Sunday, 22 September 2013

"Wanted. Aggressive, egotistical leader with a preference for wasting colleague's time. A love of grandstanding in meetings essential".

Barriers are less visible than we think

Ineffective leadership is certainly not a uniquely male attribute.  But research into the reasons why women don’t put themselves forward for top jobs is increasingly pointing to what the Harvard Business Review recently called a ‘second generation gender bias’ as a significant cause.  The research suggests that women suffer from hidden barriers created by their lack of internal confidence in assuming behaviour associated with leadership.  Data shows that women aren’t taking the opportunities to move into the top roles even when they are offered.  We’re not solving this problem

It’s a curious conundrum.  Organisations are spending more each year on leadership training to encourage the development of skills such as listening, empathy and collaborative problem solving. Potential and established leaders are coached, mentored and trained to within an inch of their lives because research tells us that these – traditionally feminine – skills make more effective leaders and thus more successful businesses.

But returning to the office from team cooking courses we find an all too familiar round of often ineffective meetings and engagements. Grandstanding in meetings and Olympic level office politics are an accepted proving ground for potential leaders – allowing them to show their dominance and strength to others. Women don’t respond to these signals and often find them pointless and off –putting.
Some of this is biological.  Men and women really are wired differently.  Me Tarzan, you Jane. My husband (who regular readers already know I consider to be a reasonable and forward thinking kind of guy) thinks it’s simply evolution.  He believes men are just hardwired to compete with each other at everything important.  Like rutting stags, the prize is the best mate and if you fail, at least you died trying. Women on the other hand couldn’t afford to risk their lives – they needed to stay alive to protect their children.  Today this translates into grandstanding even bullying for men while women look on pityingly, reject the whole caboodle and go off to do something more productive elsewhere.  

But by walking away from this issue and allowing the women in boardrooms debate to focus primarily on social policy, I think we’re missing an important opportunity.  Yes those meetings can make us roll our eyes and grumble to our girlfriends about timewasting. But if you can overcome your flight instincts, the prize is there.  Women who engage actively often find they have precisely the skills they need to help a group to solve complex problems collaboratively – usually faster and with less stress all round.  And that’s very satisfying as well as being effective. But to do this, they need to be at the table.  And believe a bit of frustration is worth enduring for a better long-term result for everyone.