Men have wrecked the world – wouldn’t it be better if women ruled, wouldn’t we all be better off?
Well, if women follow the same competitive rules as leaders now, the answer is No.
We don’t just need to change the gender of leaders, to have more women CEOs or scientists, MPs or bishops, we need to change the job description of leadership.
It is great to see women appointed to top positions: it means we are not invisible, and young women can see varied role models, but if these top jobs are the only measure of equality, we are failing to see the fullness of what equality can mean for women and men too. The way men lead can be toxic and we don’t want to tell women that they must follow the same pattern if they want to succeed.
If we “lean in”, we want to lean in to something better.
I discovered Simone de Beauvoir’s writings when I was in 2nd year at university in Sydney and she blew my mind; I did not agree with (or even understand) everything, but in her clever and confident insights she seemed to understand my thoughts. De Beauvoir said, “The point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hands, since that wouldn’t change anything about the world. It’s a question of destroying that notion of power.”
Whilst we have a notion of power that is about alpha males, individual achievement, bullying and bombast, then we will not improve things by having powerful women behaving in the same ways. At the moment, the accepted model of (mostly male) leadership limits both men and women in their lives – we need an alternative that is healthier (and actually Godly!)
What can we change that would make leadership more ‘feminine’ but crucially more fulfilling and better for those who are led, as well as achieving good outcomes.
Women are better at collaborating than men and are probably encouraged to be less individualistic. A 2019 study has looked at how 15 year-old girls and boys perform in collaborative problem solving and the OECD study found that girls are better performers in team environments, across the globe.
It won’t surprise you that girls show more positive attitudes towards relationships, meaning that they tend to be more interested in others’ opinions and want others to succeed.
Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to see the benefits of teamwork in terms of how collaboration will help them to be more effective and efficient.
Be Flexible (don’t just have a policy about it)
We often talk about having a more flexible approach to balancing work and home life. But in truth, we still measure potential leaders in the business world by the hours they work, and their 100% commitment to increasing sales and profits in the business (because one day you will get to be partner or top executive and you will reap the benefits).
We do not value people who have taken a few diversions in their life path – looking after babies, caring for an elderly parent, fostering, or studying something non-work related like a language.
It is still women who overwhelmingly do stay-at-home caring roles, where you learn skills like patience, communication and navigating bureaucracy (and boredom!) It also helps you to appreciate all the people who do low paid un-recognised jobs like cleaning, care working and child-minding.
It is very hard to get back into the job market or find flexible working hours once you have stepped off the treadmill and that has to be because men are still more likely to be bosses and because HR people have a tick-list of requirements that means if you are different, you are discarded.
Who ever heard of a successful boss championing modesty? Men and boys are encouraged to be assertive and competitive from a very young age. Take a look at any toys and not much has changed in the last generation – toys for boys still encourage aggression or at least problem solving, while girls are directed to toys and games that encourage sharing and compassion.
I can’t believe so little has changed since my kids were young!
Boys are praised for what they do – especially if they win; girls are praised for being – especially if they are pretty.
There has to be a better balance here so both boys and girls value compassion, modesty, achievement and ambition in one package (and yes, its harder than it sounds, but we have to try).
Linked to humility is kindness. It’s a highly praised attribute in a toddler learning to share, but we soon give children, especially boys, the message that individual achievement is what we value. We really need to value caring in family and work environments. It is not a sign of weakness: it makes for happy, empathetic workers but also encourages healthy striving for achievement.
The opposite is greedy selfishness – think of a Gordon Gekko meme – which has not just led to more inequality but has also made us less concerned about people who are vulnerable.
As a society, we are missing out on leaders who dare to be different.
I don’t want to have 50/50 male and female leaders so that we can tick an equality box – I want all leaders to display sacrificial service, to lift others, to be willing to fail, and to be brave enough to take a different path to success.