The Power of Female Leadership: Lessons Learned from COVID-19.
A silver lining of the global pandemic is seeing the success of female leaders in their response to COVID-19, illustrating a broader lesson about female leadership styles. Using collaboration, empathy, and humility — skills more often associated with women — these leaders each coordinated an effective response to the pandemic.
On a corporate level, the results female leaders brought to life during this pandemic may also inspire a new vision of what strong leadership looks like. And we can adapt these lessons to the workplace. Here’s how you can amplify female leadership in your organization, in this season and beyond.
What are “female” leadership qualities?
The most effective leaders bring a broad range of skills to the table, but when faced with a challenge, men and women sometimes default to different leadership styles. While men score higher on command and control qualities, like technical expertise and strategizing, women outscore men on nurturing and trust-building characteristics, like resilience and integrity. Women also excel at transformational leadership skills, including developing and motivating others, collaboration, teamwork and relationship building.
Although often referred to as “soft skills,” these techniques are effective — especially when combined and when leading through change and crisis. For example, collaboration presents employees with diverse perspectives. Humility keeps your team open to new ideas. And empathy helps leaders address their constituents’ needs and promotes buy-in among the people affected by each decision.
From the world to your workplace
Capitalizing on these female leadership skills in your organization means adopting a new vision of leadership at every level. Alongside your leadership team, you can set the stage for women to excel in your workplace by redrafting the image of effective leadership — from a commanding controller to a collaborative team builder.
Envisioning a new model of effective leadership may also help sunset the practice of trying to fit women leaders into male leadership models.
Certainly, many men possess and use collaborative and transformative leadership skills; at the same time, a key strategy to advance these qualities is to engage more women leaders. Women have made impressive leadership gains and now make up more than half of management roles. But that number drops sharply at the highest levels, with women holding only about a quarter of chief executive positions nationwide.
Why are so few women in senior leadership roles? It isn’t lack of interest. In a recent study of professional and college women, 64% aspired to senior leadership roles. But in many cases, these women felt unprepared to lead. More than three quarters said they wished they’d learned more about leadership growing up. Fewer than half said they were taught to be a good leader in childhood. And only a third were taught to express their point of view. Being aware of the rugged landscape in which female leadership is cultivated is a good first step in closing the gap in your organization.
Steps you can take.
Here are some strategies to consider as your organization works to identify talented, aspiring women leaders and support them through the leadership pipeline:
1. Start with where things stand now.
Take a hard look at your organization’s gender diversity. Look beyond the basic male-to-female personnel ratio to examine the ratio of women in leadership roles and positions of influence. Are women entering the pipeline but never reaching senior levels? Where are they stalling? Consider everything from hiring to promotions, performance appraisals, and dismissals. Is there a pattern of unconscious bias? What’s blocking your leadership pipeline and what can you do about it?
Engage female staff in focus groups and hold individual meetings to learn about the obstacles they face and what they need to succeed. Keep your ears and mind open to their experiences. Create a safe space for group discussions, perhaps even using an outside facilitator to encourage candor.
3. Customize training opportunities.
Think beyond standard training to support rising leaders in the personalized, targeted areas where they need it most. Apply this to all aspiring leaders, regardless of gender, to help everyone respect and cultivate crucial leadership skills.
4. Promote coaching and mentoring.
Position aspiring female leaders to thrive with the right role models and mentors. Establishing mentor relationships gets easier when the stage is set—so your organization can intentionally create environments in which promising leaders can engage with established ones and forge connections. Consider creating formal internal coaching and external affinity groups to help women connect with more female role models and mentors.
5. Assign stretch experiences.
As women may have had fewer chances to gain leadership experience growing up, offering stretch assignments can increase both their experience and confidence. Mentors and coaches may support and try to empower (not micro-manage) these assignments, so prospective leaders can learn from their successes and missteps. Stretch experiences also help identify strengths and areas for additional training.
Complex challenges call for innovative approaches, and your organization can make strides with an inclusive, collaborative response. The legacy of female leaders’ responses to the pandemic may transform our image of strong, effective leadership. Empowered by this transformed vision, you can lay groundwork for more women to rise through the leadership pipeline and flex those skills as they lead.