Despite enormous strides in business, government and other areas, women don’t always get the respect men do for their leadership abilities, even when they can boast greater accomplishments, says author and anthropologist Andi Simon.
But the combination of a pandemic, a recession and the US election in 2020 could be the impetus for changing the way people view women and their leadership styles, says the author of the upcoming book Rethink: Smashing the Myths of Women in Business.
“It’s time we started seeing women leaders through a fresh lens,” Simon says. “When we do, we will all benefit from their styles and their successes.”
Around the world, many countries led by women have fared better during the COVID-19 pandemic than those led by men, with New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen among those being hailed for their strong leadership. And with US senator Kamala Harris as the vice president Democratic pick, the country could potentially have its first female vice president by 2021.
Simon says anyone surprised women have what it takes to emerge as great leaders may have fallen for myths that surround both men and women when it comes to taking charge.
“Men communicate a myth about women that emphasizes their soft sides, their kindness, and their weakness, not their decisiveness, strength and ingenuity,” she says. “Women might lead differently, but they can and are achieving remarkable results through collaboration, coordination, and creative communication, as opposed to the command-and-control methods men often employ.”
Simon offers a few observations about women, leadership and where things could be headed.
Research shows women score better on leadership qualities
Research published last year in the Harvard Business Review showed that, over several surveys that asked the same questions, women ranked higher than men on almost all key factors measuring leadership capabilities.
“Managers, even male managers, saw women as more effective than men in virtually every area, including areas typically viewed as male strongholds such as IT, operations and legal,” Simon says.
Women ranked high in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practising self-development, driving for results, and showing high integrity and honesty.
More female mentors and role models will mean more female leaders
As more women gain leadership roles, the number of women in such roles will build on itself, Simon says.
“The script on women changing male-dominated workplace culture is still being written,” she says. “But one thing is for sure: The more women become leaders and assume positions of authority, the more they can help other women on their way up.”
An anthropological approach can help
Simon is both a business consultant and an anthropologist, and she believes mixing the two is beneficial.
“My career advice for women in leadership roles is to be a little anthropological when you are trying to find your own way in your job or business,” she says. “Do some observational research. Experience your product or service from your customer’s point of view or your employees’ point of view. You’ll be amazed at what you discover, and the innovative ideas that come to you for solving unmet needs.”
“Our cultural biases lead us to believe that something created by a woman is not as good as something created by a man,” Simon says. “For us to see the work of women as at least equal to that of men, those biases must change. The question for all of us is: Can we change them?”