“When women rise, so do all of us.”
- A 2019 study by S&P Global Analysis reported that companies with female CFOs are more profitable, and in the 24 months after the appointment of female CEOs, there was a 20% increase in stock price momentum.
- According to a McKinsey report, $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.
Oftentimes when a woman is at the helm of an organization, great things happen; but even greater things can happen when both men and women unleash the power of femininity in business.
For a long time, femininity has been undervalued by patriarchal forces and capitalist structures that shaped our perception that masculinity is the only way to be successful in business. To succeed, we were taught that you need to show up as rational, driven and assertive at work, which are all thought of as being more masculine traits. We feel that we need to suppress the feminine parts of ourselves. Contrary to what you may believe, this isn’t just an issue for women either. Regardless of our biological makeup, each of us has both masculine and feminine qualities.
Men and women have the same sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen. Women also have testosterone that can cause typical male behaviors such as aggression and competitiveness. Men, too, have estrogen, the hormone that is responsible for feminine qualities such as caretaking and nurturing. The difference is in the amount of each hormone present in men versus women and the effect they have on different parts of our body and mind. Men have higher levels of testosterone, while women have more estrogen.
In the past, people had rigid and clear-cut ideas about what was appropriate for each gender, and if you behaved differently, it was unacceptable. But today, we’re more aware that there is no one right way for each gender to do things. Men are free to show their femininity, and women are free to show their masculinity.
Instead of suppressing feminine qualities because society traditionally views them as less valuable, both men and women should tap into both masculine and feminine qualities personally and professionally as a source of power.
It’s time to let go of the antiquated styles of leadership where feminine qualities such as empathy and vulnerability are viewed as weaknesses.
Changing the status quo doesn’t only require having more female leaders in business: What we also need is for both men and women to nurture their femininity and embrace it as a strength.
Masculinity is not the only way to become successful in business and leadership. Women-centered societies around the world prove to us that women with their intrinsic qualities can succeed in leading their families and communities.
What Matriarchal Societies Teach Us About Leadership
When it comes to women taking the lead, we have a lot of catching up to do with other matriarchal societies around the world. These communities where women, not men, inherit and successfully manage wealth and property push against the idea that women aren’t biologically made to do business.
But what’s really great about these matriarchal societies is that the idea of “power” is not about ruling others. In a patriarchal society, power usually asserts, dictates and demands, while in matriarchal societies, power cooperates and collaborates. It’s not about women ruling over men. The matriarchal approach treats power as something intrinsic, meaning each member has a role to play in the overall success or failure of the community.
In an Indonesian Muslim tribe called Minangkabau, women rule the household and property is passed from mother to daughter. While the Minangkabau men hold all religious and political positions, women get to choose these leaders. Men and women in this tribe have an equal amount of power, and they respect each other and the roles they play in society.
These societies also prove that women are as adept as men in managing wealth and property. Holding power and becoming a leader in society isn’t a biological concept; instead, it’s based on what we believe and who we think is capable of being a great leader. Matriarchal societies also teach us that when men and women are allies, they can achieve more.
Effective leadership is not determined by gender, but femininity does play a vital role.
“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born — that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” – Warren Bennis
When it comes to leadership, it’s not about men versus women. Our genetic makeup is not what makes us effective leaders; however, several studies do support the idea that women make better leaders because of their feminine qualities.
What the data says:
- 50 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by The Harris Poll said they’d rather work at a woman-led company because these companies are thought to be more compassionate and purpose-driven, and they also provide access to childcare.
- A study that looked at the governors in the US similarly found that states led by women had lower fatality rates. Compared to men, women governors expressed more empathy.
- In a study conducted by leadership experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, women scored higher than men in 17 out of 19 traits considered desirable in a leader.
In general, women are proven to be more effective leaders because of their feminine qualities such as:
Empathy. Intuition. Vulnerability. Compassion. Receptivity. Adaptability. Creativity. Nurturing. Patience. Inclusion. Openness.
Empathy is the top skill that every leader should get right.
Great leadership entails a fine combination of all kinds of skills to increase engagement, happiness and performance, and empathy is on top of the list.
According to a new study performed by Catalyst, empathy results in significant positive outcomes including:
- Innovation – 61% of employees reported to be more innovative when their leaders were empathetic.
- Engagement – 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were more engaged.
- Retention – 57% retention of white women, 62% women of color.
- Inclusivity – 50% of people reported having an inclusive workplace with empathetic leaders versus 17% of those with less empathetic leaders.
- Work-Life Balance – 86% reported having a better work-life balance with empathetic leaders.
Emotions belong in the workplace, and empathy is not just good for the world, but for business as well. And unlike other business strategies, empathy will never be outdated.
The Way Forward
In Minangkabau, there is a proverb to describe the relationship between men and women:
“Like the skin and nail of the fingertip.”
Despite the special position of women in their society, they believe that neither sex rules. For them, men and women complement one another.
The same thing is true when it comes to leadership in business. It’s not about being male or female. The truth is that there are plenty of male leaders who embody feminine qualities and many women leaders who embody masculine qualities. Femininine qualities such as empathy, collaboration, vulnerability and intuition are just as important as masculine qualities such as being direct, competitive and confident in leadership.
An effective leader knows how to show empathy, vulnerability, humility and compassion when needed and also knows when to be assertive and direct. The key is knowing when to apply your feminine and masculine qualities. Both are tools, and it’s how you use the tool that matters. Any strength can be used too much to a fault. The way forward is that all humans cultivate and nurture both sides of themselves.
This is a topic that we hope to dive into more in the future, and I hope you’ll continue on this journey with us. As a woman in business who has suppressed her femininity for so long because I thought it was the only way to be successful, I’m learning to embrace my feminine qualities more and show up as more of my authentic self. I share more of my story on the UNprofessional podcast, and you can find new episodes at https://hilarycorna.com/podcast/.
Let’s continue making our world more human and more equal. Together, we are capable of much more than we could ever think was possible.
In love and respect,