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Over the past year there has been a great deal of discussion of women in work, including concerns that the pandemic has driven equality levels back to those of the 1970s. However, despite the challenges — new and old — to workplace equality there remains a great deal of momentum behind how female leaders and entrepreneurs are driving forward for success, broadening out what it means to be a leader in business today.

Female leadership. Listed firms where at least a third of the bosses are women have a profit margin in excess of 10 times greater than those that don’t. Volt’s own executive levels are intentionally gender diverse. Linda Perneau is the Volt CEO and has more than 25 years’ experience as a senior executive in the staffing industry. She has a reputation for strategic and entrepreneurial thinking and has proven experience in delivering outstanding results — which helped her land on Staffing Industry Analysts Staffing 100 list for 2021, singling her out as one of the most influential leaders in staffing.

Broadening the scope of leadership. Research carried out by McKinsey identified that many organizations still rely on a traditional, stereotypical, masculine definition of leadership that focuses on authoritative decision making, control and corrective action. However, research from McKinsey has also established that these factors are the least critical to future success and businesses are much more likely to go on to be more productive, creative and profitable where other traits are being prioritized. Narrow leadership models that choose successive leaders on the basis of traditional masculine characteristics — now identified as least critical to success – could be holding organizations back while those that have embraced women at all levels tend to engage with the most critical factors for success and, as a result, simply do better.

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Where do the obstacles lie? McKinsey also found that women are often hesitant and unwilling to identify the barriers that exist in the workplace to their success – and, as a result, many employers are simply unaware that there are structures within their organization that are holding equality back. There is also plenty of evidence of employers who will penalize those who complain as well as others who might view this as weakness. This is incredibly problematic, particularly as women often face obstacles and challenges that male dominated management simply may never have encountered by virtue of not being female. This could be anything from the reality of juggling billable hours targets after giving birth to the potential cultural issues of being a young female employee alone with a male mentor. Biased leadership models and hesitation when it comes to speaking up against obstacles that prevent women from rising can disadvantage not just the women themselves but organizations as a whole. There is a desperate need to create cultures where feedback is valued – and used to introduce real change in organizations – and where employers are more proactive when it comes to removing obstacles to equality.

The benefits for business of broadening leadership scope

  • Women are strong leaders in times of crisis. If the pandemic has shown us anything about women in positions of leadership it’s how female leadership has stood out during the past year. From empathy, to multitasking and effective decision making key areas of female strength are vital in crisis periods. Leaders such as New Zealand’s Jacina Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen have all demonstrated this to be the case.
  • Women bring more emotional intelligence into the workplace. Women tend to score up to 15% higher on EQ tests than men, which not only creates a working environment more conducive to collaboration and satisfaction but has an impact on results too. Those companies that demonstrate strong financial performance tend to nurture employees with high levels of self awareness, one of the most obvious EQ traits.
  • Businesses with more women tend to be more inclusive overall. Women are more likely to stand up for racial and gender equality at work, to mentor other women and to sponsor those coming up behind them.

The traditional view of leadership is changing, not just in response to the impact of the pandemic but the conflict that has existed for some time between the way old fashioned masculine leadership perspectives impact people within an organization and how much more could be achieved with a different approach. Increasingly, for those businesses with ambitions for growth and profit, female leadership is no longer just a nice to have — it is essential.

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