Gender equality is a phenomenon that continues to generate passionate debate, almost disproportionately to other social concerns. Policies, strategies and agreements without number have been adopted in pursuit of social and moral justice for women. In recent times, the global and national debates have tended to focus on women’s participation in political and executive leadership.
Traditionally, it will be laws, unfair application of rights, culture and entrenched patriarchy that are used to explain women’s social and economic stagnation. Of course, it is undisputable that culture compromises women’s status in society and that it contributes to serious inequities, poverty, violence and marginalisation. Studies point to socially stunting forms of socialisation and environments that negate potentials of women as prime culprits of female subjugation, but what about behavioural and attitudinal attributes of the women themselves?
Because of the manner in which women’s issues are projected, policies such as affirmative action, 50/50 representation, quota system are adopted in many societies even where the most dignified option is fair competition for fair participation.
Women can sometimes be their own greatest enemy. A lot is said about how women look at other women as adversaries and some analysts link this attitude with the view that it is men who create space for women’s upward mobility and that there can only be so much space at a time. As a view of the world of leadership this invariably leads to social wars among women when in reality it is not always the case that men define women’s size of space.
Albeit against odds, women have the capacity to create their own spaces and instead of fighting and pulling each other down, they can work together as a front targeting not men as the cause but the negating conditions and beliefs surrounding both women and men which affect women’s own progress. Unfortunately, the amount of conflict among women makes such sisterhood a fallacious and unattainable prospect.
Research shows that women consistently report negatively about themselves in surveys and studies. In most studies conducted to determine factors that affect women’s capacity to lead women themselves identify low self-belief as the major detractor. Unfortunately, low self-esteem, real or conjured up, feeds the unconscious bias that most men have in favour of male leadership and deepens men’s un-readiness to value women’s leadership qualities.
Part of the challenge is the lack of role models. Clearly the poor showing of the last administration has not helped gender matters.
Literature on leadership styles articulates two sets of essential body language associated with leadership namely: warmth which includes empathy, likability and caring and authority which encompasses power, status and credibility. Women excel in warmth but not so regarding authority. In leadership, women are collaborative while men are competitive. Personality experts further argue that women’s preoccupation with looks, being nice and sympathetic precludes emergence of firm personality associated with effective leaders.
Some analysts see this as communicating that women do not attach enough value to their time as much as men do; that women can be extravagant and un-corporate in their approach to leadership; and of course we know that if one does not value one’s time, no one will for them.
In terms of jobs, women tend to accept low salaries and returns even when they are fully aware what the job demands and what it should pay. In other words, women do not always fight for what they deserve while men always feel they deserve a good salary and will fight for it. The same condescending attitude leads some women into thinking that men would be better in the positions that women actually occupy.
Not least, women agitating for equity in leadership roles have not yet projected a ‘female leadership style’ comparable to what men have evolved over time. Or emerging female leadership styles in use today are not associated with success as much do male leadership styles. It is also true to say that in spite of all the work on gender and leadership women have not yet been firmly integrated into the largely male-dominated hierarchic networks which generate and sustain leaders in the public and corporate business sectors.
My last word: women should raise the stakes, address the enemy within and remain resolute to be able to take the highest prize in everything they seek. Yes you can!