While women enjoy the equality they didn’t have at the beginning of the fight for women suffrage in 1852, they still don’t have equity in pay compared to men nor equal representation in board rooms or executive committees globally. In a recent study performed by 20-FIRST of the world’s top 100 companies released in February of 2018, “over 80% of US and European Executive Committee seats are still filled by men. Worse yet, in Asian Fortune 100 companies, men hold 96% of seats.” (20-FIRST, “Global Gender Balance Scorecard”)
Wanting to start a collegial approach to addressing this global epidemic, I took extreme steps in making positive change to this lack of parity by moving to a 100% women led organization at my global IT risk advisory firm, Brier & Thorn. The results of our performance as a women led organization are discussed in this article in an effort to use this empirical data to try and persuade the corporations lead by a male majority on the EC and in the board room to consider these findings for making decisions to create at a minimum, equality in the gender diversity balance in their own companies.
In a December 12, 1868 letter written from Karl Marx to Louis Kugelmann, Marx wrote “Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex.” (Ryan, “Marx to Kugelmann in Hanover”).
My experience as a female CEO and nurturing the leadership skills of the women that I’ve placed in Director positions on our board and officers I’ve hired onto our EC is that women possess unique skills that set them apart from men that I’ve led in similar roles producing dramatically different results.
Desire to make herself better. In my experience of leading men in similar roles, I’ve found that women in leadership positions hold themselves to a much higher standard, knowing that history and perception of being seen as equal and being just as effective as a man is always against them. I’ve discovered that women force themselves into a feeling of needing to do twice as much to receive the same recognition as a man, seemingly always under promising and over delivering. I’ve discovered that the amount of emphasis women place into personal and professional development, from seeking out formal leadership development training to learning esoteric technical acumen required for a project deliverable is much greater and done in far more consistency than their male counterparts.
My long held belief that women seek out feedback for targeted self improvement far more often than men is evidenced in a study published by Bob Sherwin on Business Insider that was performed by leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman who examined women’s leadership effectiveness. The study found that self development was fairly similar between men and women until about the age of 40 years of age at which time “women maintain the habit of asking for feedback and taking action to improve” more consistently while men begin to stop seeking that feedback assuming they’re doing just fine. (Sherwin, “Why Women are More Effective Leaders Than Men”)
Anecdotally, my CEO of Latin America for Brier & Thorn, Carolina Ruiz, was hired as a project manager and aggressively worked up our firm’s ladder until she was eventually promoted to CEO of Brier & Thorn Mexico now overseeing all of latin American operations. I recall the first week she started working for us having only come to our firm with a degree in architecture. I asked her to learn ISO 27001:2013, an international standard on information security, by Monday in order to manage an entire project from conception to completion. Her first day was the very Friday before. She went home and read the entire 400+ page standard over the weekend and showed up to work on Monday morning with project plan and schedule in hand and learned what was necessary to perform the IT risk assessment and internal audit for our client and successfully completed the entire project. She later took training and received certification as a British Standards Institute (BSI) certified ISO 27001 Lead Auditor after successfully earning the client ISO 27001 certification when they passed their audit.
Nearly five years later, she still wakes up every day wanting feedback on how she’s doing and where she can improve to be a better, more effective leader.
Desire to make others better. One viscerally held quality I’ve found systemic across my female leadership team is the desire to make those that they lead better. The female leadership team of our firm have built the foundations of their practices on the five levels of leadership by John C. Maxwell, believing that you’ve never really trained and equipped someone until they’ve replicated themselves with others.
“Step 1, I do it. Step 2, I do it and you’re with me. Step 3, You do it and I’m with you. Step 4: You do it. Step 5: You do it and someone’s with you.” (Maxwell, “The Five Levels of Leadership”) The concept of Buddha’s quote “a thousand candles can be lighted by a single candle” has been woven into the fabric of our firm by the women in the highest echelons of leadership across our member firms globally. Since moving to an all-female leadership team compared to the previous years, our year-over-year growth rate has more than doubled, moving from 12% to 30%, propelled by the unique qualities women have brought to the leadership across our member firms in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.
Ruiz has transformed our Managed Security Services Practice with the leadership skills she has developed over the years in both herself and those she leads, wanting to be a leader of leaders and is evidenced in our year-over-year growth rate in top line revenues.
No matter what side of the “nature versus nurture” debate you’re on, it‘s without contestation that the desire to nurture the skill sets of those they lead, act as the matriarchal role model for the team, and relationship building is far more visceral of a quality with women than men and comes through in the move to train, develop, and make those they lead better leaders. Preferring instead to be a leader of leaders than a leader of followers.
Striking the Perfect Balance. While moving to an all-female EC or Board of Directors may be impractical for some companies, moving to a more gender diverse leadership team is certainly practical and the unique qualities that female leaders will bring your company in results to its shareholders may just make the difference you’ve struggled to find in the men that are in those roles currently that because of the qualities only women can bring, have been inefficacious.
It can certainly be said that men bring unique competencies to a leadership role that women can’t. However, more empirical data is being brought forward through extensive, irrefutable studies that there are a number of diametrically opposed competencies to men that are unique to the nature of women, which make positive, lasting change to the effectiveness and performance of the company’s value to its shareholders.
Matriarch versus Monarch. As a final anecdote to this, I’d like to offer my own story. In 2015, while traveling with two of my employees to a client site, I heard a loud thud early in the morning and a few moments later, a knock on my hotel room door. I opened it to find one of my employees clothed in what was once a pure white towel, now soaked red in his own blood. My employee, evidently had slipped in the shower, landing on a piece of broken tile that ended up slicing right through his lower back like a butcher knife through warm butter. I immediately called 911 and watched the ambulance arrive on scene, later arriving together at the local hospital. I remember little about this day but what I do remember is standing in the OR holding his hand for hours while he cried as the surgeon stitched up what I had only seen up until then in movies. Thinking back, I know that at that time, it was my motherly instinct that took over, not caring we were supposed to be on site with the client at that time instead of a hospital ER. I’m not sure to this day if the male CEO of a company I worked for would have done the same, but I can surely speak for myself in this instance in that it was instinctive to me in the how I see myself as the mother to all those who work for me and if given the chance would do it all over again, every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
Summary. It’s my hopes that the empirical data I’ve shared in my own experience of leading an all-female leadership team and the results we’ve produced for our own shareholder and accretive value will positively influence your own decision to take a closer look at the gender diversity gaps in your own company and that the points I’ve brought forward in the global discourse of women in leadership and gender diversity will one day see the statistics of the number of women on Executive Councils and boards become equal to that of men in my own lifetime.
Ryan, Sally. “Marx to Kugelmann in Hanover.” Marxists Internet Archive, 1999, www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1868/letters/68_12_12-abs.htm. Accessed 10 Aug 2018.
20-FIRST “Global Gender Balance Scorecard.” 20-first.com/wp-content/uploads/2018-20-first-Global_Gender-Balance-Scorecard.pdf. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018.
Sherwin, Bob. “Why Women are More Effective Leaders Than Men.” Business Insider, 24 Jan 2014, www.businessinsider.com/study-women-are-better-leaders-2014-1. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018.
Maxwell, John C. “The 5 Levels of Leadership.” The John Maxwell Co, http://www.johnmaxwell.com/blog/5-levels-of-leadership. Accessed 10 Aug. 2018.