Women in Leadership – Personal Reflections
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2022, I attended an online panel discussion hosted by Roffey Park: Women in Leadership – Breaking the Bias and Celebrating success.
Being a man, I felt it was so important that I did attend to learn more about women in leadership roles. Especially in professional settings, and what can be done by all of us to enact change. The discussion began by first introducing each member of the panel. Then by asking those in attendance: What characteristics make a successful female leader? Here were the responses:
It is empowering that we are recognising and celebrating qualities such as empathy, compassion and emotional intelligence as being essential leadership characteristics. However, one of the most interesting questions asked after the discussion was: Does empathy fit into the current business culture of ¨bottom line¨ rules?
I thought to myself, this is the next step. Celebrating the aforementioned qualities as being essential leadership characteristics is good but there needs to be a culture shift. One that does not focus just on individual productivity levels, which has been the norm for years in male-dominated leadership settings. It is important to recognise that qualities like empathy and compassion were often viewed as weaknesses. So, it is encouraging that younger generations are growing up in a shifting space. But more is needed.
The panel led with some fascinating insights and suggestions into how organisations can do more to enhance culture. One is the need to be more democratic. If there is a lack of equal opportunities, it is likely the organisation is not democratic. This also means not having a completely top-down approach. Everybody needs to be involved, from the bottom up too.
The ‘ripple effect’ was also mentioned on more than one occasion. Decisions made by women in leadership roles can cause a huge ripple effect, inspiring others to follow suit. The discussion also reminded us that the important question we all need to be asking is: How can we be more diverse as leaders and ensure collective belonging? We need to create a supportive environment where everyone can flourish.
In many sectors and industries, there are still very real, tangible barriers to career progression. This is due to accepted perceptions, entrenched organisational biases, and the assumption that caring responsibilities should largely fall to women. There still is a demand for more focus when it comes to maternity and paternity leave.
Time for action
The panel discussion raised an important point. That whilst striving for change in organisations, women owe it to themselves to take ownership of their own lives. To plan their trajectory, ambitions, goals and successes and step into them. Take the action necessary to bring your aspirations to fruition.
Where can I and others alike help? I think, from listening to the panel discussion, that it is so important to be asking the right questions and having the right conversations. The panel reminded us, that even today when children are asked to draw a CEO, they invariably draw a man. It is then about having the right conversations but also at the right time. Having important conversations at a young age can help avoid biases learnt as children grow up.
It is also about identifying and calling the biases out. This might not happen instantly but it can erode over time. It is important to take this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #breakthebias and use it as an action for future generations.