Feminine traits can enhance leadership

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Businesses could benefit greatly by giving leaders permission to bring ‘feminine’ traits to work

Businesses could benefit greatly by giving leaders permission to bring ‘feminine’ traits to work, director of WDI Consulting Lynn White told HR magazine.

White, whose consultancy specialises in the three areas of transformation, feminine leadership and coaching, says that both men and women should be encouraged to embrace those characteristics of flexibility, sensitivity, empathy and interdependence, which have historically been associated with females.

She said such traits are important in balancing out the typically masculine-trait dominated dynamics of many leadership teams.

“We have already developed immense capability around the [masculine] side, which is brilliant and has taken us leaps and bounds forwards,” she said. “For instance resilience and independence are strongly developed. It’s not a problem that resilience is developed; that’s fantastic. But resilient without sensitivity? Then we have a problem.”

White said that allowing women to bring their “whole selves”, including their ‘feminine’ qualities, to work will address a still persisting drop-off rate of women progressing from middle to senior management roles, which WDI terms “threshold theft".

“It’s often thought that this is because women are leaving to have children. But recent research shows it’s because they’re going to work elsewhere, as the organisation is not fulfilling their needs and their needs are around bringing their whole selves to work.”

Encouraging everyone to engage with those qualities often not deemed useful in a work context can help companies boost a range of functions, she said, giving the example of approaching employee engagement surveys.

“It’s no longer the person who is the expert and has all the data, it’s the person who can ask the right questions and find the patterns in that data and see the wider connectivity,” said White.

“It’s beginning to engage in different qualities of conversation,” she added of the general benefits of a more ‘feminine’ approach.

White said that giving people permission to bring these traits to work could be done overtly or covertly. The latter is particularly ideal when encouraging men to embrace ‘feminine’ traits, and in working with women who see referring to certain qualities as innately ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ as taboo.

“In the large US insurance company we’re working with for example, we’re not using the word overtly. But the idea is introduced in terms of how we role model it, in terms of how we’re engaging with those leaders,” explained White.

She reported that the concept of feminine qualities to enhance leadership is gaining traction.

“We are seeing an increasing awareness around this, both from those explicitly using the language and those doing it more covertly,” she said. “There’s a real opportunity and we’re really going to see the growth. And that’s what we’re being called on for help.”

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