Leadership is a skill that is inherent in anyone, regardless of gender. However, common practice and societal norms place the pressure of leadership on men. History is full of narratives of how men lead troops or how this man founded a country. But, surely, leadership is more than that, especially now. Women know the ropes and can reign at the helm as much as men do. It’s time to step away from placing gender roles in leadership. Leadership shouldn’t be a gendered quality.
Presence of Matriarchal Societies
Even if there are claims that leadership comes naturally to men, it comes naturally to women as well. If not, then how did these matriarchal societies thrive. In the long and colorful history of human culture and relations, matriarchal societies have thrived since then and have evolved through time. It is a wonderful display of women leading women.
Masuo Women in China
One prominent matriarchal society thrives in China. The Masuo women in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China practice both matriarchy and matrilineality. The bloodline of the women in the community is the basis for their lineage. Aside from that, handing down property also follows the mother’s lineage. The women are the heads of the house and they are responsible for the household. Masuo women do not marry. They can have male partners, but they do not live together, much less start a life together. Masuo villages are strictly for females only.
Another women’s only village is present in Umoja, Kenya. Restricting men from their village is by choice because all the women consider the village as their refuge from sexual assault and/or gender-based violence. This village and culture started in 1990 and continues until now. The village accepts tourists to show them around the village and to teach them about their culture. Accepting tourists is also a means for them to survive.
Between these two matriarchal societies that alive and growing right now, it is evident that leadership isn’t something inherent in men. Women have the traits and the guts to lead families, villages, and generations. So, what separates female-led leadership from male-led leadership.
What Stands Out in Female-led Leadership?
Male-led leadership is traditional. It often comes with the argument that men are better leaders because they are rational and levelheaded. But, aren’t women well equipped with those traits, too? There are also claims that men are better leaders because they have brute strength and that they are naturally domineering. Yes, these are true. But, are these types of leadership applicable for all types of people.
Leadership that encompasses all types of people, relationships, and situations requires both mind and emotions. Anyone who has the experience and the willingness to become a true leader can become a leader.
Gearing away from the traditional, what sets a female-led leadership? Women who lead are often seen as non-traditional. Their ways and methods are often seen as ingenious and a novelty. Women who take on leadership roles in the workplace describe their leadership style as transformational, as compared to the transactional type among male leaders.
Transformational leadership is a style that strives to see a positive influence on the receiver. Safe to say, this kind of leadership is not linear and not flat. It requires cooperation from both parties. It requires a more long-lasting effort from the leader too. Women leaders who claim to hone this style attribute its success to their ability to build relationships with their subordinates outside work. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are also necessary.
What Can We Learn From Women Leaders?
Women leaders are breaking boundaries, shattering glass ceilings that hindered their growth and potential for so long. Aspiring leaders, both male and female, have a lot to learn from these types of leaders.
Utilizing the “Feminine” Traits
Successful leaders know fully utilize the traits that they have to become true leaders. They do not discriminate the traits they have too. Successful women leaders embrace the “feminine” traits they have and make good use out of them. In the past, feminine traits are often dismissed in hard and cold industries because they will never produce long-term results.
A few examples of leadership traits that are considered feminine are empathy, vulnerability, patience, and generosity. These are all strong qualities of a woman. A common denominator among these traits is that these are more emotional rather than rational. It requires more heart than brute strength. In a more traditional and transactional leadership style, there is little room for these traits. But now, these are the traits that are essential across all leadership roles.
Feminine Traits are Women’s Strengths
Empathy and vulnerability among leaders aid in creating positive relationships with the members. By showing these traits, the members see their leaders as people and not just someone they need to appease all the time. These traits help you see each other eye to eye. Moreover, these traits are essential in dealing with members who are dealing with personal problems that are affecting their productivity at work. Knowing and recognizing that your members have whole lives outside their corporate lives means a whole lot.
On the other hand, extending patience and generosity are other “feminine” traits because these are traits that are almost always seen among women, especially mothers. Carrying these traits over to leadership positions, patience and generosity uplift your employees. Extending patience translates to understanding and trusting their skills and decisions.
On a good note, the world is starting to get rid of gendered traits in leadership skills. In fact, in an article released by the University of Pennsylvania, professor Anne Cummings always begins her sessions by letting the participants describe both male and female leadership is. And over the years, Cummings further claimed, the description of each became more genderneutral.
Prominent Women Leaders
When asked to give examples of great leaders, our go-to answers are usually male figures who were widely celebrated in historical narratives. Over the years, women leaders are gaining more attention. Their stories are celebrated and used as examples alongside the male figureheads. Industry leaders are now a mix of male and female leaders who work as much to get to their position. Let’s take a look into the prominent women who left a mark in history and the influential women who are part of Forbes’ list of powerful women in 2020.
Merkel is the current chancellor of Germany, one of the most powerful countries in the world. She is Germany’s first female chancellor. Her current term in office is the fourth and last from the first one way back in 2005. Under her leadership, Germany’s economy bounced back from a financial crisis and is continuously thriving. Other than that, Merkel is notable for being the leader who allowed millions of Syrian refugees to enter the borders. As of 2020, more than 70% of adults across countries trust Merkel’s leadership.
Kamala Harris makes history as the first female vice president of the United States. On top of that, she is also the first female politician of Indian-American descent to hold such high positions as a senator and then vice president. As a senator, she championed legislation for better mental health care, providing rental relief, and combatting hunger, among many others.
Barra holds the helm of General Motors (GM) since 2014. From being the internal communicators in GM, her excellent communication skills make her an excellent leader. Her leadership is an undeniable feat as she is the first female leader among the three largest automobile companies in the US. Aside from that fact, one of Barra’s recent decisions for GM is to shift some of its production lines to help make Ventec Life Systems make ventilators, which was highly needed because of the effects of the pandemic.
Carol Tome came out from retirement to serve as UPS’ new CEO in the midst of a global pandemic. Before her retirement, she was with Home Depot. As a leader in both companies, she is not afraid to make difficult decisions that are backed with hard data. More than that, she sees her employees and customers as the backbone of their company and not merely pawns that they can freely move around. A leader with both a great mind and heart, indeed.
Youtube’s CEO is an excellent leader and over the years, she has her own brand of leadership style. Susan Wojcicki’s analytical mind and drive helped her climbed the corporate ladder and became a prominent name in the male-dominated Silicon Valley. Being part of Google’s first-generation employees, her decisions helped Google become a global leader. Wojcicki’s excellence and achievements in her line of work completely shatter the stereotype that women are more driven by emotions, rather than data. That’s a fact.
Her reputation precedes her name. Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister has wowed the world in how she handled crisis after crisis in her country. In countless articles that gave her the limelight, it is claimed that the top priority of her leadership style is kindness. She is one of the first leaders who suggested cutting her pay and to redirect it to relief efforts during the start of the pandemic. Her term is also marked by its authenticity. Her remarks regarding handling different crises over the past few years were candid and relatable. Something that people can easily connect with.
Tsai Ing-Wen is another woman leader who is making her mark in the world of politics. She is Taiwan’s first female and unmarried prime minister. Tsai Ing-Wen rose into power by building her own name. She does not have any previous connection to male figureheads, nor is she from a political dynasty. Safe to say, she is a breath of fresh air in Taiwan’s political arena. Her stance and decisions vary greatly from previous leaders but she is proving her worth at every turn. Taiwan’s response to the global pandemic is greatly applauded mainly because of her prompt response to the crisis.
Starbuck’s Rosalind Brewer is their first female and African-American chief operating officer. As a leader, Brewer places importance on creating healthy relationships in the workplace. As someone who climbed the ranks and shattered glass ceilings, Rosalind Brewer developed a holistic approach to creating strategies that are beneficial to the company and its employees. Aside from that, she also makes sure that diversity is a top-bill priority. She uses her platform to encourage other businesses and organizations to be open to diversity as well. As a woman from a minority community who is making strides in the industry, she hopes the same for other women like her as well.
Maya Angelou is a prime example of a transformational leader. Her words and actions inspire affect others in a positive manner. Maya Angelou’s ties with prominent figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. exposed her to more people and widened the reach of her influence. Maya Angelou’s leadership came in the form of her literary works and her civil rights advocacy. Her type of leadership is an example that leadership takes different forms. Sometimes, it’s up to the people to choose the best type of leadership they want to follow.
Queen Elizabeth I
Queen Elizabeth I of England went by several bynames such as the Virgin Queen and Good Queen Bess. Under her reign, England became a powerhouse in the fields of politics, arts, and commerce. Additionally, she helped unify the nation to battle against foreign conquests. Queen Elizabeth I is a perfect example of a leader who used her “feminine” traits to strengthen the core of her leadership. Her consideration and warmth were a perfect match for her strength and courage. Elizabeth’s decision not to marry also says a lot about her regard for her leadership. She sees marriage as a portal of distractions, even if she considered it multiple times because of a certain individual.
Rosa Parks is a civil rights activist and leader. Her defiance of racial segregation in public transportation marked the start of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott and subsequent movements to eradicate racial segregation in the country. Although she did not actually lead any of the movements, she became the figurehead. Her actions and words of getting tired of giving in to the unfair system resonated with everyone. Hers is a silent transformational leadership that sparked the need to change in other people.
Malala Yousafzai’s brand of leadership is in her willingness to speak for herself and for others. As an activist for female rights and education, Yousafzai never falls short of speaking out for equity and justice. She was a young girl when she took a stand to let people know her story. Her stories became a mouthpiece for other girls like her whose education and lives were greatly affected by bombings and violence. Malala also banks on her wit and candor when she tells her story to different kinds of people, especially world leaders who can make significant advancements in her call.
Leadership comes in different forms, styles, and techniques. Over the years, women climbed ranks and broke glass ceilings. Women leaders proved that their “feminine” traits are necessary for their style of leadership. The traits that were often overlooked before are shining in a new light now because these are what the people need now. Learning that compassion, patience, empathy is other forms of leadership is another reason why women in leadership positions important.
Let’s pass on the legacy of these women leaders to breed a new generation of leaders who will eradicate the biases on gendered traits in leadership.