With the continued coverage on gender equality and its positive effects on global development, little room is left for debate about where our human investments have the greatest return. Women in the developing world hold the keys to their nations’ economic strength and to greater global security. But according to recent studies, women might also hold the keys to the future of leadership.
It’s obvious that the current short sighted system of “profits above all else” is failing and, as the old adage goes, if it’s not working try something else. The B Team, a not-for-profit initiative formed by a group of the world’s most progressive business leaders, calls for a more aware form of leadership with value based business practices. The next generation of leaders will have to “put people and planet alongside profit”.
Why are women the obvious candidates to help shift away from the old failing system toward a more sustainable and profitable bottom line? According to the notorious Zenger Folkman study and its provocative title “Women do it better than men” that might just be the answer. This comprehensive study looked at 7,280 leaders and in 12 out of 16 competencies, women were rated more positively by their managers, peers and direct reports. This was not just a random sample of leaders, but men and women from high performing companies. Their findings show that the private sector has a lot of catching up to do.
Although, it’s not just big business turning a blind eye to the facts and findings. A story released during Egypt’s last election included a survey asking “Is it good for Egypt to have a woman president?” They surveyed 1,453 people, including 634 women. The answer to the survey’s question might surprise you. 100% of men surveyed answered no, but here’s the hard part, so did the women. Out of 634 surveyed, not one of them believed that she, or any other woman in the country, was smart enough, capable enough or a good enough leader to serve the people of Egypt.
This mindset might partially explain the gap. Despite the fact that women actually excel in most areas of leadership, amongst the Fortune 500 companies, female executive officers hover at a dismal 14.3% and as board members at 16.6%.
Do women’s self-perceptions around ability and value, limit them from fully contributing in a collaborative way with their male counterparts?
Lets go back and use a country like Egypt for an example. Change within a whole system or society must start with the individual. Studies have found that when just 10% of the population holds an unshakable belief, the majority will always adopt their belief.
If investing in a small minority of young women to have an unshakeable belief in themselves and their abilities could lead societies at large to share that same belief, then paving the way for greater gender equality must start with the single most important element of a girl first believing that she is equal.
A 2004 survey by Right Management Consultants found 86% of companies claimed they used coaching to sharpen the skills of individuals who have been identified as future organizational leaders. If coaching is now considered best practice for leaders, then implementing these same methods to support the next generation of young women to meet their full potential makes perfect sense.
I co-founded Global Sorority a not-for-profit initiative to address this very issue. I’ve seen from working in the field that although more girls are going to school, this doesn’t directly relate to a belief in themselves as equal, nor does it give them the confidence and ability to reach beyond expectations.
Global Sorority’s leadership development program provides a set of “internal tools” not currently taught within the curriculum of formal education. We teach stronger emotional intelligence, higher levels of critical thinking, and enhanced communication skills. These tools lead to a girl’s greater self-esteem and awareness around her potential contribution to society. The kind of interconnected leadership the world needs will arise from young women who possess the “soft skills” to demonstrate to society that they can and will lead a brighter future.
Why wait? Let’s start today to create the leaders we wish to have tomorrow.