Gender diversity. Every organisation is grappling with the issue. There’s a regular drumbeat of reports about how women are performing in the workplace and how businesses are supporting – or not – gender diversity.
At the heart of the issue is culture. If an organisation is truly committed to increasing the ratio of female leaders, it requires supportive policies and a genuine belief that it is the right thing to do for success. Even in the most supportive environments, however, individual women need to show the right behaviours to get to the top. They need to drive their own careers and, if they aspire to become a leader, must demonstrate they have the required qualities.
Ability is the price of entry. Behaviours can affect leadership success, and women, by becoming more self-aware, can better navigate the challenges of the workplace. There are six core behaviours that are critical to the success of women.
Getting to a senior level takes ambition and energy. Being determined gives confidence to others about your commitment. It will inspire a team and indicate to those above you that the task is one you can be relied upon to deliver. Women need to express and demonstrate ambition to get ahead, which is something they don’t always find easy.
Empathy is part of the currency of modern leadership. Many experts believe that women exhibit the more collaborative behaviours that are particularly valuable in today’s less hierarchical companies, so they have an advantage if they can get to a position of influence. Empathy can be a key differentiator for women in leadership positions.
People mistake assertiveness for aggression. They are not the same. Being assertive is a form of communication where we effectively express our preferences, needs, opinions and feelings. An assertive manner is one that women need to adopt to get ahead. Stereotypes exist that accuse women of being emotional. Being passionate about a job, however, can negate such notions by also being authoritative, respectful and calm in tone.
GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS
Leadership is about influencing others, motivating and engaging employees to do tasks willingly, efficiently and effectively. So being able to communicate is a key leadership skill. The good news is that understanding how to frame your message, articulate well, and manage non-verbal behaviour are all skills that can be acquired with the right coaching. Some psychologists allege that women have better communication skills and emotional intelligence than men. Women tend to be group-oriented and are apt to seek solutions by talking through issues, whereas some men can find it hard to pick up emotional cues unless they are clearly verbalised – this can give women an advantage in the workplace.
Most successful business people will tell you that they’ve experienced setbacks along the way. Women need to work on this aspect of behaviour, ignoring a natural hesitance that may discourage action. Company culture can help. If failures are seen as part of finding the right solution or innovation, then setbacks won’t define women in the workplace.
This is the most critical behaviour of all. Women need to build confidence because it’s often this that holds us back rather than competence. Why is it that women don’t put themselves forward for promotion, they generally underestimate their abilities and even predict that they will under-perform in tests? Reports find that women’s confidence often diminishes over time in the workplace while men continue to build theirs. Success, it seems, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.
Anita Hamilton is director of the Women in Leadership Programme and a communications consultant at CTN Communications. www.ctn.co.uk
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