Nov 19, 2019
Even in 2019, there is still a large disparity between leadership roles filled by men and those filled by women. According to a recent study, only 21% of C-suite positions are held by women. Studies also show women excel more than men when they land these leadership roles because of the depth of soft skills required for effective leadership. These skills include empathy, communication, and deep listening. The myth of the leader is one that stands isolated and alone is completely debunked. Effective leaders today must possess the emotional intelligence to connect and collaborate and to see all points of view of a team.
Although gender roles are increasingly fluid, traditional childhood socialization plays a role in the development of these soft skills. For example, young girls have traditionally and stereotypically been socialized to collaborate in nurturing and relationship-driven childhood play. Think of tea parties. However, young boys are taught to be competitive in play and exist in a zero-sum game of winning and losing. These traditional roles have begun to smooth out over the past few decades with the advent of more gender-neutral toys and increased recognition of how these traditional gender-roles play out in the development of children. Colors like blue and pink are less likely to signify a determined gender assignment. This evolution is a very good thing for equality purposes.
So how does this all affect leadership roles as the children grow into adults? There are positive and negative impacts of these early socialization games for both men and women. Organizations led by women tend to be more collaborative, a 2013 study confirmed. The same study indicates that women leaders inspire their teams more than their male counterparts. This could be because men have a more traditionally pessimistic worldview of their colleagues, viewing them in a distinctly competitive light. These are generalizations, to be sure, but the data plays this out.
While the gap between men and women in leadership roles is decreasing, there still remains a huge disparity between them. According to a 2019 Lean In study about women in the workplace, women only hold 21% of C-suite positions.
Yet studies show that once women land leadership positions they excel - often surpassing men - because they have developed soft skills necessary for effective leadership. Traits like empathy, communication, and listening are qualities that serve women well when in management positions.
This is ironic because soft skills have also historically been used as excuses for why women are not fit to lead, i.e. we’re too soft, we’re too empathetic. There’s been this conceit that “you need a man to take charge and make the tough decisions everyone else is afraid to make.”