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Female leadership, a war of the sexes?

Female leadership in the corporate world

Until the 19th century, there were no significant movements for gender equality, but there was a relationship between gender and social function, with duties and limitations taught to each child from birth. Men were expected to provide for their families and women were expected to perform tasks considered inferior, such as housework, which is usually unpaid. When women entered the formal labor market in the 20th century, their participation remained restricted to auxiliary positions for decades. We would be sinning if we talked about women’s leadership without putting it into context and without looking at the thinking or the foundations that dominated world society until a few decades ago. High gender inequality is a reflection of this thinking, which still persists in some parts of the world.

We live in a century in which gender equality and equity are exalted in all spheres, with a special focus on the corporate world. But how can we expect to respect women’s rights when simple human rights are still to be respected? And because leadership is an integral part of the rights demanded by women in the pursuit of gender equality, its existence has been increasingly highlighted and the topic has been receiving special attention worldwide.
After all, what is female leadership and how does it come about?

Female participation in the formal market was boosted by the industrial revolution between the 18th and 19th centuries and later with the suffragist movement that emerged after the First World War. The insertion of women gained more strength with the right to vote for the female public, as well as other rights that were added with the end of the First World War, because thousands of men lost their lives, others were mutilated, and others had other sequelae that made it impossible for them to work, which led these women as well as several widows to leave their homes and go to work outside to provide for their household. And so female leadership began.

It is undeniable that both sexes have their differences and their own ways of leading, but this should not be seen as a problem for organizations, since gender does not define competencies; both men and women can be good or bad leaders, their success depends on the merit of each in the development of their functions within the organization. Hence, female leadership and male leadership should not be seen as a war of sexes, but rather as complementary leaderships.

Female leadership is a term coined to describe a condition of influence in relation to a group, department or company, in order to guide it in the pursuit of the organization’s objectives. This expression has a deeper meaning that includes decades of female mobilization in order to guarantee their participation in social spheres to which women traditionally had no access, such as politics and the job market. Today they have access to both, but sometimes still to a limited extent when it comes to strategic positions in the corporate world.

The characteristics of female leadership are: emotional intelligence, self-confidence, the ability to influence, resilience, assertiveness, good humour, a tendency to cooperate, greater flexibility, empathy, greater development in interpersonal relationships and a light organizational climate.

The work that women have done to earn their place in the corporate world is to be commended, despite the challenges they have faced such as prejudice, discrimination, resistance to aiming for strategic positions, the demands of family life, self-sabotage and fear of failure, among others. Even so, today we can already see women occupying leadership positions in various sectors, including those once considered exclusively male, such as engineering, for example. However, women are still in the minority in management positions, most of the time receiving lower salaries than men due to discriminatory and offensive attitudes and gender inequality, which in turn need to be banned in the general context of society, as female leadership is essential for improving income distribution, combating prejudice and achieving social justice.

According to McKinsey’s Diversity Matters study, companies with gender-equal executive teams are 14% more likely to outperform their competitors. Companies whose employees perceive greater equalization between opportunities for women and men are 93% more likely to outperform their competitors financially. This is because there is greater diversity in ideas, which favours creativity and the development of innovative solutions, which promote different views on a given topic, which leads to more sustainable paths in the long term, and all of this is only possible with complementarity.

Working conditions, pay and respect in companies cannot be ignored when it comes to Women’s Leadership in the corporate world. On the other hand, women themselves must have self-esteem and self-respect, seeking to train and work hard to reach higher positions on their own merits.

It is said that “to educate a woman is to empower a society”, so in order to change this scenario, we must break down cultural, economic and legal barriers, among others, and invest more in quality academic teaching, sustainable education, leadership programs in schools and at work, creating support spaces to improve skills and role model coaching to boost young women’s self-confidence, etc.

In Mozambique, for example, there are still some institutions with 0% female leadership, without a single woman in management positions or strategic positions, which is why most organizations are now forced to hire a certain number of women for leadership or management positions in order to respect the inclusion of women as a way of achieving gender equity in the corporate world. I recognize and congratulate the companies that have already overcome this barrier and are working towards equal management.

Every woman is a leader to some extent. She begins by leading her self, her life, her children, her domestic staff, and if she has the opportunity, she ends up leading a team in a particular organization. I feel privileged to also lead outside the domestic environment in a world that is still so unequal to female leadership and I’m making an effort to prepare and transform more women into leaders.

I appeal to the corporate world not to include women in leadership just as an obligation to reach a number required by company guidelines, but rather to do it naturally as the right thing to do, and to see it as a human right that assists women just as it assists men. As for us women leaders in Mozambique, let’s practice sorority and women’s empowerment, so that more women become leaders who are well prepared to occupy strategic positions, neither in front nor behind, but alongside men, in all business, political and industrial sectors. This will guarantee a greater opportunity for equity in leadership in general for generations to come.