Traditionally, the roles of leadership in organisations have unquestionably been the reserve of men but of late the landscape has seen some transformation. As of 15 years ago, women made up only 15.7% of board seats in Fortune 500 companies a percentage that has steadily climbed up to 25.5%. A factor that could be pushing this number up is that investors have realised the business benefits of diverse leadership as suggested by Forbes magazine. At the same time, it begs the question if the corporate world has started acknowledging that women make competent leaders and are trying to rectify the unequal statistics?
The myth of the woman boss is one that by now we have all heard at some point in our careers. Women bosses have often been stereotyped as cold, disruptively unreasonable, micromanagers and motivated by vendettas. Whilst some people have indeed come across female managers who showed these behaviors it is however not representative of the entire population and after all, a bad leader is bad — regardless of their gender. The stereotypes which have been perpetuated that women do not have the emotional intelligence to be leaders continue to hamper the growth of women at senior levels. Research has shown that this unconscious bias plays a significant role in hiring and promoting decisions which could explain how in 2019, only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women.
Given all the negative connotations that surround women’s leadership, what then is the actual situation on the ground? US leadership development consulting firm Zenger and Folkman published a study in 2015 on the aspects of leadership that the two sexes fared better in. Their paper was based on a study they conducted in 2011 on a sample of 7280 business leaders from high performing organisations. The research participants had their leadership capabilities evaluated by 360-degree review appraisals. The ‘surprising’ result was that women performed effectively better than their male counterparts. The women outperformed men in 12 of the 16 capabilities that were noted to differentiate exceptional leaders from average or poor ones. Some of these areas women took a lead include, taking initiative, resilience, self-development, the drive for results, integrity, honesty and championing change. The men fared better when it came to technical/professional competences and developing strategic perspective which carry a large weighting in determining a good leader.
Here in Zimbabwe, we also have female powerhouses who are rightly disproving the preconceived notions about women's leadership. Linda Materson, just 2 years into her tenure as Edgars Zimbabwe’s group managing director achieved a 200% in taxable income despite the harsh operating environment and multiple companies collapsing in Zimbabwe. Other notable mentions include Chipo Mtasa, CEO of Netone, and Grace Muradzikwa-the first woman to lead a Zimbabwe stock exchange-listed company.
We do not deny that men are from Mars and women from Venus. The two sexes are intrinsically different with women possibly being more empathetic than their counterparts. This, however, does not translate to women leaders being emotionally unhinged and incapable as is the going stereotype. In closing, Mao Zedong, the founding father of the Peoples Republic of China once said that women hold up half the sky. Organisations stand to lose half the leadership potential of the workforce if they subscribe to unjustified biases.
Vanessa Takudzwa Machingauta is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants.