What is female leadership anyway?
Upfront disclaimer: I acknowledge that my backstory is full to the brim with privilege, and even though I have natural leadership qualities, I firmly believe that much of my success is due to that privilege.
Growing up as a child, I was bossy and strong-willed. My mom consoled herself by repeatedly telling herself, “She’ll be a good leader, she’ll be a good leader”. As soon as group projects started, I was volunteered to lead them. I’m only 4'10", but commanding a room has never seemed like an issue (although voice projection is).
Other than a few minor instances, I have been privileged to have supportive men and women in my life that have given me many opportunities and believed in me. With that kind of backstory, it can feel foreign to me that women have trouble in leadership positions because of their gender.
I have also worked hard at learning about leadership; sure I have some natural qualities but I have spent a lot of time reading leadership books, going to leadership conferences, and absorbing what other leaders have to say.
It only recently dawned on me that the material I’d been absorbing titled along the lines of “Leadership advice for women” ends up being more like “How a woman should be more like a man”.
Right? Advice like:
- Never cry in the office- manage your emotions better (like a man).
- Be proactive and ask for promotions, “toot your own horn” (like a man).
- Don’t be too nice, you have to maintain some power distance (like a man).
- You don’t need to feel ready to take something on, just do it- volunteer for that thing you have no experience in (like a man).
- And so on.
Of course — there’s too much of being like a man for a woman; careful to tiptoe the line lest you are perceived as aggressive instead of assertive.
Not to mention — this advice isn’t really that great.
So what’s a woman to do?
I don’t have any kind of answers — I’m honestly not sure what authentic female leadership looks like (not that there’s one definitive example). I have several female leaders I admire — but what is it about them that I admire? As I have been thinking on this over the past few months and discussed it with others, I’ve paid attention to how the female leaders in my immediate life also exhibit behaviors on the masculine side. Maybe I haven’t noticed some of the female leaders around me because it is so ingrained to look for those masculine qualities — I don’t even see them, and that is horrifying to me.
Reflecting on myself and my own interactions– I wonder what I’ve internalized that I don’t recognize since it’s what I’ve grown up on.
The only conclusion I have (and it’s a shaky unconvinced one) is that maybe we have much to learn from each other. Maybe there are things women can learn from men, and men should be more encouraged to learn from women. Or perhaps it’s that female leadership shouldn’t be a category at all — after all, we are quite diverse in what we aspire to. All of us no matter our gender can, and should, care for our employees, be continually looking to grow, and do the best we can.
This could be a really poor choice since we’re on the internet — but if you made it all the way here — do you have someone in your life you’d consider an authentic female leader? What do you think?