Are we looking through the right lens?

I recently attended a Women in Leadership conference which prompted me to reflect once again on the findings of the 2011 Bain research which showed while there are some areas of improvement in relation to women in leadership, there are still significant barriers.

The 2011 Bain and CEW survey reveals 3 specific key insights about ‘what stops women from achieving leadership positions’:

  • 2 big issues hold women back: perception about the challenges associated with competing work-life priorities and the fact that women’s style is different from men’s—and not as valued;
  • Women and men both acknowledge they have different styles, but most men don’t consciously recognise the obstacles that presents for a woman’s “promotability”;
  • The underlying views about women’s style affects perceptions of their ability to lead.

Those underlying views are what affects the measures of “merit”, the well worn excuse for not promoting women. Merit is based on notions of leadership that have been derived from those things that have been traditionally done in organisations in the past. And the research suggests that women and men agree that women aren’t as strong in those areas as men.

(Source: Bain & Co.)

This might be an accurate perception or not. That what was not my core concern. My question is whether we are looking at leadership merit through the right lens?

There is abundant evidence that the agile enterprise of the future needs leaders who are collaborative, supportive, inspiring, nurturing, connected…the very things that women are perceived to be better at.

Perhaps if we updated our notion of leadership merit to reflect the new reality, we’d realign our recruitment and training approaches so that women can be themselves and be promoted, and men can learn new skills so that enterprises can become more adept at handling change and complexity.

Written by Tess Julian, Hargraves.

(Image source: Source: Bain & Co.)

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