Women in Leadership

Prof. Pierre Casse and Research Assistant Elnura Irmatova


 “I believe in collective intelligence.”

Ilham Kadri

CEO of the Solvay Multinational Corporation

The main purpose of this paper is not to examine the need to have more women in leadership positions (Public and private sectors) because the answer is obvious.

Well… is it so obvious? Many people (men and women) do not believe that it is an issue. Or at least not so important or critical. Many business people say that what counts is not the gender of the person but his or her ability to perform and contribute. Some public leaders are supportive of the gender equality scheme in all organizations but its implementation is slow at best. We must also acknowledge that many women perceive that approach as not right. They feel that women should get into leadership not because they are women but because they are the best for the job! No special treatment…please!

Let’s not get confused and mistaken around that question of “women in Leadership”.

We believe that the main idea is to identify and analyze some of the major differences between men and women concerning their ways of thinking, feeling, behaving…and…leading.

We are not addressing the question of who is better and why should we have more women in key leadership positions but focusing on who is bringing what to the leadership table.

A key question we must address is: What kind of leadership synergy can be produced by the combination of masculine and feminine ways to look at people in teams, organizations, businesses, and in public work (“Collective-men and women- intelligence” at work)?

Our statements are based on our experiences in the working world but also the organization and implementation of a series of seminars for only women at the Kellogg School of Management (Seminars on “Women in Leadership” -North-western University-Chicago-USA).

The issue?

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

Oprah Winfrey

The first interrogation is about the so-called major differences between men and women in leadership. Do they exist and if so, are they really important?

We challenge the male and female readers to approve or disapprove of our hereunder observations and comments on the topic!

It seems that many female leaders perceive their position within the organization as follows:

  1. Most women make a clear distinction between the value of their personal/family and professional lives while men still perceive work (and career) as a top priority. Women will say that they are not ready to pay a taxing price to just get promoted and break the very famous ceiling glass.
  2. Many women (still) believe that good performance is the key requirement for being noticed and promoted in most organizations. They are not ready to play the “power game” that many men enjoy and use to be visible and go up the ladder in their organizations.
  3. Women (overall) are more lucid and honest when assessing their ability to perform a new challenging job. Asked if they could take up a very difficult job, many women will react by saying “Let me think about it. I’ll be back to you as soon as possible”. Men are much more straightforward and are not afraid of bluffing. They will say right away “Of course, I can do it”. So, it seems that many women are investing their passion in something they consider more valuable than work power.

It is quite clear that we also need to design and run some research projects on the following questions: Does the new world we are getting into require the talents that women possess more than the men in leadership roles? We challenge the readers to identify in the list hereafter what belongs to the male and the female leaders:

It seems that the new world does require: Speed in thinking-acting-Creativity (imagination, invention, and innovation)-Resilience-Ethics-Clear Communication-Trusting, and empowering others-Flair…

It is not that clear and obvious. Is it?

Some Facts

“The pursuit of power is overwhelming and universally a male trait. To rise in the hierarchy, men are much more prepared than women to make sacrifices of their own time, pleasure, relocations health, safety, or emotions.”

Anne Moir

Do women behave differently than men when they are placed in senior leadership positions? We will answer that question in two parts:

-          Yes, some women have tried to lead differently but at a very high price. They did not get much support from the men and (paradoxically) from the women around. For instance, women have a natural tendency (in the western part of the world) to be more intuitive, care better about people, sensitive to the cost of change, imaginative, cautious… It seems that most of them are getting negative resistance from the male leaders who perceive that leadership approach as soft and who advocate a much tougher leadership style (business is business. Right?).

-          No, because the pressure from the male-dominated value system of the organization is such that they do not have a choice if they want to survive. As a consequence, many women perceive the situation in such a way that they believe they have no choice if they want to survive. The alternative appears very simple: Either they fight and it can be very taxing and risky or they just refrain from challenging the leadership around at the risk of losing their self-esteem. It is also fair to say that women do not network the same way as men do. For some reason, women are reluctant to show their solidarity with other women. The men's motto “you scratch my back this time and I will scratch yours next time” is less practiced among many women

There are other comments made by women regarding their lack of ambitions in the male-dominated working world:

-          Yes, a job means money, and much more important it guarantees a minimum of freedom.

-          Yes, I would like to be promoted but when I see the pressure that comes with it, I am not sure that I am ready for it.

-          Yes, making my own decisions at work would be great. The problem is that many people are just watching me and hoping that I will -soon- make a faux pas.

Lets’ (in all fairness) also mention that the 3 statements above also refer to the males of age 20 – 45 these days. The young generation is not so eager to follow their fathers' steps and be as dedicated to working as they were (Z generation syndrome?). Men between 30-45 are fully impacted by the values of comfort and fun (easy does it). Additionally, since family values are more and more “liberalized”, many men in these age frames are raised by single mothers, which makes an imprint on their behaviors becoming more women alike. Besides upraising, it also refers to education in schools where the majority of teachers nowadays are women and men there are not present there much. This results in raising men with a less masculine and action-oriented approach to life and more feminine behaviors and traits (Be patient, think twice, act slowly and surely…).

A critical question

“I have often been asked why I am so fond of playing male parts. As a matter of fact, it is not male parts, but male brains that I prefer”

Sarah Bernhardt

Some scientists are claiming that the issue is not about men and women but male and female brains deciphering the world differently and, in many cases, complementarily. Some claim that it is all related to the chemicals of the body including and especially the human hormones!

In other words, you can be a man and have a feminine way to look at things i.e. very sensitive, intuitive, caring, cautious, empathetic, multitask, improvisation….or be a woman with a masculine orientation i.e. action-oriented, risk-taking, aggressive, factual, analytical, assertiveness, self-confidence, assertiveness, power-driven.

Many people do not have a clue about the kind of major brain orientations they have. Is it bad? Should we promote that kind of awareness in the organizational world?

It is perhaps more important to ask: Is this type of approach (“Stereotyping”) right and healthy? Aren’t we more complex than we like to believe?

Three (tentative) remarks to conclude

Whether it is men or women in leadership, it is not the main challenge! It is more about:

  1. Acknowledging that men and women have different leadership aptitudes and skills that are available to leaders.
  2. Deciding on what are the best ways i.e. masculine or feminine to meet the requirements of various situations.
  3. Creating the synergy between the two key biological and cultural orientations.

A quote to conclude

“Ask yourself every day: Did I help another woman today.”

Christine Lagarde

Flash Survey

We asked prof. Danica Purg (President of IEDC-Bled School of Management, Slovenia) and Mr. Jean Noël Lequeue (Managing Director, jnl S.A., Luxembourg) to share their views on the points presented in the article.

Prof. Danica Purg agrees that “we need to see more women in leading positions. The first and most relevant is the issue of human rights; only after recognizing this, the issue of capabilities and motivation becomes relevant. I agree also with the suggestion that more feminine leadership is needed in a situation where we move to a new business model, from competition (“business is war”) to cooperation (“business is partnerships”). I agree with the remark that it would be necessary to create a synergy between the two key biological and cultural orientations. We particularly need both sides of the brain in leadership, regardless of which side is the most important in certain situations”.

Prof. Purg explained that she disagrees with “any suggestion that there are only two clearly differentiated kinds of brains. Concerning other issues such as race or sexual orientation, this leads to dangerous stereotypes and it is not shaped in accordance with reality. I appreciate that this article suggests that also concerning this issue we have to be critical of such a “black and white” approach. However, I am disappointed that many related issues are still only questions”.

As a final comment, prof. Purg pointed out that it could be interesting to uncover the “human rights point. The point is that every job or position has to be open to everybody, independent of gender. This is a fundamental ethical issue. All other demands as mindset and skills for getting a leadership position are secondary to this main principle”.

Mr. Jean Noël Lequeue replied:

My experience in female leadership is quite long. The first boss in my career was a woman and later, when I joined the management board, I hired mostly women as direct collaborators. I like to work with women... and men.

What I definitively do not like are quotas in general and in particular those regarding the promotion of women.  A quota can lead to “force” a woman to assume an unwanted position and the result for the company can be very bad indeed. Anyway, it is better to promote the best candidate (female or male) regardless of gender discourse”.

Professor Pierre Casse and Research Assistant Elnura Irmatova, IEDC-Bled School of Management 

Previously published: The Slovenia Times

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