Leaders in business tend to be overwhelmingly men. The reasons for this aren’t entirely clear: after all, there’s nothing directly stopping women from setting up their own businesses and excelling in the market. But, for whatever reason, be it social or otherwise, women are underrepresented.
This applies in particular in existing corporate structures. Though all Fortune 500 companies are equal opportunities employers, just 4.7 percent of them are headed by women. Women leaders are rare both at large, international corporations and small business enterprises.
But there’s a growing school of thought that believes that women make particularly effective leaders. That’s not to say that men are “bad” – they’ve done a good job heading up profitable companies so far. Rather, it’s that women bring a different set of skills to the table, many of which are complementary to those of men. Women-headed businesses have distinct advantages, and women leaders need to develop those traits in which they excel.
The best women leaders, according to Glenn Llopis, the author of Earning Serendipity: 4 Skills for Creating and Sustaining Good Fortune in Your Work, are those who are in touch with their company culture and what’s actually happening on the ground. It’s his view that women are able to sense the mood in a company and react in ways that are both beneficial to them and their employees. Better still are those who can quickly switch gears, deal with social problems in the company one minute and then adopted a laser-light focus the next on impressing Wall Street and digesting new financial information.
What is it that makes women leaders stand out? Perhaps it’s their ability to collaborate, or maybe it’s their skill in doing many things all at once. Whatever it is, female leaders have a rhythm, and they’re not afraid to dance to it.
Here are some of the things that women leaders can bring to the table.
Inspiration And Meaning
Getting your people enthusiastic about coming to work every morning can be a challenge, even for businesses that do amazing work in the world. But many women are able to meet these challenges by giving employees what they really want: a sense of purpose.
Nobody goes to work wanting to believe that what they’re doing doesn’t matter or, worse still, is harming people. They want to think that what they’re doing is worthwhile and that their individual role makes a difference.
Women-led businesses often have purpose as a central concern. There a high attention to detail and high standards around the office: no corner cutting or special privileges. Everybody is working together as a team to meet client’s needs and to make a difference.
One of the most pronounced and vocal women CEOs is IBM’s Ginni Rometty. For the last seven years, she’s headed up one of the most conservative companies in one of the most male-dominated industries in the world. But since she’s been in the role, her company has gone from strength to strength. Part of the reason for this, many believe, is her ability to provide colleagues with the fundamental motivation they need to do great work. It’s her vision and inspiration that motivates her team to continue developing products, like the company’s AI software Watson, to new levels of functionality. And now she’s got a whole team of people totally dedicated to delivering better healthcare through artificial intelligence. It’s a stunning and worthwhile direction that she’s taking the company.
If you were to boil down entrepreneurship to its essence, what would it be? Probably the first thing that would come to your mind would be resourcefulness – the ability to do a lot with very little. Women leaders are particularly resourceful, especially when it comes to personal relationships. Rather than focusing just on products, they build out networks and then lever those networks to propel their businesses forwards. This is part of the reason why so many of the most successful businesses on social media are headed by women.
Being resourceful helps women entrepreneurs to sustain momentum in their businesses. Often companies can get dragged down by politics and infighting. But through creative planning and approaches to HR, a lot of this can be avoided. Rather than the internal structure of the company set up to be competitive, women want their companies to be more collaborative – firms in which people work together for a common goal, not fight over scraps of commission.
Women also use their resourcefulness to manage their time. Projects tend to be completed well before the deadline thanks to the fact that women are able to call upon their organizational skills to get the job done.
Love Of Strategy
Of course, being a great woman entrepreneurs is more than just being a master at organizing people. It also has to do with the ability to implement new technologies in a strategic way that improve client relationships. Women are constantly on the lookout for new technologies that can assist their capacity to make management decisions and develop relationships with others outside the firm. More and more women are investing time and money into online contract management software to help them better manage their supply chain. They realize that if they are to have great relationships with their suppliers, then they need to automate the dull parts of the process and spend more time on the value-added parts, like entertaining, sending personal emails and getting to know them better in meetings. Anything which takes away from administration puts women entrepreneurs at a competitive advantage, giving them more time to do the things that their clients really care about.
The other reason why women use strategy is that they want to minimize risk. Studies repeatedly show that women are more risk-averse than men. In short, they’re not as willing to put it all on the line for a big payoff. Many women who want to see significant returns on their investments, therefore, now value strategic thinking – a type of thinking which helps stack the deck in your favor.
What does that mean in practice? Suppose, for instance, that you want to sell a product to prospective clients. Making a sales pitch is expensive, and so you want to get something out of it at the end of the process. Most entrepreneurs would just fill their diary with pitch meetings and hope that some of the companies or customers will take the bait and buy the product. But this is a high-risk strategy – only a few people will ever just buy on the spot. Women, however, are more likely to soften up their targets before the big pitch, getting to know them and selling themselves in the process. Top businesses leaders embrace their clients from a social perspective, gaining their trust and building to a pitch slowly.
Focused On Opportunities
Throughout history, women have been able to take advantage of enormous business opportunities. Take Estee Lauder, for instance. Lauder was the daughter of Hungarian immigrant parents. She noticed that after the war, women in Europe were experiencing rising incomes and, as a result, they wanted to feel good about the way that they looked. Lauder realized that she had a consumer boom on her hands and that the time was ripe for a foray into the cosmetics industry.
Before long, she’d developed a couple of pioneering marketing drives, common today, but relatively unheard of for the times. She first began handing out free samples of her products to get people interested. Women realized that the free samples worked great, and so they quickly came back and bought the whole product. The second thing she did was begin including gifts with all purchases – something which is commonly used by modern credit card companies.
What Lauder’s experience proved was that women could be fiercely business-minded and take advantage of opportunities in the market, especially those markets they knew a lot about. Lauder was a glass-half-full type of person, rather than half-empty and new that boundaries needed to be pushed by women like her to make a difference in the lives of other women.
Dissatisfied With The Status Quo
A report by the Center for Women’s Businesses Research found that the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs is minority women, growing at rates of over 100 percent per year in many circumstances. African American female entrepreneurs, for instance, are up more than 191.1 percent over the last decade.
Driving this is a general dissatisfaction with the status quo. Women are fed of the stagnant economy and falling wages, and they’re looking to improve their status in life. At the root of what many women entrepreneurs are doing is a desire to help their local community, build up incomes and generate a more prosperous life for all.
This level of passion is something that we used to only really see in Silicon Valley startups, but now it’s in communities all over the place, thanks to the passion women bring to the role of business leader. Could you do the same in your community?
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