On March 11, Sheryl Sandberg released her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, causing a resurgence of many topics relating to women in the workplace that are anything but new. Before Sandberg’s book release, her popular Ted Talk, “Why we have too few women leaders,” began a conversation that caught my attention—shining light on an age-old dilemma by encouraging dialogue within a new generation of trailblazers.
The idea of leadership (particularly transformational leadership: “the ability to get people to want to change, to improve, and to be led”) through the lens of gender can be an important factor when considering the structure and systems of IMC in the workplace. With much progress toward gender equality, we see many more women filling leadership roles and sitting at the table in all sorts of occupations. Even more so now, then, we must seek to be informed by the differences that gender takes, as well as update our stereotypes and our information about how behaviors and trends affect our social and work environment, so that we can react to and utilize the nuances behind them.
What key takeaways can we note from Sandberg—and other professionals like her—advising women in the workforce? While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, my thoughts below link research and media surrounding gender and leadership with important components of IMC as a strategic mindset in contemporary organizational culture.
1) A SHIFT AWAY FROM VERTICAL MANAGEMENT
Research has indicated that women are strong leaders when it comes to collaborative style and lateral (horizontal) versus vertical leadership. This interconnectedness across departments, teams, and brands within large-scale companies, focusing on decentralized idea generation and management, enables a shift in the way work is accomplished—and women have much to say on the experiences which have shaped their leadership in this way. Creating lateral leadership gives voice and accountability to all contributors, evoking transformational leadership.
2) CHAMPIONING OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION & EXPRESSIVENESS
Because transformational leadership emphasizes personal and individualized communication between colleagues, it is especially important to look at the ways that employees interact together. This strength has translated into a focus on women’s leadership styles overall: women as leaders tend to be more expressive, more nurturing, and more community driven, focusing on interpersonal relationship-building with staff and with communication and decision-making across hierarchies more generally. Beyond formal teams and within company structures, women take this skill into their informal networks to drive their success.
3) WORKPLACE CULTURE
In order to retain the best talent possible, we must be willing to understand the realities of how different genders experience work culture and demands, changing the model by which we understand what success looks like, as well as what sacrifices are required to maintain it. Beyond changing shifts and flexibility of the workday, it is necessary to adjust socialized norms surrounding gender, something at the heart of Sandberg’s Ted Talk. Before we adequately can address discrepancies in gender equality at work, we must address in the greater culture the stereotypes surrounding success: what it looks like for a man and what it looks like for a woman.
4) INCENTIVES & REWARDS
Women differ from men in more ways than their roles surrounding family responsibilities and their unique struggles with work/home life balance; overall, they differ in their level of competitiveness and their likelihood to ask for options to further their careers. More specifically, women are less likely to ask for something within their own self-interest, and within the constructs of American culture, are less likely to be as competitive as their male counterparts. Sandberg states this powerfully when she gives a personal story of a friend underestimating her expertise in a subject she was clearly knowledgeable within; and by pointing out women repeatedly ask less for that promotion or for that raise they equally deserve. Knowing these tendencies, and then actively working to change them by encouraging women in the workplace, is an integral step for tomorrow’s leaders and successful businesses.
5) ENGAGING BOTH GENDERS IN NEW WAYS
Because women form such a large percentage of the workplace today, their tendencies can be diverse—few women no longer must act on behalf of their entire gender. Equally, many men possess traits that are deemed feminine qualities to varying extents. Much like other aspects of an individual’s personality (watch this TedX talk on introverts) leadership characteristics rarely fit into one prescriptive mold. Both men and women must champion the efforts of understanding this subtlety, so that not only are stark gender roles no longer a rigid necessity for either sex, but also so that collaboration is authentic. We must teach the future leaders to think around the important considerations of gender in order to challenge assumptions, inspire greater integration, and offer up new solutions—for both men and women alike.
All of these five considerations are examples of what benefit derives from women in the workplace, as well as what is necessary to keep them there. They must be applied, and not just given lip service, to ensure that women—both by cultural pressure and workplace procedures—don’t leave before they leave, sit at the table, (in Sandberg’s terms) and share their part in shaping tomorrow’s innovative spirit. And while my pre-ordered copy of Sandberg’s book is sitting on my desk yet to be enjoyed on my upcoming vacation, the buzz the book has already created is exciting and palpable—and a thought-provoking topic I thought would be fitting to share with all of you. My deepest hope is that someday these conversations become permeated into our culture so that the girls of today—the women of tomorrow—are able to benefit from them: so that women can continue to succeed, alter stereotypes, and break down barriers for success in the workplace.
Marie Wilson, Closing the leadership gap: Why women can and must help run the world.