Women leaders enrich organisations

Nuncy Green, divisional executive human capital at Stanlib, says gender equality can benefit financial services companies.

Successful organisations value diversity, inclusion, and gender equality – qualities that acknowledge people’s uniqueness, make them feel welcome and create opportunities unaffected by gender.

While some progress has been made, the financial services sector as a whole is still working towards these ideals.

Approach the issues with a different mindset
While some legacy issues will still take time to rebalance, women in the industry are working hard to make their mark. Many strive to reach the top of their profession and to attain status in the corporate world, despite facing some intimidating hurdles in breaking through the traditional leadership mould.

Understandably, some women give up, and unfortunately the number of women who succeed remains disproportionately low. Recent research (Women in the Workplace 2020 – McKinsey) suggests, “a quarter of women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their career,” and that “for every 100 men promoted to an entry-level management position, only 85 women are.”

Of course, when these women exit, organisations across industries miss out on the opportunity to harness and build on the unique contributions of feminine leadership.

Another reason why feminine leadership is not moving faster, although it is now embraced by men and women globally, could be that the focus is wrong.

As leaders, we would benefit from changing our focus from “men vs women” in terms of representation at the higher ranks when we consider access to opportunities for women. Instead, our focus should be on creating an organisational (or sectoral) culture that embraces both masculine and feminine characteristics in the boardroom and beyond.

By changing the focus, it could be possible to create a less competitive, more inclusive strategy that will bring skills and talent to the fore and “engender” successful businesses.

Adopting a feminine culture
The benefits of creating a workplace that values compassion, communication, and a more team-oriented approach are widely known. These are exactly the qualities a feminine style of management creates.

In a recent article, Ahmad Hassan, Partner, Technology & Digital Transformation at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, says: “Transformational leaders now must be able to work across the organization structure, listen, ask for constructive feedback, co-develop solutions, demonstrate empathy and influence. And these are traits that many perceive to be more ‘feminine’, something that many men may not have sufficiently developed.”

Translating this into meaningful action is hard work. Yet, if we are brave enough to challenge our environments, we could develop ways to reap the benefits of the feminine style of leadership within our organisations, while also leveraging the strength of a more masculine leadership style. We can start doing this by incorporating some of the following suggestions:

1. Go flat: move away from the concept of a competitive corporate ladder and towards the concept of building a workplace for everyone. This becomes a workplace where the playing field is equal, unique skills are welcomed and unaffected by gender. People who can be fully themselves, free to deploy their special skills and knowledge, will add value and make a difference. Eliminate hierarchies as far as possible and instead lead and create organisational structures that allow for a more collegial atmosphere.

2. Collaborate and co-operate: the constant drive to outperform other team members can be exhausting and demotivating. The current world of work is geographically dispersed, and teams are finding new ways of getting the job done. More than ever, team co-operation and collaboration are important for managing daily outputs.

3. Allow natural transformation: women naturally live this trait, even on a subconscious level. Often, they do not even realise that they are role models as they build trust and confidence in each other’s unique attributes and welcome the introduction of softer skills, regardless of gender. This is about mentoring and encouraging colleagues so they can attain their full potential. Enabling this environment opens the door for people to challenge the status quo and transform corporate structures to remain relevant.

Gender equality can benefit financial services companies
Why is this fundamental shift to embrace a more feminine leadership approach important in financial services? Here are three reasons:
Gender diversity is not purely a social issue. It also creates a competitive edge for an organisation and helps to solve some of the local and global challenges that corporations face. It is a strategic imperative for businesses.

Research proves that women apply five of the nine top leadership behaviours more frequently than men. The nine top leadership behaviours are: participative decision-making, role modelling, being inspiring, defining expectations and rewarding achievements, developing people, intellectual stimulation, efficient communication, individualistic decision-making, control and corrective action. Women use people development, expectation and rewards, role modelling, inspiration and participative decision-making.

Women contribute to a stronger organisational performance by applying these behaviours. There is no doubt that the representation of women in management has evolved so slowly because of the scale of the transformation that has to happen at many levels. But the dimensions of that transformation are matched by the size of the reward.

This is why the financial services sector should continue on the path of developing gender diversity and changing leadership behaviours. It is an investment in the future.