Women And Leadership

Updated: Jul 1 2004, 03:10am hrs
The Winds of Change Foundation initiated a study of women leaders in collaboration with the Centre for Research on Women at Wellesley College in the US. The project sought to learn from the experiences of women who are leaders by virtue of their accomplishments in their fields, how other women can rise to top leadership positions. The 60 eminent women interviewed ranged in age from their 30s to 70s.

Some of the findings confirmed what other researchers had observed, such as the institutional rather than individual roadblocks to womens success, the importance of tenacity and optimism in pursuing ones passion at work, and the increasing value placed on a democratic and people-oriented style of leadership. The identification of leadership skills and metaphors for leadership with mothering was an unexpected finding.

Overall, the interviewed leaders acknowledged that over time, obstacles to womens leadership have diminished, but have definitely not disappeared. Most of these obstacles are embedded in the general organisation of work that was not designed for women. It did not have a family structure in mind, nor did it take into account any so-called deficiencies women may have as leaders.

Many, but not all, women reported having to surmount these gender-based barriers in their own careers. For some, this struggle continues to be a daily aspect of work life. For others, their individual prominence and achievements now protect against incidents of gender-based inequity, while still others have benefited from the work of earlier generations of women who blazed the trails that they followed.

Many of the concerns that leaders who were women of colour articulated derived from the historical, and to some extent, continuing exclusion of minorities from positions of power. Leaders of colour were more likely to report experiencing roadblocks to their success than Caucasian leaders.

The leaders in this study achieved eminence by leading in a variety of ways, depending on the context of their work environments. Their leadership styles reflect racial and ethnic backgrounds, career trajectories, generational cohorts, and their fields receptiveness to women leaders. While there isnt a singular female style of leadership, the majority of these leaders combined a strong focus on results with equal attention to the growth people surrounding them.

(To conclude next week)