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Empathetic and Compassionate Women Leaders – Are You Developing a Strong Bench in Your Organization?

By Shalini Ramakrishnan, Director of Product Marketing

The recent second-term win of New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden and the Oval Office welcoming its first female vice president in 200 years of history shows that the glass ceiling is breaking…and the women across the world are waiting with bated breath to grab what’s due to them, with their shoes on. If we look at New Zealand’s Prime Ministerial candidates, this year both in the running were women. From Germany to New Zealand, to the U.S to Norway and Taiwan, Finland and Denmark, female leaders of these countries have taken over by storm.

Women Leadership Matters

There are enough studies that show that organizations with gender diversity not just amongst the workforce, but with senior leaders, outperform organizations that don’t. 

A report from McKinsey revealed that “In the UK, greater gender diversity on the senior executive team corresponded to the highest performance uplift in our data set: for every 10% increase in gender diversity, earnings before interest and taxes rose by 3.5%”. 

However, a 2018 Goldman Sachs report on gender diversity, whilst noting limitations on available data propounded that “Women make up about 40% of all employees – but just 6% of CEOs.”  

Without delving into the details of this disproportionate allocation of leadership roles, let’s evaluate what can be done to develop a strong bench of women leaders in an organization.

Strong is not equal to aggressive and compassionate does not mean weak

One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.” — Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand

The fact that  the Prime Minister of a country says this is quite revealing. Years of social conditioning that equate strength with aggression and empathy and compassion with weakness, not just with women but with men as well. 

If anything, these are archaic ways of thinking. Some of the best and the most successful leaders across the world display these traits irrespective of their gender. It is about time to correct the narrative.

Organizations have their work cut out for them to coach their entire workforce to understand, accept, and internalize this difference. A good starting point for this is to have women leaders and develop a company culture that moves away from the straightjacket and rigid definition of leadership as defined by the ages and moves towards a more progressive and flexible definition of the same.

Help women leaders find and define their leadership style

What organization and coaching strategies have to change is trying to fit women into the mold of leadership as defined by men across the years. It is essential to understand that strength and decisiveness are complementary to empathy and compassion. They are not competition.

Research shows that empathy and leadership performance are directly related. The surprising part is that this is the competitive edge that most leaders are missing. So, instead of trying to build strong women leaders who are aggressive, does it not make more sense to leverage the inherent nature of women and coach them on how to use empathy and compassion to their advantage? 

Does it not make more sense to give women leaders the support, tools, and guidance to help them curate the individual leadership styles that help them accentuate their inherent strengths – empathy and compassion being two of them? When we have an opportunity to take advantage of a unique skill set, why must we try to fit it into the same old box?

Leadership development and coaching programs for women have to become more focused on helping women leaders find their inherent leadership style and with it, help them raise their leadership voice.

Read: Fix Gender Imbalance with Innovative Women Leadership Development Programs

From the glass ceiling to the broken rung – women leadership has to be intentional

While it is the glass ceiling that prevents women from reaching the top, it is not the only barrier. The McKinsey 2019 Women in the Workplace report showed that “Women are often hired and promoted based on past accomplishments, while men may be hired and promoted based on future potential.”

Organizations have to overcome this barrier and help women reach their potential by becoming more data-driven in potential mapping and become more intentional in putting women in first-level management positions. 

Identifying the high-potential women employees, helping potential women-leaders identify the gaps to become better leaders using data-backed assessments, and introducing contextual and tailored coaching programs help in not only breaking the glass ceiling but also in fixing that broken rung that keeps women from moving up the ladder.

This approach also helps organizations develop a healthy pipeline of future leaders who can capably lead the organization to greater success and profitability.

Create clear opportunities for growth

From ensuring that hiring and promotions are fair and transparent, establishing clear evaluation criteria, and creating an environment conducive to growth, organizations need to create clear growth opportunities to develop a strong bench of empathetic and compassionate women leaders.

To move ahead on this path, organizations have to become proactive in helping women employees develop the right networks and the right connections and also coach them to build their network to drive growth. 

They also have to help women employees identify the gaps and coach them to close these gaps while helping them to maximize their strengths to prepare them for leadership success. Additionally, organizations have to help women employees understand themselves as leaders, identify the barriers to their advancement, and help them align their personal values with their work.

Level the playing field

As mentioned earlier, the social context we are raised to promotes certain gender stereotypes. Given that these are outdated ideas, it is high time for organizations to create healthier models of effective leadership – one that is more evolved, balanced, and diverse. 

This shift is fundamental to business success as we move into the future. Stephanie S Mead, author of The Art of Strategic Leadership: How Leaders at All Levels Prepare Themselves, Their Teams, and Organizations for the Future, states, “If you want to be relevant in the future, you have no choice but to change and evolve…the responsibility to build and support a culture where breaking down ingrained habits and old standards are recognized as an important part of rebuilding and creating a stronger, more successful organization.

The venerable Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “I think unconscious bias is one of the hardest things to get at. My favorite example is the symphony orchestra. When I was growing up, there were no women in orchestras. Auditioners thought they could tell the difference between a woman playing and a man. Some intelligent person devised a simple solution: Drop a curtain between the Auditioners and the people trying out. And, lo and behold, women began to get jobs in symphony orchestras.” Maybe, it is time for organizations to drop this veritable curtain that divides men and women and give women the tools they need to develop and hone their leadership prowess. Along with the women, the organizations themselves stand to gain tremendously.

Connect with us to know how you can identify and grow the next generation of women leaders across the enterprise.

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