Shattering the Glass Ceiling: 21st Century Women Leaders

There is ample evidence that organizations with women at the top are more successful. We see improvement not only in the bottom line, but also in the recruitment, promotion, and retention of high-quality talent. There is more gender and cultural diversity and more effective performance management which leads to greater productivity overall. (See one of many available references).

The factors that make women better leaders are both historical and neurological. The traditional family role expected of us as sisters, mothers, aunts, and even female cousins, caused us to develop certain qualities that are extremely valuable in the workplace. We tend to make better communicators by being more persuasive, motivating and enthusiastic. We learn from our mistakes and are better risk-takers and team builders. 

On the neurological side, women have a thicker corpus callosum, the membrane connecting right and left sides of the brain, enabling us to more easily use whole-brained thinking in our problem solving and decision making. We also produce more of the chemical Oxytocin which is responsible for trust, empathy and other feelings that build stable relationships. 

Given the advantages of having more female leaders, why do we see so few women at the top? In fact, the numbers seem to be declining, says the New York Times. (See NY Times Article). The answer involves both external and internal factors. Let us look at the external factors first. 

A key external factor involves the traditional qualities that all of us seem to value in a leader. 

According to Professor Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at University College, London, and Columbia University, we are seduced by, and we love confidence, charisma and narcism (narcism definition). Yet, sys Chamorro-Premuzic, these qualities, which are exhibited by strong men whom we repeatedly select for top positions, make excessively bad leaders. (Watch the Professor’s Recent Ted Talk).  Women mistakenly try to emulate these very qualities. We women need to create and embrace a new identity for ourselves, and this leads us to the internal factors. 

We women need to challenge any internalized stories that told us what women could or could not do and how leaders should behave. Instead of trying to copy men, says Chamorro-Premuzic, we need to replace confidence with competence, charisma with humility and narcism with integrity.  

We also need to find great women to emulate. Research tells us that women lack the networks, alliances, and mentors that men traditionally develop. We may not have actual female leaders who can take us under their wing, but we can create composite leaders, learning different elements from different people at different stages of our career. We need to surround ourselves with a circle of competent, successful women. (See how women need to network.)

Women who do well as leaders have a strong sense of purpose that drives them and guides them through challenging times. They have internalized a leadership identity and have developed their skills and abilities so they can carry themselves with integrity and earned confidence. They strive to use all their talents and skills to be the best they can be and make a positive difference. 

Author Bio:

Dr. Sharon Letovsky brings over 25 years of experience as an educator, counselor, consultant and leader and 16 years of experience as a Learning Tree instructor to every course she teaches. With a PhD in Adult Education majoring in Psychology, Sharon has worked with people at all levels of responsibility in both public and private sectors in North America and abroad. Dr. Sharon is the author of several widely-acclaimed books on organizational psychology including the best-selling: 7 Steps to Supercharge Your Career. Her vast experience consulting, coaching and serving in various leadership positions provides her with real-world examples to enliven the classroom experience.

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