From heads of state to corporate and health care leaders, we have seen a remarkable display of female leadership through this crisis. At a country level, female leaders of Germany, Denmark and New Zealand, to name a few, have managed the coronavirus crisis very well. To be noted, while plenty of countries with male leaders have also done well, few with female leaders have done poorly.
One of the most touted stars through this crisis has been Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, who has led with transparency, decisiveness, empathy and most notably authenticity. This has not only garnered the trust of her people but also has shone a spotlight on the type of leadership needed across our countries, companies and communities in these times. Ms. Ardern has, in essence, given permission to other female leaders across the globe to bring their true and best selves to their work.
In a recent panel discussion with Women in Sports and Entertainment (WISE), Glain Roberts-McCabe, author of The Grassroots Leadership Revolution, shared three natural leadership strengths of women, that serve all of us well, as we lead through this crisis:
- Collaborating / building community
- Developing deep technical knowledge
- Operating with empathy
However, she cautioned that every strength has a corresponding liability, and while these strengths drive team success, women also need to be extra mindful of ways they can derail their own success. Here are three common mistakes and how to overcome them:
Being reluctant to claim our own individual achievements: Especially at a distance, it can feel awkward to acknowledge our own accomplishments – but this can hold us back significantly in our careers. We need to let people know what we are up to in a way that feels genuine, particularly in the current context, remembering that we are all operating with limited visibility.
Over-valuing experience and credentials: Women are notorious for not going after opportunities until they are able to satisfy all requirements. Now is a great time to build our risk-taking muscle, by putting ourselves and our ideas out there. Note that in uncertain times like these, where there is no playbook and no right answers, experience and credentials are not necessarily the best predictors of success.
Failing to leverage relationships: Women generally have a knack for building relationship but are not as good at leveraging them. Now is the time to reach out to those in your network who can help – not only because they generally have more time (as they are not commuting or travelling), but also because in times like these, people are more empathetic and looking for ways to be of service to others.
A word of caution: these career-derailing tendencies, in combination with the disproportionate impact that unemployment and increased household responsibilities have had on women, can create a recipe for diversity disaster within our organizations. In this New York Times article, University of Illinois professor and sociologist Barbara Risman noted that “being forced to be at home is amplifying the differences we already know exist. What terrifies me for the future is if it will push women out of the labour force in a way that will be very hard to overcome.”
We need to remind ourselves that what we are experiencing now is not working from home – we are living through a pandemic, trying our best to get work done from home. Compassion for ourselves and empathy for others are critical leadership skills we all must embrace to ensure we remain inclusive and sensitive to unique individual needs. For instance, rather than simply moving meetings online, with the same cadence and expectations as “usual,” an empathetic leader steps back to re-evaluate how and when work can get done, and how it can be realistically prioritized, given the ever-changing needs of their team and business. Progressive companies like Twitter, have made some bold moves on the employee front, most recently and famously announcing that “Tweeps” can work from home indefinitely. The most important components of Twitter’s strategy have been listening to their employees and also coaching managers on how to lead asynchronous work, a new skill for many. Handle with care: without proactive interventions like these, we risk losing the leaders we need more than ever in our organizations, and years of progress towards gender equality.
Naomi Titleman Colla is founder of Collaborativity Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy focused on driving progressive talent strategy in this new world of work.
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