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The one trait that female leaders need to remember

Source | LinkedIn : By Yvonne Smyth

Female leaders are still in a minority; they hold 12 percent of board seats globally and comprise just four percent of CEOs leading the world’s 500 top corporations. For those women who do reach the top, there is always a significant interest in their ‘back story’ and personal narrative.

For example, Emma Walmsley’s appointment as CEO of GlaxoSmithKline in September 2016, secured as many column inches for her gender and the fact that she had four children, as it did for her appointment as the leader of one of the world’s largest companies.

The absence of these personal details accompanying the appointment of a male CEO is a testament to the fact that there are still significant disparities in the typical career trajectories of men and women respectively.

Many women who do lead, are happy to help others progress their own career journeys by sharing their insights and experiences. This often takes the form of ‘ advice I would have given my 25-year-old self’. The British American Business Women’s Forum Conference 2016 saw a number of these successful women sharing their stories and recommendations to a room of over 300 career-minded women on a range of subjects.

The BAB Women’s Forum is chaired by me and offers a full programme of member events throughout the year for BAB members, culminating in the conference. One of the major themes explored at the conference was the behavioural traits that female leaders tend to adopt in the workplace and the extent to which these are authentic and sustainable.

The traits women are advised to adopt

A number of platform speakers described how certain behavioural traits have become labelled as either feminine or masculine and how societal behaviour norms tend to influence the expectation and demonstration of these traits.

One study which supports this found that in a number of performance reviews, women tended to be offered significantly more advice than their male counterparts on the behaviours expected of them as they progress their careers. For example, some were told to “step back and let others shine” or to “pay attention to their tone” so as not to come across as abrasive. Overall, recommendations such as these came up twice in the men’s reviews, and 71 times in the women’s reviews.

During the conference, Chris Lecatsas-Lyus, Director of Career Management – Europe at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, affirmed this when she talked extensively about how women are expected to act in an empathetic and collaborative way while as leaders, they also need to stay clearly focused on their own career ambitions.

This can sometimes lead to mixed messaging on the traits and behaviours that the female leaders of today and tomorrow are expected to bring to their roles. These contradictory recommendations being given to more women than men runs the risk of restricting the ability of a female professional to operate as an authentic leader.

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