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Images of female role models empower and inspire women leaders, says study

22 Apr

Who’d have thought that looking at a photo of a powerful female role model, like Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel, could inspire women to become more successful leaders. But a new study – Successful female leaders empower women’s behaviour in leadership tasks – shows that exposure to female role models can improve women’s performance in leadership tasks.

Men and women were asked to give a speech while being exposed to a photo of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton or not picture. The speeches were measured in terms of length and quality. Women spoke longer (and were there perceived to give a better speech) when they were exposed to the photo of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel. But they spoke less, and their speeches were rated to be of lower quality, when Bill Clinton or no picture was shown.

The researchers concluded: “Subtle exposures to highly successful female leaders inspired women’s behavior and self-evaluations in stressful leadership tasks.”

Whose face would inspire and empower you when you have to make a stressful speech…?

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Science shows woman have more empathy and intuition than men

6 Feb

While female intuition is renowned, scientists are proving a factual basis to it. Woman are much faster than men at reading people’s facial expressions, and can quickly work out if someone is approachable or intelligent. Men take twice as long as women to read people’s faces.

That’s according to a study carried out by Edinburgh University published in the journal PLOS One. Its scientific experiments of brain function when making social decisions found that “differences in the functioning of the social brain between males and females [could] contribute to the greater vulnerability of males to Autism Spectrum Disorders”.

The fact the male brain takes longer to make these judgements and so need more time to come up with the answers – which can be problematic when needing to make snap decisions in real life.

Oxford Uni gives assertiveness coaching to female undergrads to boost career prospects

27 Apr

Female undergraduates at Oxford University are to benefit from assertiveness coaching to make sure they don’t lag behind men when it comes to negotiating in the jobs marketplace.

The Oxford Student reports that 45 women will take part in four days of classes – carried out by the Springboard Women Development Programme – to boost their self-confidence and give them the tools and belief to pitch for high-powered jobs once they graduate. It will teach them how to handle conflict, negotiation, and surviving in challenging environments.

With female graduates typically earning £3,000 less than their male counterparts, this programme has come at a good time for the women – whether they choose to opt for top-notch jobs in the City or not.

Quoted in the Telegraph on this story, Jenny Daisley, chief executive of the Springboard Consultancy, said the skills learned would be valuable whatever choices the women make. “The undergraduate sitting quiet as a mouse in supervision, giving the impression that they have not got anything to say, may have lots to say but needs positive advice so that they are not invisible.”

Women are ‘better leaders in recession’

11 Jan

The female tendency to take fewer risks makes women stronger leaders during tough economic conditions, according to research by occupational psychologists Geoff Trickey and So Yi Yeung.

The study of 2000 workers in 20 occupations found that men are twice as likely to take risks, and women are twice as likely to be careful. The findings suggested that risk-taking was a “distinctive feature” of gender, and could help explain the difference in leadership styles between men and women. The more cautious approach taken by women is therefore more effective during recession, said the researchers.

These different approaches to risk stem from the evolution of the species and the need to survive, but in the modern workplace this translates into having a balance of the adventurous and carefree with the wary and prudent – regardless of their gender.  Trickey added: “Risk taking is necessary and desirable, but we need to reinstate the balance that ensured the survival of our ancestors. Whether this is best done by gender selection manipulation is arguable, but the aim should be to achieve a balance of risk types.”

Do career women have to power dress to be taken seriously?

10 Jan

It was inevitable with the release of the Iron Lady movie, about the life of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, that we would revisit the impact she has had on women over the years. Cue discussions about power dressing and the role of women in male-dominated environments.

Apparently it is some of her presentation choices – to deepen her voice and lower her hemlines – that women emulate when they want to be taken more seriously in the workplace. A survey from Business Environment says that 59% of London women have dressed more powerfully – ie with longer skirts and less cleavage on show – to get ahead in their careers. They will also lower their voice and yet wear more make-up

I’ve always dressed on the basis that the more flesh you show, the less you’ll be taken seriously in the workplace, and the more attention you bring to yourself for the wrong reasons. In fact, the survey says that dressing inappropriately is the most common reason among two-thirds of respondents for judging and disparaging a colleague.

However much modern women may emulate Thatcher’s sartorial choices, I doubt very much they will want to copy her management style, which was renowned for its rigidity. For a great view on this, read an article in Management Today, which questions whether women really want to be like Margaret Thatcher. I suspect the answer is no.

Women lose out on leadership roles because of men’s ‘honest overconfidence’

30 Nov

The gender gap in top leadership roles is apparently not down to conscious discrimination but to the male tendency to be overconfident about past performances. In other words, men tend to enhance their previous achievements, while women play them down or are more realistic about them.

That’s the finding of a study from Columbia Business School, which aimed to look at the underlying causes of the gender leadership gap rather than attributing it to discrimination during the recruitment and selection process. It carried out an experiment to isolate the effect of gender differences on female leadership, which involved men and women recalling their previous year’s performances, and choosing a group leader for financial reward.

The researchers found that both genders exaggerated their performances: women rated theirs 15% higher than it was, but men consistently rated theirs 30% higher. When both men and women had an incentive to lie, they lied even more the higher the incentive. However, while women lied as frequently as men, they didn’t exaggerate their performance to the same degree. Men’s overconfidence in their abilities led to women being selected for a leadership role a third less often.

So, what can we take away from this? Continue reading

IoD to launch directory of potential female directors

11 Nov

The male head of the Institute of Directors (IoD) has pledged to take a leading role in promoting and achieving boardroom diversity.

Speaking at the IoD’s Women as Leaders conference, director general Simon Walker said one of his core objectives was advancing the cause of female business leaders.

He said: “There is no doubt that role of a director has been seen in the past as a job for the boys. This image is changing, but it has not yet been entirely dispelled. The notion that women should not play an equal role with men in the boardroom is not only unjust, but – equally importantly – inconsistent with the efficient functioning of a modern economy. I am absolutely convinced that the IoD must assume a position of leadership in advancing the cause of diversity on boards and in other leadership positions.”

His three-point plan for supporting board diversity involves:

  1. The first IoD training course for female directors: Women as Highly Effective Directors.
  2. Requiring companies to report on boardroom diversity in their annual reports, on a comply or explain basis.
  3. Establishing a directory of potential female directors that could help headhunters and companies add female non-executive directors to their boards.

The IoD blog has helpfully summarised some of the key insights from the Women as Leaders Conference 2011. The point that stands out for me comes from ICAEW’s director of member services Sharron Gunn, who is quoted as saying that it’s not about women on the board today, but about how we manage the pipeline of women coming forward to fill senior roles.

Headhunters frequently bemoan the fact that there just aren’t enough women around at senior levels. The work needs to start earlier, with women being mentored and groomed for the top. For now, that pipeline is generally leaky and unsupportive.

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