Should women leaders be more like men?

Women-as-LeadersThe Telegraph published a thought provoking article about women as business leaders yesterday.

On the one side we’re described as humourless, some of us are more aggressive than the most ambitious men, we’re too emotional and so on.

But don’t put us all into the same camp says BBC Apprentice’s Katie Hopkins who admits to hating other women’s successes, preferring to work for a rational male and not caring a jot for people’s feelings, simply shareholder returns.

With both these viewpoints on the table, it’s clear to me that too many women haven’t been prepared for leadership roles and that ambitious wannabe Queen Bees think the only way up is by outbloking the men in their sights…

A waste of business time

I know how this feels because I’ve been there myself. In my 30s I was a Board Director for travel divisions of Granada, Mecca and Rank organisations and whilst travel was never the male dominated bastion the motor industry is today I still fought my way up. With the benefit of hindsight I definitely subscribed to the Katie Hopkins school of business thinking, more than than the Karren Brady one I now much prefer.

My eyes were finally opened when a fellow Director complimented me on a job well done by saying ‘You can consider yourself an honorary bloke Steph’ expecting me to be pleased by that.

That’s when the penny dropped that you can’t odds gender. Try as hard as you like, a man can’t be a woman and vice versa. So why was I bothering to be like a man and why are men trying to be like women when it comes to unleashing their sentimental sides…

I don’t know the answer to that other than to say we’re all flogging a dead horse if we can imagine we can be something we aren’t. So why not spend time understanding ourselves, letting the real ‘me’ rise to the surface, and let’s learn to live with it warts and all…

Gender roles in business

Observe a healthy business team working well together. Men bring logic and women bring emotional intelligence, encouraging team participation. It’s a bit like a strong marriage, assuming you pick the right men and women. It should be a partnership that complements each other’s talents hence the need for men and women to work together in healthy Boardrooms exerting that influence throughout their business. And there is evidence that this approach produces greater profits and shareholder value.

But sadly women don’t always fit in to the man’s world at the top and I can understand why those who are willing to fight their way to the top may feel the need to fend off female competition in that struggle… Having reached their goal, many women find themselves out of their depth because they don’t understand the male rules and chances are they don’t talk corporate male speak either.

NB: This is rarely a problem where a male CEO is enlightened, determined to listen, understand, appreciate and advance the female business cause.

Again, I have been a Non Executive Director too and despite my previous Executive Board experience I didn’t find this a rewarding role at the time. Was this my fault? I don’t think so although I’m not blaming anyone else. The reality is, as always, where an all male Board is a happy ship why would they feel the need to question that status quo especially if this meant learning female speak in the process? They simply didn’t see or feel the need to adapt in any way and I couldn’t speak their language to make my case heard.

So whose fault is it?

If some women leaders aren’t popular, don’t have a sense of humour, are scaring their female and male business peers as well as letting down their female successors they can expect to be shot down in flames… but it just mightn’t be their fault.

As always, the health of a business is best read at the very top. No really good CEO will want to ignore 50% of the best talent that might come their Board’s way in future. If female quotas become obligatory, I would be very surprised if a good male CEO wasn’t ahead of the pack having previously selected the best females for his team.

But there are other sorts of CEOs who mightn’t be at all willing or able to make a smooth transition from an all male Board to a gender balanced Board. And, sure as eggs are eggs, even the most talented and hard-working women will struggle to demonstrate their contribution in this situation.

The missing link

And the missing link in all this is surely the lack of training about gender issues in our business world.

1 Male CEOs need to be helped to understand what the best women can bring to the Board, how to maximise female talent when women reach Board level and why a healthy female pipeline is a source of considerable envy and competitive advantage with a view to the future.

2 Male and female Directors need training about the best ways to work together…

3 Male and female Managers need training to understand that what the business needs is their cooperation, natural talents and personalities – not them trying to be people they aren’t and unpleasant ones at that.

And herein lies the rub. If employers can’t make nice employees out of unpleasant ones, no matter how talented and profitable they might promise to be, I for one would have no place for them in any business I run.

But worst of all are those women who can’t support other women for they have no heart and therefore no place in mine. Thank goodness I learned this lesson before it was too late to make a difference for others…


“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”
Madeleine Albright, Former US Secretary of State

Finally this is the article that triggered this blog…