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Gender intelligence 101: Why we need to change the way we look at leadership

By September 15, 2016August 18th, 2019MENA

By Elie Khouri, Chief Executive Officer at OMG 

The marketing industry is still reeling from the incendiary comments made by Saatchi’s ex-chairman, Kevin Roberts. There has been a lot of rhetoric exchanged. Some have asked if Roberts’ resignation was an ‘overreaction’. Others say setting quotas for women leadership is a form of positive discrimination which will eventually compromise an agency’s quality and success. I’ve heard a few people say things like: “I don’t discriminate. I treat men or women the same” or “if women want to get to the top, they got to be more confident and cry less.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear before the industry can make progressive steps in this regard, what we all need is a crash course in gender intelligence.

Untitled by Cindy Sherman

To start with, we need to accept there isn’t one kind of leadership style. There’s a vast spectrum of qualities a leader may possess – current gender theory categorizes some as more masculine and others as feminine. While dominance, assertiveness, decisiveness and ruthlessness are considered to be masculine qualities; feminine leadership qualities are thought to include empathy, collaborative sharing, networked-thinking and long-term perspective-taking.

Now, it’s important to note that both men and women can and do embody both types of qualities in different measures. We all know and celebrate empathetic visionary men (like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior) and ruthless powerful women (like Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Hillary Clinton).

This means gender diversity isn’t an issue of men versus women. Rather, it’s more about making space for both kinds of leadership styles to be recognized, rewarded and allowed to flourish within an organization.

Street art by D*Face

At this point, you might be shrugging your shoulders. “So what? This is just textbook theory. Will this really effect my organization’s bottom line?”

Of course it does! Organizations which embrace alternative and traditional leadership styles have a lot to gain. Repeated studies have proven having more women in leadership positions help organizational excellence. McKinsey’s report titled, Women Matters, found companies with women in management positions outranked their counterparts on nine criteria including leadership, direction, accountability, coordination and control. So if we know this, why don’t we see more feminine leaders at the top?

Historically and traditionally, masculine leadership styles tend to be recognized and rewarded by the corporate world. This legacy continues to date. More often than not it is the louder, dominant man or woman who gets the promotion over the man or woman who is deliberate and focused on alignment before action. While there are times when a business may need someone to be assertive, dominant, decisive and ruthless; all too often we need our leaders to be empathetic, collaborative and not afraid to take a step back before making a decision. Failure to include employees who embody a different set of values could be the reason companies make it through a tough patch – or crumble and fail.

Ohhh… Alright… by Roy Lichtenstein

For instance, my industry (marketing and communication) is currently at a crossroads – we’re having our own ‘Uber moment’ if you will. As I’ve written in the past, disruption is dramatically transforming the roles of publishers, creative and media agencies. As advancements in content marketing and programmatic media buying and selling continues, the future and success of this industry will belong to those who are able to be collaborative, networked-thinkers and who can take a step or two back to see the larger picture. In other words, we need to proactively create a work environment which appreciates and rewards feminine leadership qualities.

Sounds appealing? It certainly does to me. So what’s the next step?

  1. Get committed: It starts with commitment at the top. Diversity and inclusiveness needs to be on every single CEOs top strategic priorities.
  2. Raise awareness: Before you can start to roll out programs. Work towards creating a safe space through workshops, seminars and open-dialogue forums to allow team members to speak up and embrace difference leadership styles.
  3. Measure success and repeat: Make diversity and inclusiveness a tangible and measurable KPI. Not every initiative will be successful or effective in the intended way. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

As you go along your D&I journey, remember to share your learnings with those around you. It’s still early days and we have a long way to go. At the end of the day, every business will need a masculine and feminine approach… we just need to know how and when to leverage either to solve a pressing issue.


This post was originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse

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