Followship and Gender

Last week I met with the inspirational Angela Peacock, Chair of the People Development Team ( ) who specialise in building inclusive cultures that drive higher productivity and organisational performance. On International Women’s Day, I was interested in the rate of progress for women in the talent pipeline and how inclusion makes a difference to an organisations performance.

The Equal Opportunities Commission shows women are still well behind men in key success measures including numbers of women at senior levels in organisations. According to recent reports, those most likely to be discriminated in the job market are women with children under 11. Women still make up a very small proportion of top leadership roles.

When we discuss gender issues in leadership, is it about hitting targets and quotas, or are we interested in questions of leadership style, culture, and how we recognise power, and whether the qualities of alpha male leaders are the same as what makes businesses successful? In order to achieve boardroom success, have women had to become just like men? Do we ever hear of the behaviours of the alpha woman? We have typically been conditioned to believe that emotions are not welcome in the workplace and that leadership performance is all about cold and logical understanding and tough decision making. Research tells us that a lack of interpersonal skills is one of the main factors in leadership failure. With leaders in organisations spending up to 80% of their time talking and understanding others, changing the nature of how people communicate with each other has a huge impact. So is the question not whether women are ʻman enoughʼ to work at the top of organisations, but whether a leader can flex in to the traditionally female domain of communication, relational and emotional understanding.

So what will bring about a faster rate of change than the tortoise-led progress made to date? Don’t we all carry in us some idea that leadership is a quality you have or you don’t, as a fixed entity? In reality leadership has something to do with the connection and relationship between leader and follower. And so perhaps the responsibility lies with the volumes of followers, us all as followers, to change the situation for female leaders to reassess what we expect of leaders, and that doesn’t need to mean alpha male. Is this where the conversation, and the dialogue within organisations needs to go next?

To further explore gender and leadership within your organisation, and how it can influence your productivity and organisational health, get in touch for an initial conversation with me.