Is leadership becoming more feminine? Yes, says talent firm

Big business’ vision of a leader has never been so feminine, according to one global firm which says it’s time for women to go global on International Women’s Day

Rapidly-changing opinions about what makes a strong leader could be the spark that finally puts women on the road to equality on International Women’s Day (Tuesday, March 8), according to global talent management firm Crown World Mobility (CWM).
The gender gap in international assignments is still as wide as ever but women are being told the route to leadership in big business has never been clearer, says CWM.
The firm claims women make up only 16 per cent of those working abroad on international mobility programmes despite a concerted effort by corporations to try and break the 20 per cent barrier.
It says that, last year, the Harvard Business Review claimed people rise to the top in business when they are seen as matching a set of pre-existing beliefs that individuals hold about leadership. However, in many cultures this leader prototype has historically emphasised masculine characteristics – resulting in a lack of female leaders.
“That’s changing,” says Joanne Danehl, Global Intercultural and Language Training expert at CWM.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is more and more of the desirable competencies for a modern leader being traits that many would think of as feminine.
“So although the gender gap is still there on international assignments – and let’s be honest the needle has barely moved on that in decades – there has never been a better time for women to break that mould.”
Danehl believes six or seven years ago the traits that people valued in a leader were: Decisive, risk-taker, competitive. However, in 2016, businesses are looking for: A consensus builder, someone who is inclusive in their decision-making process, a relationship builder who is good at navigating and handling complexity.
“What strikes me is that not only are these competencies much more feminine but also that they are skillsets often learned by working globally in a culturally-diverse environment,” says Danehl.
“There is a real opportunity for women who join global mobility programmes to build a successful career at the highest level.”
The move towards valuing women in leadership has been marked over the last few years. A report by Grant Thornton in 2015 showed company boards which included women out-performed all-male boards by up to 25 per cent.
Danehl added: “There still aren’t enough business role models for women and perhaps that’s why you often hear women talk about pop stars, actresses and perhaps politicians as their icons. But things are moving.
“In Japan for instance, there is a big move towards educating women in business and on a recent visit to the United States the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe famously said ‘When women thrive, so will the world.’ That’s a powerful message.”
The most-valued leadership competencies for five years’ time, predicted in 2016 by The Conference Board were leading change, global thinking, retaining and developing talent, learning agility and creativity.
“It’s no longer just about what is said in a meeting which matters. Reading a room and getting it right is just as important,” said Danehl. “It’s all about emotional quotient, intuition and integrity.
“Interestingly some cultures are experts in this – such as the Chinese and Japanese. They traditionally understand the tone of the room far better than western cultures. So, working in a global environment can help build those skills, too.
“Nobody is saying men cannot be great leaders, of course they can. But it is clear women have an opportunity here to close the gap. It’s certainly something to think about on International Women’s Day.”