07 Mar 2019

Why I’m reluctant to talk about “Women in Leadership”

I have always been reluctant to talk about “Women in Leadership”, simply because we don’t talk about “Men in Leadership” so why define by gender? Not to mention the Women in Leadership training courses- why do I need to learn about leadership in the context of being a female and not leadership as a whole, regardless of gender? 

Despite it being 2019, we’re still faced with these stereotypes. There are always debates on male versus female leadership. If you ask an employee to describe an effective leader, most of them imagine a man or at the very least someone who has qualities typically associated with men.
Whilst I defy to accept the constraints of leadership by gender, I can’t deny that perhaps part of the problem is that there simply aren’t enough women who are representative of the higher rungs of the corporate ladder. If we want to resolve this all too common issue, perhaps the best place to start is understanding why there is a lack of women in leadership.
Let’s take the Social Scientist approach. There are two variables that exist:

  1. What we might suggest as ‘external’ is the company and industry environment. Women have yet to rise to leadership levels at the same rate and pace as their male counterparts. Women enter the workforce in large numbers, but over time steadily "vaporise" from the higher echelons of organisation hierarchy.

​My view is that gender parity needs to be a strategic priority for organisations and management, but in order for this to be successful, it must demonstrate a rigorous approach to measurement, tracking, resource allocation, accountability, and commitment from leadership positions within the company.

          2. The second variable is an ‘internal’ one: resilience. Balancing the role of caregiver with career-builder. A position that many women can relate to.

I recently came across an article in The Guardian, which highlighted some very alarming research about working mothers and stress levels. The key headlines from this article are that working mothers are 18% more stressed than other people and this rises to a striking 40% for mothers with two children. Before we dismiss these with thoughts like “So what, isn’t stress the new normal?” Let’s be clear that these levels absolutely should not be the new normal, “the 11 indicators, known as ‘biomarkers’, produce something called an ‘allostatic load’, a measure of the cumulative wear and tear on the body’s physiological systems, which can indicate poor health and a greater risk of death. The researchers found that the biomarkers indicating chronic stress, including hormone levels and blood pressure, were 40% higher for women working full time while bringing up two children”.
We don’t need to be researchers to see that there’s a correlation between a decrease in women progressing up the corporate ranks with the arrival of their first child, then the second and so on. So how can organisations help with alleviating this stress associated with trying to juggle lots of roles at once?
If companies could develop less rigid promotion processes and career paths and actively promote and "de-stigmatise" flexible career options within the organisation, employees would flourish and grow within these stop-start careers. While that is critical in the context of women who take time off to raise children, it is equally important for all employees, both male and female. Over the course of everyone’s careers, they balance life issues such as starting a family, looking after an ailing partner, or caring for aging parents. Supporting employees to build their resilience to equip them with handling new life situations such as these should not be a nice perk within a company, but mandatory. After all we are all equal and our capabilities should not be defined by our gender.

by Tia Castagno, Vizeum Global MD