Friday, June 21, 2013

Defining Your Leadership Style: Masculine or Feminine?

When preparing young women to be leaders, who can young women look to for role models as we define our leadership styles?  Do we have to be aggressive like men, or can we find more "feminine" leadership styles?  Do we still have to be masculine and fight hard like many of the original trailblazing women, or can we embrace our "more collaborative" nature?

In the second wave of feminism beginning in the early 1960s, very few women were breaking the glass ceiling.  Often, they were literally the only woman in a room full of men, and the only way for them to succeed was to act like men.  These trailblazers had to take on traditionally masculine behaviors of being aggressive, competitive, and individualistic to succeed. Without their paving the way, many of the doors open to young women today would not exist.  Today, thanks to the activism of the feminist movement, young women are now able to work where laws protect them against discrimination, sexual harassment, and provide them with basic maternity care.

These trailblazers serves as role models to young women today, and many of them give back by mentoring the next generation. However, many of these trailblazers were often disliked by many co-workers and often labeled as "bitches."  Sometimes there is inter-generational strife between these older women and younger women in the workplace.  Perhaps, an older woman who vehemently fought against so barriers to get where she is may feel threatened by ambitious, younger women with an eye on her position. Also, she may feel these young women take for granted the rights they have today, and do not know what true discrimination was like.

Over the decades, as women now earn more bachelor's and advanced degrees than men and are entering the workforce in droves, the glass ceiling may not be as tough to break as it was in earlier decades.  Moreover, enough time has passed that scholars have been able to research the different leadership styles of women and men.  Studies by Catalyst and McKinsey show that women have a more collaborative and inclusive decision making style that actually proves profitable for companies.

These female leaders who embody a more feminine leadership style are still emerging leaders, so not as many of them may exist as obvious role models for young women.  So as young women trying to create ourselves, who to we look to? Do we learn to conform to the male power hegemony and master things like golf so we can prove ourselves in men's traditional playing fields of power?  Do we have to be like the "bitches" of the past and just be aggressive women?  Do we try to create new gender norms, "lean in," and embrace our more inclusive, "natural" decision making processes?

These are very real questions that many women's leadership development training programs face.  Do we encourage young women to play the status quo game or do we challenge them to change the game?  Ultimately, these decisions need to be made by each individual female leader.  There is no clear right or wrong, it's whatever works best for you.  However, I doubt many young men experience the double bind of choosing masculine or feminine as they discover themselves as leaders.

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