered by experience due to the brain’s ability to adapt. Role expectations, culture and upbringing play a huge role but our experiences change us continuously. Over time, everyone will need to become more skilled in both male and female aspects of leadership but it will take deliberate attention and strong will.

We cannot change all our behavioral tendencies at once, especially given that they are so deeply rooted in our biology and millions of years of evolution. But we can certainly work on specific behaviors that prevent us from being effective leaders. As we learn to work in an inclusive environment, and experience new ways of collaborating we will thrive through our differences.

How women can be more effective:

· Do not try to be everything to everyone.

· Do not expect to be found out by others. Show yourself.

· Do not ask for advice when you don’t need it.

· Skip the apology.

How men can be more effective

· Acknowledge the issue.

· Listen to understand.

· Admit mistakes.

· Reach out and create space.



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