What does good leadership look like in 2022? How can you put your best foot forward where you work, whether you’re managing a team or an entire company? In March, we’ll plumb the topic through Q&As from top-tier industry leaders, contributions from Inman columnists (the leaders in their field) and more. Then we’ll keep the leadership conversation going in person at Inman Disconnect in late March in Palm Springs, California.
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Despite great strides in a variety of categories, from college completion to homeownership, women still struggle to be taken seriously in some contexts. There’s even a term for the tendency society has to underestimate the skills and abilities of women vs. men, “Mary Sue.”
Rooted in fandoms and pop culture, the Mary Sue is a female character whose strength and natural ability are derided, while male protagonists are cheered for the same inexplicable “special” abilities.
It may go without saying that women are just as capable and worthy as their male counterparts, but let’s say it anyway. After all, with the wage gap firmly entrenched and the Great Resignation disproportionately affecting women, it feels like a good time to reiterate that women have a right to inhabit professional spaces and that they can have an exceptional impact when given the opportunity.
The point is not to say that one gender is better than another. Instead, the idea is to acknowledge that leadership is neither male nor female, but is based on the individual’s qualities and desire to achieve. Here are some facts and stats to back up the worthiness, and worth, of women.
Gender diversity matters, and the numbers prove it.
According to McKinsey research, companies that emphasize gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to see above-average financial performance for their industry. When gender and ethnic diversity are combined, that number goes up to 25%. In the UK, the highest performance in McKinsey’s data set was associated with senior-executive teams exhibiting the greatest gender diversity.
Women are just as likely to possess inherent leadership qualities as men.
Forget the assumption that women are just naturally inclined to take a back seat when it comes to professional endeavors. According to a study conducted by Caliper, a Princeton-based management consulting firm,
“Women leaders are more assertive and persuasive, have a stronger need to get things done and are more willing to take risks than male leaders.” The study also found that many of women’s interpersonal skills made them more effective in creating a leadership style that’s more open, collaborative and collegial.
Women in management are more likely to promote the best interests of the team over their own individual interests.
According to McKinsey’s COVID-focused research, employees with women as their managers were more likely to say that their managers had helped them create balance and prevent burnout over the previous year.
That is essential in a time when employee recruitment and retention have become more challenging than ever.
If women make such great leaders, why aren’t more of them stepping up?
This is really the essential question, and the point at which many discussions of the topic get derailed. Women are more educated and more empowered than ever. Why, then, do they still struggle to take on positions of leadership?
Here are a few reasons more women aren’t leaders:
- The wage gap means that women are disproportionately the ones to leave their jobs when a crisis like COVID occurs or when the need for a full-time caretaker becomes apparent due to a family illness or childcare challenge.
- Differing social expectations for women create unconscious bias that makes it more difficult for women to relate to or communicate with male decision-makers and colleagues.
- Researchers have identified a “broken rung” on the corporate ladder — it’s the first management position where men outnumber women 100 to 86. Once they get past this step, women are able to reach senior leadership positions, but their inability to make the jump from one rung to the next (worker to manager) skews the subsequent numbers.
- According to SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), the roadblocks women disproportionately encounter along their path to leadership translate into less opportunity, including being excluded from male-centered information sharing and talent identification.
- In that same study, only 61 percent of women say that their manager encourages them to grow their career, as compared to 71 percent of men.
How can we encourage women in leadership?
Whether you want to set your own professional intentions or promote those of other women, there are some ways to create space and help women achieve more. Here are some ideas:
- Acknowledge that women often have different challenges, including statistically more responsibility for childcare, eldercare and homecare than men. Provide an environment where these are seen as challenges to be managed rather than a sign of weakness or unsuitability for a leadership role.
- Educate yourself about different styles of leadership and become aware of your own unconscious biases. For example, if your life-changing mentor or role model was a hard-charging tough-guy-type (as mine was), recognize that that’s just one way of leading, not the only way or even, always, the best way. Understand that effective leadership can come in many forms.
- Don’t take on an us vs. them mentality, whether you’re a man or a woman. If you’re a woman, don’t see other women in leadership as competition for a scarce resource. If you’re a man, don’t see women in leadership as interlopers coming for your job. Think of good leadership as that which is good for the organization or team and its goals, not as a personal challenge.
- Would you help a young man in your organization develop his leadership skills or professional abilities? Do the same for a young woman. Recognize that social cues may keep women from speaking up or accepting a new position or project. Don’t talk over women in meetings just because they’ll let you do so and actively ask for input when needed (and interrupting repeatedly to make a point is just a bad look). Barriers created by a lifetime of socialization are real, and you can help the young women on your team or in your brokerage to find their voices.
When the women in your brokerage or on your team feel valued, accepted and acknowledged, they’re free to share their inherent abilities and gifts for the betterment of everyone, colleagues and clients alike.
Understanding and embracing a range of styles, ideas and perspectives is good for everyone, creating a more cohesive community where all agents and staff members feel valued and where everyone’s potential is fulfilled.
Christy Murdock is a Realtor, freelance writer, coach and consultant and the owner of Writing Real Estate. She is also the creator of the online course Crafting the Property Description: The Step-by-Step Formula for Reluctant Real Estate Writers. Follow Writing Real Estate on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.