Why we need more women in leadership right now

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Women in leadership are changing the world. The rise of female leadership in communities, businesses, and political positions redefines outdated ideas of what it means to be an effective leader. Although society is making strides in addressing gender inequality, systematic challenges and age-old biases continue to impact women’s careers.

How can organisations, policymakers, and individuals join the effort to promote female leadership? Women need support, opportunities, and education to confidently lead in the future.

What does female leadership Look Like?

Research by Harvard Business Review indicates that women demonstrate essential leadership qualities. On an individual basis, women ranked higher in nearly every category of leadership effectiveness, resulting in better performance overall. According to the review, 19 core capabilities contribute to excellence in leadership, and women ranked higher than men in 17 of the 19 areas. Women scored exceptionally high in the following top leadership capabilities.

1.   Women take initiative

HBR’s research initiative found that women are more likely than men to take initiative in leadership positions. Taking initiative is the ability to decide and act independently without waiting for outside direction. The female initiative is evident in current enrollment rates for higher education. In 2020, more women (56.6%) than men (44.1%) participated in higher education in the UK. Women who invest in their education demonstrate a hunger for growth and develop skills to become better leaders.

2.   Women in leadership are resilient

Resilience involves one’s ability to withstand or recover quickly from challenging situations. In an organisational setting, female leaders are typically more relational, inclusive, and communal. During the pandemic, reports show that a relational leadership style was preferable over an autocratic command-and-control style when responding to crises. Female-led countries like New Zealand, Germany, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Taiwan demonstrated incredible resilience and responsiveness during the pandemic’s public health efforts.

3.   Women in leadership prioritise self-development

Self-development is a lifelong process that includes physical, emotional, educational, intellectual, and vocational growth. The HBR study reports that women scored in the 54.8 percentile for self-development efforts compared to 49.6% of men. Renowned author and Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, PhD, coined the term “growth mindset” to explain the importance of self-development for individual success. Dweck’s research has shown that students who believe they can improve their intellectual abilities (growth mindset) work harder and perform better than those who think their abilities are a fixed trait (fixed mindset). Women in leadership roles employ a growth mindset to learn more, stay curious, acquire new skills, and constantly engage in self-development.

4.   Women in leadership drive results

Women executives not only prove to be driven, resilient, and self-motivated, they also drive impressive business results. Research shows that companies with more female executives are correlated with bigger share price gains, stronger revenue growth, and higher profits. For example, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of Youtube, is one of the world’s highest-performing female CEOs. Wojcicki was Google’s 16th employee and marketing manager before she proposed Google’s purchase of YouTube and spearheaded its acquisition for US$1.65 billion in 2006. Wojcicki’s insight and strategic direction was integral in Youtube’s beginnings and continues to support the success of one of the largest search platforms in existence.

5.   Women in leadership demonstrate integrity and honesty

In 2021, Fortune named Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the World’s Greatest Leader. Ardern was met with many challenges, from a destabilising terrorist attack and deadly volcanic eruption to a global pandemic. Ardern demonstrated impressive transparency and honesty with every challenge she faced. The people of New Zealand responded to Ardern’s policies with overwhelming support — a Newshub-Reid Research Poll showed the popularity of Ardern’s Labour Party rose to 60.9%, the highest it has been in the poll’s history. Ardern embodies integrity and honesty in leadership and highlights that women in leadership roles can be both vulnerable and strong.

How can we empower women to occupy leadership roles?

As women step onto the global stage and occupy positions of power, female leaders continue to battle sexism, unconscious gender bias, and distrust. The UK government developed a case for action to promote female leadership, including regulations, incentives, support networks, targets, and more. Although this is a crucial step, organisations can enact the following steps to support female leadership.

Fund skilling and training for women

Education is an essential pillar of professional development. Companies that commit to promoting women in leadership must allocate time and funds to support women’s higher education and training programmes. Organisations can offer access to online Master’s or DBA programmes to help women attain practical knowledge and recognised credentials that further their careers.

Actively recruit more women 

HR teams are uniquely positioned to further the recruitment of women in the workplace. HR leaders must create organisational targets that require gender-balanced teams and hire and promote with female leadership in mind. Companies should also schedule regular employment reviews to identify gender inequalities or existing pay disparities and create an action plan to resolve these issues internally.

Create a female-friendly work environment

Beware of perpetuating “the boy’s club” mentality at work. Instead, organisations must promote inclusive language, respectful communication, and support systems that build a female-friendly environment. A major challenge for women at work is the need to balance caregiving and career responsibilities. One action organisations can take to support a female-friendly work environment is offering flexible work and family support options for work-life balance.

‘In my experience, women make good leaders because of their resilience, because they are good at dealing with more than one thing at a time, and communication is important to them.  The best female leaders are like the best female role models, they are conscientious, they lead by example and they are highly empathetic.

‘To end I would add, this is not a zero-sum game, we need both great male and female role models. Diversity of thought and experience bring better, more profitable, more sustainable and healthier organisations. So we need more great female managers to aspire to join our ranks.’

Professor Helen E Higson OBE DL, Provost and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Aston University

Lead with confidence with an executive doctor of business administration (DBA)

Women in leadership roles require flexibility to balance competing priorities. As a result, women benefit greatly from the highly flexible structure of Aston’s DBA. Aston’s Executive DBA is a part-time distance learning course designed for leaders that can be completed in 4-6 years. In addition to providing flexibility, Aston pairs students with an academic supervisor who is a leading specialist in a chosen topic. The Student Support Advisor will support you through the entire process to develop your research idea into your final thesis.  

Aston also has an international reputation as a top research university with top-tier faculty, teaching scholars, and experienced professionals. Aston is among the 1% of elite business schools and ranked by CEO Magazine 2021 as one of the top DBA programmes in the world. There’s no better place to become an expert in your field and develop leadership skills to lead a better future.

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