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“Female leadership” – risk or opportunity for the world of work and business?
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“Female leadership” – risk or opportunity for the world of work and business?

Kinga Bartczak
Female Leadership-Risiko oder Chance für die Arbeits-und Unternehmenswelt-Artikelbild

Welcome to the FemalExperts Podcast – Your podcast by women, for women, about women.

Click here to go directly to the podcast episode on female leadership:

Great to have you back and thank you for the lovely feedback on my last podcast episode about impact investing. I am delighted that I have been able to lure some of you out of your comfort zone a little, or at least made you think.

Today I would like to talk about the concept of “female leadership”, which has become very popular in recent years. Female leadership describes a leadership style that is characterized by certain characteristics that are traditionally seen as “female”. Examples include values and skills such as empathy, consensus, emotional intelligence, multitasking and communication skills.

Positive effects of female leadership

And there are indeed some studies that confirm a positive effect of female executives in the corporate context, such as a 2019 study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which found that companies with female executives in board and management positions tend to be more profitable (conclusion: if the proportion of women in management positions increases by 30 percent, net sales grow by 15 percent). In the same year, the Harvard Business Report was also published, which showed that female leaders are often better at demonstrating emotional intelligence, including empathy and conflict management, which can lead to an improved working environment.

Stereotypes in leadership styles

In terms of female empowerment, I think it’s great that we are also devoting research to the advantages of different leadership styles. However, it is equally important to emphasize that these categorizations of “female” and “male” leadership styles are highly simplified and based on gender stereotypes (keyword: gender bias). Depending on the context, personality or experience, personal leadership styles can vary greatly, regardless of gender-specific attributions.

What type of leader are you? Personality tests and their limitations

In today’s world of work, various tests are used to categorize employees and then allow them to work efficiently in certain work structures. You have probably already heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), also known as 16 Personalities. Many of us have also come across the Big Five personality test (OCEAN). This model assesses five key personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (emotion control).

I have to admit, I’m not a fan of any of these models. I don’t want to deny their scientific justification, but similar to an IQ test, I am convinced that people in their diversity and complexity cannot be captured holistically by a few numbers and that such tests are just as subject to strong fluctuations. The results can vary depending on the phase of my life or even the form I was in on the day. 

It is much more interesting to talk about the challenges and obstacles with regard to “female leadership” than to think in prefabricated categories.

For example, that stereotypes can lead to a lack of promotions (keyword “glass ceiling”) and thus trigger a domino effect. Even in the 21st century, such prejudices mean that the gender pay gap, care gap and pension gap are omnipresent, and these are just three gaps, regardless of the data gap, e.g. in medicine, or the investment gap when it comes to entrepreneurship.

So when we talk about the challenges in the area of leadership, it is natural to look at the framework conditions that need to be changed.

8 opportunities for more female leadership in companies

That’s why I’ve brought you 8 ways in which we can make leadership a lasting and value-adding experience for women:

1. mentoring and coaching programs

You know me very well by now: I am a certified systemic coach and 3-time mentor myself and I wouldn’t want to miss out on these tasks. Mentoring and coaching programs can help to support female employees in their career development and connect them with managers who can serve as role models. This work is incredibly important, because if there is no representation of women in the upper echelons of management, the lack of visibility means that women sometimes do not even dare to consider such a position for themselves. It is therefore extremely important to have role models who not only advise you, but also make clear recommendations and actively support you.

Management training

Special training for female managers can help to develop skills and boost confidence to aspire to management positions. Due to our socio-economic upbringing, we still have some catching up to do here, because leadership doesn’t always mean being well-behaved, conformist and quiet, as young girls are often taught in their childhood. Sometimes we have to make uncomfortable decisions, be loud or at least exude a certain aplomb that may not go down well with others. I know this myself as a manager: Of course you want to be the good cop and be liked by everyone, but reality often challenges you here and then it’s better to be authentic than nice, even though I always try to combine the two myself.

Flexible working conditions

Flexibility at work, including flexible working hours and opportunities for teleworking, home office, remote work, etc. can make it easier for women to achieve a better work-life balance. Although I am explicitly singling out women at this point, the hope remains that this development will enable ALL employees to better reconcile their professional and life goals.

Fair and transparent recruitment and promotion procedures

Companies should ensure that their recruitment and promotion procedures are free from gender bias and that the criteria for promotions are clear and transparent. This can be achieved through the appointment of equal opportunities and diversity officers or through anonymized application procedures. We all have gender and unconscious bias, even if we spend most of our lives trying to convince ourselves how tolerant and philanthropic we are. More reflection is needed here and we should try to make the process fairer through personnel and structural changes. Discrimination often happens unintentionally, but this does not change the fact that it happens.

Gender quotas

Some companies and countries have introduced quotas for women in management positions to ensure that a certain number of management positions are filled by women. I am of course deliberately talking about gender quotas here, but I have to say right now: for me, this is just the first step. The goal is a diversity quota. However, I accept that we have to start somewhere.

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Creating an inclusive corporate culture

Companies should promote a culture of inclusion and diversity in which all employees are treated equally and with respect, regardless of their gender, age, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, physical and mental abilities, religion and ideology, and socio-economic status. For me, this has been the essential part of my work since the beginning of my professional career and I also founded my two companies with this set of values. I knew that we could tackle the actual structural challenges through active cultural work. So anyone who has a genuine interest in inclusive cooperation within the company must also be prepared to invest in this and perhaps let go of some beliefs or question them completely.

Code of Conduct

For me, this point is directly linked to the corporate culture. I often see this in our diversity training courses. Many companies would like to complete such awareness or skillset training, but then do not take the final step of writing down the knowledge gained as part of a systemic diversity management strategy and implementing it sustainably in their culture. However, this must ultimately happen in order to stabilize the whole thing and give the topic the significance it deserves.

Support with childcare

The provision of support for childcare, such as company kindergartens or financial subsidies, can help not only women but all families to achieve a better balance between career and private life. This point should have been considered “settled” long ago. I would like to see more self-commitment from companies here. So it is not enough to simply look in the direction of politics. As an entrepreneur, I am aware that we are responsible for our own structures and framework conditions and should not simply hand over this responsibility to the next higher authority. Sometimes it is also possible to create low-threshold opportunities in monetary terms to create a family-friendly working environment for everyone – ultimately, it is not just a question of the possibilities, but also of the entrepreneurial will.

The framework conditions are decisive for female leadership

Of course, the proposed measures only show a small “snapshot” of what would be possible. However, I am fundamentally convinced that by adapting the framework conditions, we can also create a diverse and therefore inclusive working and corporate world. Ultimately, we know that diversity in every respect (personal, monetary, entrepreneurial, political, social and societal) is more worthwhile than a homogeneous mishmash of the same structures, ideas and people.

I would be very interested to hear what you think about these suggestions, about leadership in general and also about the personality tests mentioned. Please let me know in a comment.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who listened. Of course I know that the podcast world is huge, but I want to tell you in any case that I am overjoyed that you give me your ear from time to time and therefore your precious time to listen to my thoughts and share your thoughts with me.

With this in mind, I wish you a wonderful day.

Until then
Your Kinga

About the author

Kinga Bartczak
 | Website

Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .

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