Many women managers have found that getting in touch with their masculine side is one way of getting to the top. But in future it may no longer be the best career option. In fact, in the long term it could hinder a breakthrough to the very top.
International Women’s Day will trigger the usual recital of statistics about the percentage of women corporate leaders.
There will be less discussion of how top women performers got there and the management styles they adopted along the way.
Scrutiny of highly successful female managers indicates that many made it in a man’s world by embracing ‘managerial masculinity’ and showing they could be just as forceful and aggressive as their male counterparts.
They have made their point. Women can be tough when they have to be.
In recent years, many businesses have had to cut costs and jobs.
No one likes firing staff. On occasion this tough job has been handled by women CEOs and departmental heads. They did not shy away. They upped their game.
Check the CVs of female candidates for leading positions and it becomes clear they have succeeded in the downturn and have led (or been part of) teams that have restructured companies and achieved ongoing efficiencies.
Admittedly, some women succeeded by imitating supposedly male characteristics and driving relentlessly until objectives were met.
But it is also apparent that some – a minority so far – stand out by avoiding the masculinity trap.
They make tough decisions, but they show empathy. They realise there is more than one yardstick. What you achieve is critical. But how you achieve it is important, too.
Savings might accrue by cutting jobs, but competitiveness can suffer if the morale of the surviving workforce plummets.
Morale can be maintained by managers with a talent for nurturing a company’s people and getting the best out of them.
Showing you care (showing your feminine side) is not a weakness. It is a signal that a company has strong values and will do all it can develop and grow its people.
Examine other aspects of management and it is noticeable that women managers are increasingly valued as mentors. Some men have begun requesting that women in responsible positions mentor them.
Nurturing female managers are prized for their patience and knack of getting the best out of mentees.
Corporates looking to build participative structures are in the market for empathetic skills like these.
They don’t want a great dictator in the top job. They want a great persuader.
This is why constant reinforcement of masculine traits could be career-limiting for top women.
Ten years ago, a tough veneer was essential armour. Now, as more women break through, a change of style may be indicated.
Some corporations are becoming aware of the advantages of a woman’s touch at the helm and in the boardroom.
Change may not be coming fast enough, but we should acknowledge that changes are being made. Will female talent make the most of those changes by adopting male behaviours?
It’s doubtful. The alternative is to embrace the nurturing instinct and nurture a winning culture. Smart female talent will do just that.
Mosima Selekisho, TALENT AFRICA Director, an executive search and talent management company