Recently, the question of what (if anything) makes women unique in business keeps coming up. And, since March is National Women’s History month, we thought we’d share a few thoughts.
First, we firmly believe that every individual brings certain qualities to the workplace regardless of gender. And, great teams are built of diverse groups of people from different backgrounds.
And, as far as we’ve seen, the best female leaders we know do bring some unique traits and perspectives.
- The best women leaders we know are natural nurturers. In the past, “nurturing” has been a bad word in business; it sounds soft and not especially results-oriented. But, experience has taught us that when employees are nurtured — i.e. invested in and encouraged rather than being criticized, they grow and thrive. Employees who are invested in and encouraged in this way get what they need to be their best selves, which can only be beneficial for team morale and for the business in general. The best leaders do this — male or female.
- The best women leaders we know are comfortable with vulnerability. They aren’t afraid to need what they need and to vocalize those needs. Effective women leaders strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance and don’t overwork themselves in order to make a statement about equality. They simply think, “What do I need in order to be fully present in my work and at home?” Being vulnerable and self-aware enough to say what they need and to not be fearful of consequences is admirable, and this sustainable lifestyle will only lead to greater success in the long run.
- The best women leaders we know are naturally good at relationship-building, talking and listening. Women are instinctively good communicators. Watch a conversation between two women and you might notice a difference compared to other conversations — from body language, tone of voice, active listening and the cadence of the conversation. Women tend to be more naturally wired to recognize the needs of the other person in a relationship, and easily build empathy for others. Again, we’ve know awesome male leaders that listen well, but generally speaking, these practices come more naturally to women.
Unfortunately, a few things still get in the way for women in the workplace. We won’t get on a soapbox about gender equality, but instead want to share two observations about barriers that are actually more often self-inflicted.
- We tend to be overly self-reliant. It can be difficult for women to break the mentality that we have to fight for our right to work in high-powered roles; the pressure builds and we become more and more independent. The best women leaders we know recognize the need for teamwork and have learned to let go of the need to prove themselves on their own merit alone.
- We still get hung up on the “sacrifice.” The real shift that the best female (or male, for that matter) leaders we know have made is that they’ve decided to write their own definition of success. Then, they’ve committed to identify “what needs to be true” to achieve that success instead of worrying about anyone else’s definition.
So, fellow businesswomen, take note of this gentle reminder: Don’t be so hard on yourself, lean on others to get what you need, and play to your natural strengths as nurturers, leaders and listeners. Let’s help hold each other up and build up our businesses with the unique traits that we bring to the table.
Are you a woman in the business world? What are the biggest challenges you face?
Photo licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 via Flickr user: businessforward