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Do female leaders excel?

Last week, Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist, won Moldova’s presidential runoff vote. The election was seen as a referendum on two divergent visions for the future of Moldova, and people voted in very large numbers. With this result in mind, and Kamala Harris soon to be the US Vice President, I have taken a look at female leadership to see how differences in management styles could create better environments for innovation and positive change.

The rise of visibility

Whilst women have been leaders in business, art, politics and sport for decades, there is far more exposure of this in recent years. In addition, women are getting to the top of careers that were previously considered ‘male’ categories: in October 2019, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir exited the International Space Station to replace a power controller, becoming the first to complete an all-female spacewalk. Female football teams are receiving more press coverage and funding than ever before, perhaps showing that sponsors can make money from the female teams as well as the male. Rather than previous tokenism, females have a large enough presence now for real & permanent impact.

We do have a way to go:

  • Only 25% of the top innovation firms are led by women
  • In 2018, women accounted for only 20% of Fortune 500 Chief Innovation Officers
  • There’s a gender wage gap of 16% between men and women in STEM occupations



Jacinta Arden managed the awful mosque shooting in NZ last year with humility, and provides an interesting leadership style to watch through the Covid19 pandemic. There has been a surge in female political leaders, with Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen joining incumbents like Angela Merkal, Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Erna Solberg on the Global stage. In recent months, there has been some evaluation on the style of country leaders and their response to Coronavirus. It has been proposed that the humility and natural maternal care that female leaders have for their public means they have been quicker to make key pandemic decisions, resulting in better population survival rates. Although it is still very early to make such statements.  The speed to make decisions though based on a combination of emotional and economical factors is an interesting perspective in the boardroom.

Imposter Syndrome –A Secret Weapon?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a “fraud” (Wikipedia). When you need to work on internal company engagement and acceptance of your innovation roadmap, Imposter Syndrome can give you a confidence knock that will come across in presentations.  Unfortunately, women suffer much more from this than men, and it starts at an early age effecting large life decisions. What it can mean though, is when a woman says she can do something – she really means it!

This leads to Imposter Syndrome being a woman’s ‘Secret Power’.  The approach to risk, human resource and innovation can all be positively affected.  It is perfectly summarised by Farrah Storr in this short article. Perhaps this Super Power is part of the reason that:

  • Female CFOs drive more value appreciation, better defend profitability moats and deliver excess risk-adjusted returns
  • Firms with female CEOs and CFOs produce superior stock price performance, compared to the market average
  • Firms with higher gender diversity on their board are more profitable

Source: When Women Lead, Firms Win, S&P Global

Investing in Female Entrepreneurs

There are certain ‘traditional female’ traits that stand women in good stead for entrepreneurship. Showing passion for a cause can motivate you and the people around you, creating an amazing aspirational working culture.  Females can be good at understanding and nurturing the people in their teams, improving productivity. Fostering a great team ethic can help to accelerate innovation, focussing on motivation factors not hygiene factors (Herzberg’s Motivation Theory).

In my experience, females are less inclined to align themselves with an industry as part of their identity.  This means if a business needs to pivot in disruption and develop into new markets, there may be less reluctance to stick with ‘what you know’ and be faster to evolve.  This is incredibly important right now.

There is good trend of supporting female entrepreneurs and in last month’s SOCAP conference, the session ‘Investing in female Entrepreneurs: A Social Issue or an Economic Opportunity?’ had an interesting panel. The discussion focused on practical approaches to increasing female representation among investors, how to include more female entrepreneurs in investment portfolios and develop impact solutions that work both for men and women.  The transcript and video of the session is here .

Men vs Women?

There is plenty of evidence that men and women are different and that they can create different working environments as leaders.  This is also true when comparing 2 men or 2 women, so we need to be careful not to generalise too much.  Whether one is better or worse depends on many individual factors and what you’re trying to achieve.

What is important, is how we can all learn from the leadership styles rising within the female ranks – can we all learn these “female” leadership styles or are they hard wired?

Analysing the positions that female leaders take on a variety of subjects, we can see that using your heart and your head in tandem can make for better business decisions. Diversity in a boardroom, or in a Cabinet brings perspective and can allow organisations to make decisions that will attract a broader customer base – win:win?

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