Power and Gender

In a recent edition of the CIPD’s magazine “Work”, I was struck by two pieces of research about women as leaders.  Both highlighted the tricky path women have to negotiate in how they use their “voice”, if they want to be seen as having leadership potential.

A study of female CEOs found that to succeed, they had to:

  • take “active ownership” of their careers – not wait to be noticed
  • act like the boss, but not appear “too pushy”
  • find their own style of leadership that suited them, including ways to be “empathetically assertive”.

The second study showed that women who speak up at work are viewed less favourably than men and concluded that “men who assert themselves are seen as more leader-like”.   They also found that for men, speaking up to promote a new idea enhanced their status, while the status of women who promoted a new idea was no greater than that of women who did not speak up.  For both genders, speaking up to raise a concern about a problem was seen more negatively.

Tips for women leaders:

  • Use a style of communication that blends the directing and informing styles[i] ie express what you want (directing) and give some explanation (informing)
  • Develop your own unique leadership style – there is no one way to be a leader but being authentic and true to your own values will help others to follow you
  • When you speak up, raise ideas rather than problems.

[i] Directing is a “tell” style, while Informing is a “suggest” style – these are explained in my book How to Get On with Anyone, and in Linda Berens’s book Interaction Essentials.

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