Did you know that studies have shown that just by erasing the names on job applications women face a 61% better chance of being hired when applying for a job? Or that companies with women on the board and in executive leadership roles report greater return on equity and sales than their competitors? According to many studies, including that of a global non-profit women´s issues researcher Catalysist, there is also a strong link between the presence of women on boards and corporate reputation. The conclusion is that female directors serve as role models, and therefore improve female employees’ performance and boost a company’s image. This in itself is a clever move, since women drive 70% of purchase decisions by consumers in the European Union, 80% of those in the United States, and their influence is growing.
Governments and companies worldwide are starting to realise that putting women in leadership positions actually strengthens the economy and is good for society. It is no longer a matter of supporting women just for the sake of equal rights, but a necessary move to beat the recession and come out stronger on the other side. Despite this, progress is slow. At the current pace, women will have to wait 81 years to achieve gender parity in economic participation according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), and some 50 years to reach parity in parliamentary representation.
As a result, UN Women has launched a brand new initiative this year called “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”, to, as they say “galvanize government pledges for action”. The goal is to make sure that by 2030 at least half of all parliamentarians, university students, CEOs, civil society leaders and any other category are women. There is not one country in the world today that is equal, and this has got to change. For everybody’s sake!
So, with the statistics speaking for themselves, and the visions in place, what does this actually mean for you and me, here and now? Theory is all well and good, but the real challenge lies within our everyday behaviour and how we actively implement strategies to improve equality at home and at work.
It seems that this is a topic that goes deeper below the surface than we sometimes care to admit. First of all, there is no such thing as a stereotype Woman Leader. Just like men, women´s leadership also varies depending on the nature of the personality, her cultural and socioeconomic background, age, the industry she is in and so on. However, there are certain traits that are linked with so called feminine leadership vs male; and herein lies the interesting bit. It is about being aware of how we value these different traits, and perceive a strong, powerful woman leader compared to a strong, powerful male leader.
Women expressing the same behaviour as men face being called difficult, aggressive and bossy rather than assertive, strong and highly qualified. It is a fact that women are often criticised for not being likeable, both by men and women, when they speak up and stand up for something they believe in. If they on the other hand come across as being friendly and helpful, often smiling, they are seen as less competent. There are many more examples like this, such as being aware of the fact that men often talk and make more suggestions in meetings, while women are interrupted more, given less credit for their ideas, and have less overall influence. And so on.
According to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, founder of the Lean In-movement, men are expected to be assertive, confident, and opinionated, so we welcome their leadership. In contrast, women are expected to be kind, nurturing and compassionate. So when they lead, they are going against our expectations and often face pushbacks. This dynamically disadvantages women at work.
Women in power are also often judged more on their appearance, rather than their performance. Former U.S Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made a famous comment when a journalist asked about her clothes. Her quick response was “would you ask a man that?”.
Speaking up on women´s issues is strangely enough often seen as quite controversial. One would think that equal pay for equal work, and shared responsibilities at home and work would be common sense? For many of us it is. And yet, women who raise their voice for gender equality often face criticism, name calling, public humiliation and even death threats as a result. British actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, Emma Watson, recently gave a speech where she launched a new UN initiative #HeForShe, a solidarity movement to support gender equality. As a result, nude photos were leaked anonymously online as an attempt to silence her. Rima Karaki, a Lebanese news anchor, was just a few weeks ago told to shut up live on air by a man. She made it very clear that she demanded mutual respect and in the end had to mute his sound, to avoid airing his verbal abuse. Minutes later social media was filled with people on the one side applauding her for her courage to speak up, but on the other hand also worrying about her safety, saying that they wouldn’t be surprised if she turned up in a body bag a week later (!).
There is good news ahead however. Many new initiatives are being launched in the UK, in Sweden and abroad, supporting women in business and leadership. They provide great tools and educational material for managers and companies to help them adapt to a more equal work space. We are now experiencing a paradigm shift of leadership in the world, which plays naturally to the strengths of women. And what we can see is that the leadership skills that come naturally to women, are now absolutely necessary for companies and countries to continue to thrive.
Women are also taking matters into their own hands, by starting their own businesses and creating and participating in their own networks and support groups, where they can support each other in a collaborative and friendly way. And make no mistake, this is a very powerful trend of which we have just seen the beginning. Especially since today´s technology allows for people to make friends and business contacts on a global scale, by the simple use of social media and online translation tools. Cutting edge seminars, executive mentorship programmes, books, social networks and events are directly targeting and educating women about money, wealth, leadership and business, with the result that we are now witnessing more women billionaires in the world than ever before.
Inspiring examples of influential women leaders in the UK can be found in Carrie Green, founder of the Female Entrepreneur Association, which engages more than 200 000 members online and via live events, educating and supporting women entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses in a way that suits their lifestyle. Another great authority in this area is Dr Joanna Martin who in March hosted her second One Woman Conference in London for a sold out audience, empowering women to step up as leaders in their own lives and their communities. To get in touch with Swedish business women in the UK, the organisation SveaBritt has for more than 30 years offered its members events, workshops and seminars, dedicated to the support of Swedish Women Professionals in the UK.
2015 has been estimated to be a tipping point in favour of women´s leadership and gender equality. Make sure you are part of that movement, so that you don´t miss out!