Leaders and Female Leaders? Or do we simply refer to Leaders as Leaders? I prefer the latter.
If you want a quick debrief on the differences between male leaders and female leaders, then I’ll share my perspective. They don’t exist (apart from the obvious physical differences). They’re both just leaders, and the adjectival prefix is irrelevant. A gendered prefix is even more so irrelevant.
I imagine you’d like for a blog to carry a little more weight than that, however, so here you go…
As soon as you put a pronoun before a word that stands completely and understandably on its own in any context – a word such as ‘leadership’ – straight away you’re saying that the variation isn’t the norm.
We’ll happily say female leader, female boss, female CEO, female Prime Minister, Mumpreneur, etc, but when that position of leadership or seniority is held by a man, we never feel the need nor the necessity to announce that the position is indeed being filled by a male. If we’re honest about our individual and collective bias, we know that this is just a standard assumption.
This leaves us in this instance with two types of leaders. Leaders, and female leaders. In fact, even this is not true (and discriminatory in its own way) as it leaves no space for Leaders with a gender identity other than the binary notion of male or female.
We don’t even feel in this context that we should say male leaders and female leaders, because male leaders are somehow just leaders. Anything else isn’t the norm and therefore seemingly needs to be prefixed. And, as per my previous point, this is a binary perspective, and as we know, gender is non-binary, so there is further bias there. Further examples from other non-normative situations are when we say things like ‘black president’ or ‘gay chairman’. It would seem that positions of leadership are not only assumed male but also assumed white and straight, as well.
In so many cases, men take the noun. They own it. I’m not here to wax lyrical about the English Language, though. I’m here to talk about leadership, and how we should be talking about leadership in wholly inclusive terms.
From this MsChief’s perspective, a good leader is a balanced and inclusive leader. Balanced and inclusive in their views, their traits, and their actions. They think things through and respond accordingly and effectively to whatever situation and whoever happens to be right in front of them at a given time.
It’s often cited that men lead in a way that is assertive, powerful, and focused, whereas those same traits in the case of a leader who identifies as female are sometimes viewed as argumentative, domineering and ruthless. Strong, admirable traits in a man are somehow viewed a lot more negatively (and even as destructive) in a woman. A woman who is seen to have more ‘male’ leadership traits is often labeled as ‘acting like a man’ (or more crassly a ‘chick with a ****’). Similarly, some women believe they have to ‘act like a man’ to get to a position of leadership in the first place. It’s as though we’re not permitted to be effective in leadership as our authentic selves, and if we are, then it’s because we’re thinking or acting in a way that means we have given up certain aspects of who we are to do it.
The definition of good leadership will always be subjective. What makes a good leader, however, isn’t gender, but the balance of traits that they bring to the table.
As we grow up, many of us are socialised to have gendered expectations of leadership – male leaders are expected to be stoic, brave, and courageous, whilst female leaders are expected to be caring, nurturing, and compassionate. Is it me, or could we not all benefit immensely from cultivating and respecting leaders who bring a balance of all of those things to their role?
Yet, to be masculine is not the sole territory of men, and to be feminine is not the sole territory of women. Every single human has the capacity for masculine and feminine traits, and so when we look at leaders, we should not look at their gender, but at the qualities they possess and the traits they demonstrate. Ideally – as with everything – balance is what we strive for. By all means, we can look at certain things as masculine or feminine, but I feel that we can only have a truly great leader in front of us if they show a real balance – and acceptance – of what are both equally very strong leadership characteristics.
Inclusive Leadership is about balance – it’s about masculine and feminine, yin and yang. We can’t experience or have knowledge of one thing without the balance of its counterpart. Night and day, good and bad, sun and moon for example. In having a balance in our own leadership – and in the expectations of the leadership of others – we should be embracing the full emotional range and strengths that can be drawn from both sides of the masculine and feminine divide.
So, when we’re looking at ‘getting more women onto our boards’, let’s certainly continue with our good – and necessary – work. But, let’s also look at getting more people onto our boards who are courageous in showing true balance when it comes to the way that they lead, and also looking beyond gender entirely. When we focus entirely on gender it often becomes a gender binary tick box exercise.
We need a balanced representation of masculine and feminine qualities on our boards to make sure that leadership, and business, are balanced. This means a better balance in decision-making, risk-taking, and thought leadership around people, planet, and profit. There’s so much we can do at every level of the organisational hierarchy, and I’m loving working with clients who understand this – as it impacts how you attract, recruit, retain and progress your human talent – plus it also has an impact on the culture of the organisation and the duty of care we have to our people and our planet.
Inauthentic leaders need not apply.