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What Men Can Learn From Women Leaders

Inc. logo Inc. 2/28/2019 Gene Hammett
Overlooking a city filled with possibility © Getty Images Overlooking a city filled with possibility

The dawn of women leaders is upon us. Here's what men can learn from them.

In addition to the many women leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs who've already fought their way to the top of the food chain, a new wave is coming. This is in the face of what Tiffany Apczynski, VP of public policy and social impact at customer service software company Zendesk, called the "cycles of [bias] in the all male business world."

Lawmakers have taken note. California recently became the first state to pass legislation requiring women on the boards of publicly traded companies. The law, SB 826, calls for a minimum of one woman director on boards of four or fewer members, two on boards of five, and three on boards of six or more. New Jersey has followed suit.

While there's been a certain amount of hand-wringing over the new bill -- Is it unconstitutional? It is truly a solution to the problem? -- even skeptics concede it's drawing attention to the staggering lack of gender diversity in the C-suite.

What will it mean to have more women in leadership roles? For one thing, it will likely mean greater gender diversity at all levels in industries, like technology, that have been male-dominated. For example, Linda Crawford, CEO of Helpshift, a customer service software company, has made a 50/50 gender balance a 2019 goal for her company.

This, it turns out, is likely to be good news for the company's bottom line: In 2017, a Morgan Stanley research team analyzed data from around the world and concluded that "gender diverse companies offer similar returns with lower volatility."

Here are some things men can expect to learn about leadership from the new wave of women leaders.

How to Communicate Better

This one might not surprise you. A 2011 study of 7,280 business leaders conducted by Zenger Folkman found that female leaders excel at nuturing and building relationships.

This makes sense because women tend to excel in verbal communication, according to the National Center of Biotechnology Information' 2014 study, "The Science of Sex Differences in Science and Mathematics." The study also concluded men generally outperform women in visuospatial abilities which a person's capacity to identify visual and spatial relationships among objects.

Empathy is also an important quality of an effective leader. In 2016, Development Dimensions International, a global human resources consulting firm, analyzed the behavior of more than 15,000 leaders over the course of a decade and determined that those who master listening and responding (communicating) with empathy outperform others by more than 40 percent overall, but also specifically in coaching, engaging others, planning, organizing and decision-making.

How to Take More Initiative

This one likely has you more perplexed. Aren't men great at taking initiative? Sure, but the Zenger Folkman study found women are actually better at it.

In fact, women were rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies that contribute to outstanding leadership -- "taking initiative" and "driving for results" were just two of the traits on which women outscored men to the highest degree.

Crawford suggested women leaders still feel a need to try harder than men. "When you're in the minority, it can be harder to be recognized. Women may take on more work to get noticed," she said.

How to Improve at Multitasking

According to a 2016 Human Physiology study, women are generally better at doing more than one thing at a time, while men excel at focusing on one project at a time. As you encounter more women in leadership positions, you may marvel at how effortlessly they're able to juggle several tasks at once.

Does this include raising children and managing a career? Ah, now there's the rub. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg mentioned this in a TED Talk: "If a woman and a man work full-time and have a child, the woman does twice the amount of housework the man does and three times the amount of childcare. So she's got three jobs or two jobs, and he's got one. Who do you think drops out when someone needs to be home more?"

"We lose so many women from the workforce when they have children, and the numbers really start to dwindle as you look at roles that require more years of experience," said Crawford.

So how do we welcome more women to the C-suite and retain them? Crawford recommends work-from-home options and policies that accommodate a few months of gradual re-entry. "Large companies should have an internal recruiter whose sole job is to place high-potential women in great jobs and make it easy for them to reenter the workforce if they take time away," she added.

Women leaders are waiting on the threshold, and we have a lot to learn from them.

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