On September 23rd, 2015, Women’s News held the 1st Asia-Pacific W Crisis Management Forum in Seoul.
Although the topic was specific to Women’s role in Crisis Management, it certainly opens the door to the wider reflection around female leadership attributes and the often overlooked value that women bring to workplaces.
When I first came to Korea, it seemed to me as an outsider looking in that women were very much an active part of society and I assumed they had access to leadership roles. I got this from the cues of how women dress, how they seemed to be present in all areas of life and the fact that the country is led by a female President.
One of the most eye opening experiences was when I attended a lecture by Kyung Hee University professor Louise Patterson, Ph.D. on the role of women in Korean workplaces. She spoke about her findings in her Ph.D. research: “Education, Legislation and Equity: Understanding persistent employment discrimination against educated women in South Korea”. I was stunned to find out that women, on average, take 3 weeks maternity leave although legally entitled to 3 months due to social pressure and that most women go back to their workplace but expect not to be promoted to leadership roles. Another aspect she addressed was the income gap between men and women in the same positions, another factor discouraging women from staying in the workplace.
As I interacted more with Korean women, I noticed the fact that most women choose to stop their career after having a child to honor the social obligation of taking on a motherhood role full time. In families where the income does not allow for the spouse to stop working, they go back to work and struggle to meet the demands of long working hours for smaller salaries than their male counterparts in the same positions. As I interacted further with Korean society, I started to see that women in fact have a marginal role in leadership roles and seem to shy away from them when presented with the opportunity, most likely due to a lack of confidence in their ability to fulfill the role.
Several research studies have shown that women have very valuable qualities they bring to leadership roles which are less common amongst men. While each gender has its strengths in leadership, I am only going to focus on those qualities women display more strongly for the purposes of this article.
I believe the most important quality women bring is a stronger connection to people which translates into more sensitivity to their employees, a heightened ability to relate, and therefore motivate employees. Rallying employees around common organizational goals of course leads to higher productivity and better morale usually leads to higher employee retention rates. Women also generally have an easier time than men acknowledging their mistakes, thus turning them into learning opportunities and better decision making in the future.
When I reflect on my career and the many women I have worked with, the most inspiring leaders for me have been women who are very sensitive and compassionate and yet have a strong commitment to goals and productivity. These women have all talked to me about having a strong intuition and trusting it when making decisions, while at the same time looking at problems from a logical standpoint.
One common pitfall I have seen amongst women leaders who were not as successful in their roles is being too authoritarian and disconnected from their teams. It seems many women leaders strive to make it to the top by giving up the highly feminine traits of compassion, connectedness, and intuition to survive in the male dominated world of leadership. The results of such sacrifice are often devastating to both themselves and their teams.
Even amongst male leaders, I have also noticed that some of the most successful male leaders are more in touch with their intuition or internal guidance and have very good social skills which gives them the ability to relate and empower their teams.
Corporations and society at large would be best served by a balance of the male and female leadership attributes within each person and certainly a way to achieving that is having more women in leadership positions, which begs the question. What is in the way?
Women need a multi-dimensional support system in order to be able to reach their full potential and contribute to society’s growth in all spheres.
The disempowering expectations put upon women to take on the motherhood role as a full time occupation is one of the most important ones. Motherhood is beautiful and noble but being only a mother and not having a career should be a personal choice.
Other support women need might be through policy and even law to implement pay equity, provide women with protection of their positions while on maternity leave and the necessary network of adequate, affordable and accessible daycare. In some countries, the one year maternity leave can actually be shared between both parents, so the father takes six months off to take care of the child.
Letting men play a bigger role as fathers and supporters of the women in their lives is certainly a way they can contribute enormously to a society where each member is empowered to live their own dreams rather than feels trapped in a pre-defined role and bring more balance, connectedness and compassion to leadership roles in all spheres of life.