New research shows women in leadership roles improve profitability, performance and productivity.
Women’s Agenda recently published an article on new research that connects female leadership to increased profitability, performance and productivity. The research shows that companies who have more female leaders [or females in key management roles] made more money and increased market value and the article highlighted the opportunity for female leaders post COVID.
I decided to address the topic of women in leadership [and the barriers they face] with two of our Directors at BusinessDEPOT and have a candid Q & A style chat looking at this from their perspective. Megan Kelly, Director in the Accounting team and Cameron Hancock, Director in the Legal team kindly agreed to take part and share their views around flexibility, opportunities, societal norms and quotas; with a focus on what it means to have more women in leadership roles.
Thank you Cameron and Megan for agreeing to have a chat with me about this topic, I would like to start off the discussion with simply, why do you think we are seeing female leaders come into their own, at this time?
Cameron – I believe that generally women are better people leaders and we need more leaders who put people first, over profits.
Megan – I think women handle a crisis better. They do what needs to be done. We have seen this during COVID for sure. A lot of women do the juggling act of work and home life and dealing with competing priorities. So adapting and reworking priorities is often second nature. This is another reason they make good leaders.
Anna – To add your comments, I would say that women can be better at collaborating also, which can really change the dynamics. Cameron, on your comment about putting people first, I think that women help balance out the dynamics around the boardroom table. I have worked with a number of executive teams over the years, from all male through to a mix and even majority female and the biggest shift I have seen is in the dynamics. I have seen many men benefit and achieve more as a result.
Okay, so we agree that women leaders contribute directly to the success of many businesses and working alongside men is the ultimate winning combination, so what do you think are the factors preventing women from reaching leadership positions?
Megan – I think many women still hold back in their career based on the personal family situation, whether that be because they take on the majority of care giving for children, aging parents or simply to take on more of the domestic duties around the home. While there are many factors that come into play in this decision such as societal norms and the support network at home, it is important that employers offer the flexibility to both women and men in the workforce to help them find a work-life balance that removes this hurdle from their career progression.
Cameron – I agree. The lack of female mentors and a lack of support for role balance can dissuade women. Even in a best practice business, supports for equal opportunity can be wanting.
Anna – Absolutely and I like the fact that we are focusing in on flexibility for both men and women. At businessDEPOT, regardless of your gender you have access to flexibility. I love seeing our male directors and managers leaving early to pick up their kids or coming in late due to school drop off. You are right Megan, there is a lot at play when a woman makes the decision to pull back on her career to support family and we need to be encouraging men to feel like they can do the same. Perhaps then the conversations in the home will continue to shift and women will start to explore different options.
Staying on this topic for a minute, we feel like we are doing a reasonable job of this at businessDEPOT but do you think society is changing enough to equally support male and female leaders? My observations are that we are still in the infancy stages and although we are seeing snippets, more regularly, the norm still leans towards the female and flexibility, compared to the acceptance of men and flexible working?
Megan – We have come a long way but I agree for us to get real equality it has to come from all sides. I think with each generation we are seeing a reduction in the ‘traditional’ roles in a domestic environment, which filtering back into a more even spread in the workforce. Many men are pushing back on the work pressures these days, as they too want to have the flexibility to be there for their children or their families. I think this generation of leaders are definitely more focused on this – and I think the next generation of leaders will be even better with the use of technology so a shift will occur with their focus moving from hours in the office to outcomes-based measures.
Cameron – Society needs a lot of work. When I show up to volunteer for a school event, someone will usually say “it’s great that you are so supportive”, but when my wife does the same thing it is expected. If this is the underlying rhetoric, it is not always surprising that some women withdraw from promotional streams or move into roles and/or industries that are perceived to help achieve a better family balance.
Anna – Cameron, your comments about the expectations around a school event are embedded deeply into the culture of these systems and often quite subconscious. I know a senior executive in the financial sector who is also a mum at my child’s school and she agreed with her husband that he would help with tuckshop and she would do the sausage sizzle! They wanted their son to see that either was perfectly acceptable regardless of the parent’s gender. I just loved this, and to be honest, it made me check myself and how I was subconsciously supporting what is the perceived norm.
I agree also with Megan that we are seeing some change and if we can have more role models, more people challenging these societal norms, this is where things will shift. I’m an optimist so I believe it is happening and will keep happening but it’s not moving at warp speed, that’s for sure.
So, let’s go back to the subject of helping female leaders take more steps in their career, while possibly juggling family and personal commitments. We know that we cannot have it all [at once at least!] but with more attention and open conversations with other decision-makers and leaders, what are your thoughts on how we can approach this?
Cameron – It’s a balancing act. We have a family-first mentality at businessDEPOT but everyone still knows that the job needs to get done. If the right support strategies are not offered, family-focused employees [both women and men] can be overlooked for promotions.
Businesses that want to be successful and really leverage the skills of people with kids [shouldn’t be a male/female ‘thing’] need to embrace more than just the financials. Client relationships and outcomes are much better measures.
Megan – Employers tend to wait until the female [in particular] comes to them to talk about flexible working. More conversations around policies and options here would help. I think women tend to feel like they are contributing less when they need flexibility around family, or that their commitment is in question. I hear a lot of women say that their “family will always come first”. To be honest – why do either have to come first? My career and my family are both really important to me and I like to focus on the idea that I will just do whatever it takes to get things done. It’s not about one taking priority over the other, it’s just finding a way to get it all done. Sometimes this means I need to ask for help at home or more understanding from my business partners and team at work. I’d love to hear more men be vocal and talk about leaving work early so they can get to their kids sporting event or do an early pick up from childcare. I think it goes a long way towards normalising that the family commitments are there, whether it be male or female.
Anna – I agree with both of you, it can be a balancing act and why should one be prioritised over the other? Shouldn’t it just be about the outcomes and getting it done? With reasonable expectations and the right skills for the job [oh and a good work ethic], leaders, male or female, can achieve business outcomes while still making time for their personal lives. This does however require a mind shift for some employers or business owners, away from clock watching to an outcomes approach.
Okay, we know we need more women in leadership, to enhance business results, that’s a given.
Let’s talk quota’s. Are they helpful?
Megan – Having more women at the table is helping more women get to the table. If there wasn’t a quota approach, I think more women would be overlooked. But I am a big believer in getting the right person for the job and not just a token position, as I think this can be even more damaging to progress.
Cameron – In a perfect society a person would get a job or promotion based on their skills and merit. I am not against the concept of a quota, but I do think it has the potential to create a lasting suspicion that a successful female candidate received the job or promotion because they were female. Such suspicion may cause stress or issues that are unwarranted.
Ultimately it should be the best person for the job. Don’t all business leaders want to be sitting at the table with the best people? More times than not the best person is a woman.
Anna – Hear Hear, the best person for the job is the ultimate result!
We have talked about some of the traits women leaders bring to the table. Why do you think women have better results when it comes to communication?
Megan – I think women are more open communicators and prepared to be more vulnerable, whereas I think male leaders are under more pressure to have all the answers. I think this is because people associate vulnerability with weakness, instead of seeing it as a strength. To be honest, it is still harder for a man to show any weakness due to the judgement and pressure put on them.
Cameron – Society has a stronger focus on teaching empathy in girls compared to boys.
In essence, this makes women better people leaders. Women tend to be better adaptors, are more sensitive to others and pay more attention to the team as a whole, which I think can lead to a better working environment.
I think it is also fair to say that male leaders [political leaders in particular] are a far cry from the type of people that we want to see in positions of power. We are seeing [or at least I am hoping for] a groundswell wanting educated empathetic leaders.
Megan – Yes to more empathy in leaders.
Anna –I agree, Megan you are right about societal norms wrapped around vulnerability and agree Cameron this is happening at a very young age. It stems from generations and generations of conditioning, so we know that we need to be patient as we carefully unravel this. In my opinion, that is also why we need more women at the table, to balance this out, demonstrate those vulnerabilities and communication skills to our male counterparts and younger generations coming through, and show them a better, more effective way.
Finally, what do you think we as business owners or current leaders can do to help women take up more senior roles?
Megan – Provide mentoring from early in their careers so women can learn how to approach things like senior roles, pay rises, maternity leave and returning to work post-kids. Sometimes people just need ideas and get creative as to how they can make it happen. Also, soft skills and relationships shouldn’t be discounted for the numbers.
Cameron – Provide leadership support, such as mentoring as Megan suggests. In addition to that, business leaders and owners need to not only call out unacceptable behaviour, but need to be aware of what unacceptable behaviour is.
Anna – Agree wholeheartedly Cameron. Often behaviours are accepted [by not calling them out] and if nothing else, we need to be saying “no” to habits and behaviours of the past!
Thank you to both of you for being so honest and candid on the subject. The more conversations we have and the changes we make [even if they are small] keep adding to the momentum. Yes to mentoring, yes to role models for both genders and absolutely yes to showcasing the differences that men and women can offer.
As a team of leaders at businessDEPOT, male and female, we are conscious that we not only find the best people for the job but highlight and utilise the skills that female leaders can have that are complementary to our male leaders and together we know we will have many more successes. We don’t want to see a crisis like COVID-19 shy us away from continuing to work on gender diversity, accessible flexi-polices for all employees (male or female) and developing our future leaders, equally.
Is your business reaping the benefits of having the right people in leadership positions?