Happy International Women’s Day! I’ve had a few thoughts on where have been able to make progress empowering women. In particular in the workplace it’s focused solely on encouraging women to ‘Lean In’ to the boardroom table, without recognising what men can learn from women. I love my research, and one in gender studies known as the Athena Doctrine has highlighted a set of desirable traits for today’s business leaders that have been identified as feminine; transparency, empathy and collaboration.
I was a speaker at this years WOIBEX conference and shared how the Athena Doctrine applies to the field of communications; an increasingly important topic as a wave of female-focused rhetoric gains momentum with the #metoo movement, gender equality and women’s empowerment. I shared with women from all over the world how business leaders can create a workplace that is supportive and nurturing to all by adopting a feminine style of communication.
For both men and women, feminine qualities of communication are vital in creating successful business leaders. I highlighted how the core values of a ‘feminine’ style of communication are the differentiator in building a thriving workplace and business.
We’ve all seen, and we’ve all read, we’ve all watched the headlines make waves around the world. We no longer tolerate the secrecy of some companies culture. No longer will businesses and business leaders be able to hide behind closed doors. What we see today is that transparency is key to business success.
Internally, the practice of maintaining open lines of communication with employees, and remaining honest about company operations, is positively correlated with higher employee morale and therefore, productivity. Transparency in this internal context also builds trust and makes employees feel that they’re working for a company with higher ethical standards.
The reason most leaders are not transparent is that they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power. This is the problem with most leaders; they are not aware of the reality that exists around them. People want to relate to their leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and how they have overcome personal hardships.
The digital age has allowed people to learn more about their leaders. People now want and expect their leaders to be more human, less perfect and at times a bit vulnerable – regardless of hierarchy or rank. This need for transparency in society is at an all-time high.
It’s time to be transparent by communicating less over email and becoming more personally engaged with their employees face-to-face and with higher frequency. This will not only build trust, but more importantly establish a new type of loyalty and attitude that will ripple throughout the organisation.
It’s the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. To feel is to be human. We can come from different countries, different nationalities, different religions but how we all connect with other people is how we experience emotions and feelings.
Studies have observed that women in leadership positions encourage participation and share power and information. These leaders believe that people perform at their very best when they feel good about themselves and their work, and they try to create situations that contribute to that feeling.
Empathy helps people realise that even if their intentions are positive, the effect can be harmful because they’ve misunderstood the audience.
Internally, what about friction between different business groups? I’ve seen many examples of conflict amongst departments merely because they don’t appreciate the motivations each other. Sales teams are getting angry with development, development being frustrated with customer service. In these situations, empathy is a hugely practical skill to avoid or diffuse tension.
If your business is expanding into a new market, your employees must understand different cultural preferences and decisions. Your skill set will only get you so far if you don’t have empathy. If you force your culture and beliefs onto another, it rarely results in productive relationships. You need to bridge the cultural gap, and empathy is an efficient way to do this.
By mastering the art of empathy, you can expect to see more innovation, employee retention, loyalty and performance, and reduce conflict in the workplace. In other words, when you get out of your head and put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’ll be on your way to outpace the competition.
It’s working as a team or group rather than focusing on coming out on top. We know that collaboration gets real business results through relationships, involvement and sharing responsibility. Sharing information, resources and encouragement are what we see in today’s co-working spaces, most desirable places to work like Google and how some of the best inventions of the modern age have been created.
Collaboration in the workplace has always influenced the culture of a company; traditional leaders believe in keeping a rigid role structure and hierarchy, whereas collaborative leaders encourage more flexibility within staff roles, allowing more movement horizontally across the company’s structure.
The more ownership staff members have over their projects, the more they’re going to care about them. If outcomes go well, they feel a greater sense of achievement, and if it goes badly, they feel more responsibility for doing better next time. Today’s workers are no longer interested in being given a task list and a deadline – they’re looking to take on responsibility, to play an active role in the decision-making process and to have a level of freedom that makes them feel trusted.
The reality is, no single leader can have all of the answers. Complex business decisions require the input of many people. If you hold true to the belief that you need to have all of the answers leads to two adverse outcomes: burnout and a perception of arrogance from others. Let go of the need to be “right” and “prepared,” and allow yourself to be influenced by the opinions of others.
I want my message today to be clear. From all my work with my clients, both men and women, I have seen a common thread to success. Be transparent, speak with empathy, and focus on collaboration.
These values are inherent in all of us, and what we celebrate on International Women’s Day, is that the world is accepting these values as important factors to business success.