Modeling the Way: The Female Brand of Leadership
By: Aradhna Malhotra Dhanda
Like yin and yang, male and female should be equal parts of the same whole, nesting alongside one another. However, for thousands of years, men seem to have enjoyed a primacy in the landscape of politics, business, the history books and their households in most cultures. But, thanks to the strong women who came before us – and a few courageous men – women are discovering their voices and their power in these arenas, now more than ever before.
Despite the ground that was lost in the recent U.S. elections in terms of the total number of women serving in Congress, there is much to be proud of regarding female progress, particularly since the turn of the Millennium.
- A record number of Afghan women braved death threats to stand for election to Parliament in 2010.
- Lehman Gbowee and the Women of Liberia organized a movement for peace, effectively ending the civil war in Liberia in 2003. Subsequently, Ms. Gbowee and her colleagues were recognized as recipients of the “John F. Kennedy, Profiles In Courage” award in 2009.
- Three of the last four U.S. Secretaries of State have been women: Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice and Hilary Rodham Clinton.
- There are currently 31 female leaders in 28 self-ruling countries, including ten presidents: Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, India, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania and Switzerland – and in the Federation of Bosnia within Bosnia-Herzegovina.
- Women filled nearly 70% of leadership roles in U.S. non-profit organizations in 2010.
- A 2008-09 report by the Council on Graduate Schools found that women earned the majority (50.4%) of doctoral degrees.
- Women-owned business initiation outpaces their male counterparts by two-to-one.
While some inroads have been made in leadership positions, there is still a very long way to go.
- The number of women leaders of FORTUNE 500 companies totaled only 15 in 2010.
- In 2009, women held only 15.2% of board seats at FORTUNE 500 companies.
- Also in 2009, a full 61 of the FORTUNE 500 companies did not include a single woman on their boards.
- In 2006, there were 10.2 million single-mother households in the U.S. as compared to 2.5 single father families.
- The gender wage gap persists as women earn only $.77 compared to every dollar earned by a man – nearly half a century after passage of the Equal Pay Act.
Women appear to be gaining some ground, but progress is slow. Clearly, we continue to live in a male-dominated world. Yet, we can balance the scales if only we stop accepting the status quo.
Methodology is extremely important. Unfortunately, there are numerous failed efforts, including the United States’ failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and the fact that women still lag in earnings despite forty-five years of the Equal Pay Act. Conversely, there are many examples of successful ways that women can make progress and, therefore, a difference in bringing about change. Often these include enlisting some men who value the power that lies in the equality of the yin and yang. Women have tremendous strengths as leaders, strengths that come more naturally to us than to men. In fact, a recent Harvard Business Review article found that men and women alike rate women as better leaders in most of the categories by which scholars define leadership.
I would suggest that women do not have to “compete like a man” even though it’s still – to a large extent – a man’s world. The idea of “manning up” (a phrase coined by numerous women during the recent elections) is a missed opportunity. Rather, women should embrace those feminine qualities that we bring to the table. We should own them and understand the power we have as a result.
- Women are natural relationship builders. This comes from thousands of years of genetic programming: raising children in a community environment, becoming the “kin-keepers” of families, birthing and caring for the entire human race. Women feel powerful when helping others.
- Women are natural negotiators. This fact is substantiated by research conducted by the Wharton School of negotiation. Conflict is stressful for women. Therefore, our gender naturally approaches these situations by sitting on the same side of the table as those with whom we are negotiating. Collaboration is much more fun that arguing … or war! (Just ask Leymah Gbowee.)
- Women connect through sharing emotions. We have a natural desire to minimize status differences and to disclose our feelings and vulnerabilities. We connect to other people by talking – usually about everything.
- Women are bottom-line oriented, too. Our B.S. meters are on high alert all the time. Given the busy lives we lead and the myriad balls we are juggling at every moment of the day, we don’t have time for snow jobs. Yet, how we confront this is typically gentle, leaving the other person(s) with their dignity intact.
- Women understand their common ground. Around the world, women are more similar than they are different. We all want our children to grow up in strong, safe communities with access to every opportunity for quality of life. We care deeply about our friends, our neighbors; and, we’re willing to do whatever we can to advance causes that promote the common good. In fact, most good men share this common ground with us, too!
Women are most certainly rediscovering that we can make a difference. We are emerging from centuries – even thousands of years – to step into the fore and make our voices heard in greater numbers. The time has never been more critical than now with a planet that is in jeopardy, populations in turmoil and a highly connected global economy that remains fragile. So, what can we do? What can you do? Take action, speak up – whatever that means for you. Join organizations that espouse values you believe in, write to your representatives or even your local paper stating your concerns, start a blog on the value of nutritional selections in school cafeterias, or even do something as simple as changing to energy-efficient light bulbs throughout your house. Most importantly, believe that each one of us is important. Every voice matters. Whatever we do – or choose not to do – will leave an imprint on the world. What do you think you will do with your voice?
Aradhna M. Dhanda is the President and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. (LPI), a premier resource for leadership development in southwestern Pennsylvania. Born and raised in India, Aradhna holds an MBA from Rutgers University and an MA in Psychology from Bhopal University. She is the proud mother of two boys, Kash and Brij, and lives in Wexford.