Why women need more role models in Senior Management

By Dr. Richard Carter, Partner LMAP Australia

Women leadershipWomen still only represent 10% of directors in Australia. This is not due to lack of qualifications – Women represent nearly 60% of university graduates, a trend that has been accelerating for many years. And it’s not due to lack of awareness either – study after study has highlighted this issue for decades.

A recent study of the LMAP database of 1,750 male and 950 female senior leaders found that women are just as effective in their leadership roles. ‘LMAP’ is a personality and behavior based 360 of leadership effectiveness.

Analysis undertaken by Professor Brian Connelly from University of Toronto essentially found no significant difference between how men and women’s leadership effectiveness is rated. Connelly found that teamwork traits such as helpfulness and sociability are highly correlated with effectiveness – traits that women typically excel at. Conversely, domineering traits such as hostility and need to control are highly correlated with ineffective leadership – traits often associated with men. Interestingly, the data also shows women are generally more self-aware of their personality and behaviour than men.

However being more self-aware isn’t enough. Research by Sydney based coach Suzi Skinner has shown that women have been great at recognising a skills-based approach but not so good at what Skinner calls leadership identity – their ability to recognise the importance of knowing how a person views themselves in that role. How does this play out? Skinner says that women are still not treated as their male counter parts: They are not being listened to or people talk through their presentations. To address this issue, she calls for more women role models.

Skinner’s finding accords with research undertaken by Bain Consulting for the Chief Executive Women’s network. Women entering the upper echelons of management in their 30s are told their ‘leadership style’ is inappropriate and must change for them to continue to move up the ranks. Given the findings from the LMAP research, such an assertion is clearly flawed. To address this issue, a key recommendation of the CEW report was for more female role models at the senior management level.

Increasing the number of women in senior management will of course help provide more role models of effective leadership behaviour. At the same time, men need role models of effective leadership too – male senior leaders who listen and don’t talk over women when they’re presenting. What we really need is more respect and appreciation for the diversity of views and talents that women bring to their roles and an acceptance that their style of leadership is just as effective – or even more effective – than traditional male stereotypes.

Need a picture of a great female role model? Check out this interview at MIT with Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox who steered that company through a very difficult time, very successfully.
Now there’s an effective leader!