Women And Leadership

Women And Leadership


Despite affirmative action to increase opportunities for women to exercise leadership in society, one still comes across statistics such as the executives in Fortune 500 companies being less than 10% female. You have not got to go far to find further fuel to argue the case that women are still hard done by in terms of leadership opportunities in many areas of society.

Is this state of affairs because women are being discriminated against, or is it because woman don’t have the skills society expects of its leaders?

Dr Jordan Peterson, is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Toronto and author of the best-seller, 12 Rules for Life. He has become popular as a speaker ever since he opposed his government’s C – 16 Bill making it a criminal offence not to call a person by their preferred gender pronoun. Dr Peterson claims that the reason there are not more women in leadership is not so much because there has been gender bias and discrimination, but because women typically do not have as much aggression and assertiveness.

It is the thesis of this paper that aggression and assertiveness are dated qualities needed in a leader and that women bring a raft of skills and approaches that makes their presence as leaders a necessity in the future.



Leadership is changing.

  • - In the past, there was a premium on individualism. Now, collaboration is   needed.
  • - In the past, the leader was at the top. Now, the leader is in the middle.
  • - In the past, a leader was a dictator. Now, the leader is a facilitator.
  • - In the past, the leader created dependency. Now the leader is a facilitator.

    If you were to assign a gender to the old and new styles of leadership, you could, with integrity, call leadership in the past male in quality, whereas the sort of leadership required today is more feminine.



    It needs to be recognised that generalisations are dangerous and that many males have leadership strengths often associated with females, and many females have leadership strengths often associated with males. That said, research generally shows that males exercise leadership slightly differently than females.

    FEMALES ARE MORE                                                        MALES ARE MORE

       People oriented                                                               Task oriented

           Inclusive                                                                             Assertive

           Relational                                                                         Competitive

    Self-transcending                                                               Self-enhancing

    Transformational                                                                Transactional

       Co-operative                                                                       Competitive

             Indirect                                                                                 Direct


    Some researchers have suggested that women are more motivated by purpose and meaning, whereas men are motivated more by money and prestige.1

    Matsa and Miller report on a fascinating leadership study undertaken in Scandinavia. 2 They found that when affirmative action required company boards to be at least 40% female, there was no decline in productivity or in the quality of decision-making. However, they noticed a higher premium on benevolence and less inclination to lay workers off. This resulted in slightly higher labour costs. The reader can decide whether this is a good or a bad thing



    Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States of America and the most powerful man in the world. He met and married Eleanor Roosevelt, a shy, plain girl who had lost both parents by the age of ten, on 17 March 1905.

    Franklin, the leader, governed America and controlled much of what went on around the globe. Eleanor was in his shadow and supported Franklin despite him having an affair with his social secretary, Lucy Mercer, and contracting polio.

    However, Eleanor is now revered as having been a great leader in her own right. She became actively involved in the League of Women, the Women’s Trade Union League and in a wide range of social and civil rights issues. After Franklin died in 1945, Eleanor chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and had an active role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Franklin acquired power. Eleanor distributed power. Both were legitimate leaders.

    Staying with the American theme a little more, it is Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech given in Washington on 28 August 1963 that is remembered, but it was only delivered because Rosa Parks had simply said “no” when asked to give up her seat to a white man on a bus on 1 December 1955. Rosa’s words sparked a civil rights campaign that gave oxygen to Martin Luther King’s voice for reform.

    Martin Luther King exercised power at the macro level. Rosa Parks exercised leadership at the micro level. Both were legitimate leaders.

    Having noted the above, care needs to be taken with generalisations of this type. The exercise of power at the macro level would have been a feature in the lives of Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria, Golda Meir, Catherine the Great of Russia, Joan of Arc, Indira Gandhi, Emmaline Pankhurst, Cleopatra, Margaret Thatcher, Helen Clark and Sonia Gandhi to name but a few powerful women.

    However, matched against lists like this is a pantheon of women who have quietly governed the affairs of families and, by so doing, the destiny of a nation. As it is said, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”.

    Yes – women have been made to be unconscionably subservient throughout history, but that is not the full story. Quietly, and in their own way, women have often had a significant leadership role in society. True, it is often not a role that is titled or even acknowledged, but, never-the-less, it has been a leadership role. 


    Feminism is a feature of the post-modern world as is a fresh militancy against the mistreatment of women. The #MeToo movement went viral in October 2017 after it was shown that the film producer, Harvey Weinstein had allegedly sexually harassed many women. Rosie Batty became a celebrated domestic violence campaigner and the 2015 Australian of the Year. Women’s rights advocates have made significant headway, particularly in the western world.

    These movements have built on the work of heroines in the past such as Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Stanton (USA), Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett (GB), Emily Murphy (Canada), Wangari Maathai (Kenya), Shirin Ebadi (Iran) and Malala Yousafzai (Pakistan).

    Advancing of the cause of women has also had some powerful support from males. For example, the former Secretary General of the UN, Kofi Annan, stated:

    Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.

    All this is to be commended, but much of this work advances the cause of women rather than the cause of women in leadership.

    For women to be invited to lead with more frequency, a number of things need to happen including a realisation that the leadership style of a woman does not need to be adjusted to be like that of a man.

    Aggressive and adversarial leadership have not exactly blessed the world with prosperity and peace. Hard diplomacy does not always work. Soft diplomacy often achieves more. Look what happened during the Arab Spring of 2010 – 2012. More mobile phones were used than guns.


    The leader in the future need not be the enforcer. They can be a facilitator.

    The leader in the future need not be assertive. They can be collegial.

    The leader in the future need not be male. They can be female.


    Dr T F Hawkes 



    1. Women Leadership Styles

    -Carole Hymowitz-


    Viewed: 20 March 2018


    1. Is there a female leadership style?

    -D. Matsa & A Miller-


    Viewed: 20 March 2018



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