I am saddened at the number of organisations that are still obviously male dominated and operate with an underlying patriarchal undertone, even with the enormous effort that has been put into creating equality in the workplace and publicity around the very positive impacts of having gender balance in senior leadership.
Sometimes this male domination is very subtle and accepted as the norm, which makes many women just get on with their careers and work in an unassuming manner, not wanting to challenge the status quo. However, it can also be very obvious and explicit and women have no option but to: ‘put up or shut up’.
Women’s style of leadership tends to be more collaborative, with a general preference for a less hierarchical structure and less competitive environment. In some industries and sectors this can be really valued and appreciated and these are the areas where women tend to thrive and develop more easily. In other areas, the style adopted by a woman leader can become more contentious, as what is viewed as a typical feminine leadership approach can be seen as passive and ineffectual or if a woman behaves in a more assertive manner and is seen to lead ‘like a man’ it can be misconstrued as her being overly aggressive and too ‘ballsy’. Often the path a woman walks between ‘too soft’ and ‘too aggressive’ is incredibly narrow.
We find in our coaching and mentoring work that actually both men and women are seeking support in developing their own style of leadership, which feels authentic and right for them. However, this is frequently not the same style as prevails at the top of their organisation.
So how should a woman leader conduct herself?
- Is there a ‘female’ leadership style? If so, what characterizes it and does it work?
- If a woman wants to lead the way a man does, is this wrong or does it work?
- How should a woman manage herself at meetings?
These are some of the questions that we regularly work with women on to support their understanding and development through our individual coaching and our mentoring and coaching programmes for women. Helping women to adopt their own coach-like approach to leadership and to develop realistic strategies to operating in what is still very much a man’s world in many organisations is our forte. From my own experience working in the City of London, in the engineering and construction industries and many other male dominated enclaves and together with my team, we have honed our coaching and mentoring approach to ensure women leaders feel comfortable in their own skins and can enjoy their work and fulfill their ambitions, not facing their work as a constant battle for survival.
And from the organisational standpoint…
Sometimes more positive action such as introducing a sponsorship mentoring programme or more direct talent mentoring approaches can be very advantageous. Or the provision of a coach to work alongside some of their key senior female leaders, this may make the difference between them staying or leaving their employment at crunch times. Whatever your need we can design a mentoring or coaching solution which will support your women leaders to blossom and thrive, contact us for more information — have a great International Women’s Day 2016!