Three Ways To Embrace Gender-Integrative Leadership

Three Ways To Embrace Gender-Integrative Leadership

Women’s History Month in March, including International Women’s Day on March 8, brought on a flurry of discourse about how we can break the bias in our workspaces. I was fortunate enough to share some of my insights on a few different platforms. One stood out for me, where I offered the case for building gender-integrative leadership.

Gender-integrative leadership is about ensuring leadership displays the duality of perspectives, thoughts, behaviors and actions that each gender offers to lead fully with impact.

A Hudson report explored how men and women have different leadership styles and characteristics. Female leaders were found to be more meticulous, autonomous and socially competent than men. Male leaders were found to be more rational and decisive and to cope better with stress than women.

The question is, why have we not started to maximize the potential of bringing this to the table sooner? Call it dyad leadership or co-leadership—the potential benefits of bringing diverse, gender-based perspectives and characteristics to the strategic direction and execution of a firm far outweigh any short-term downsides.

What is stopping us from embracing this idea? Unconscious biases. Our implicit assumptions about the way leadership should look, feel, think and act. The assumption that “too many cooks spoil a broth.”

When was the last time we verified some of these biases and assumptions about leadership? Despite the different and advanced models of leadership, we have yet to fully consider how to implement a gender-focused leadership style.

Here are some ways in which we can tap into the benefits of gender-integrative leadership and begin the process of embracing it within the organization. Note that it is a process that is steeped in awakening unconscious biases, bringing them to the fore, diffusing them and replacing them with something far better—all while using the collective power of diversity.

1. Become gender inclusive at the strategic table.

The strategic table is not just the CEO role. It is also at the board level and at the stakeholder level. Key investors and beneficial advisory committees, as examples, can be reached out to to augment the leadership tools and skills necessary to navigate volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a concerted number of participants to keep companies profitable but also purposeful and impactful. Thus, the fallacy that one leader can encompass everything at any given time and in every given circumstance, while possible, is not true for most leaders occupying those positions. It takes time and effort to increase one’s neuro-agility to be able to play such a multifaceted role without significant stress.

To cultivate this idea of augmented leadership through a collective effort, consider the following:

• Ensure inclusion and equality in any engagements being undertaken, such as meetings, events and strategic sessions. In fact, be explicit in the agenda to allow every voice or representative the opportunity to be heard.

• Create advisory boards or subcommittees that have gender parity. It is not enough to have just one female represented; there needs to be an equal split. The greater the diversity in background (ethnicity, age and skills, as examples), the richer the insights will be.

• Always ask: How would different genders consider the problem or opportunity?

2. Encourage courageous conversations.

Courageous conversations are dialogues about difficult, often unspoken and possibly taboo issues that are brought to the center stage for awareness, reflection, unlearning and productive action to rectify as needed.

For this to happen:

• Embrace openness and fairness in your conversation culture, particularly about internal and external biases. It could be as simple as just checking in a meeting: Are we gender biased in our approach? Have we heard everyone’s perspective on the matter?

• Encourage dialogues through creating a dedicated forum that elevates the discussion on biases away from the issues to ways to solve them. Run regular campaigns that expose examples of bias and offer support as awareness increases.

• Embed new language in the organizational speak. Language that is gender specific can be neutralized and amended. “Chairman,” for example, can change to “chair.”

• Speak up immediately against gender bias, but do so in a constructive manner. Aim to be solutions-focused, not blame-oriented or caught up in venting and frustration. Channel that energy for the progression of the organization.

3. Have a tool kit that can assess, develop and guide men and women away from unconscious bias.

According to multiple intelligences theory, we are smart in different ways besides traditional IQ. With this knowledge, we can learn more about our preferences, which can impact our health and well-being positively and lead us toward becoming more agile leaders.

A tool kit can be devised that includes these elements:

• Assess how neuro-agile you and your teams are, and know where the triggers, opportunities or gaps may lie as a result.

• Seek to use your natural intelligence preferences, your strengths, to bolster the teams reporting to you directly and indirectly.

• Make your health and well-being a priority, especially on ways to increase your resilience to stress and how to stretch your perspective through brain fitness.

• Build your neuro-agility as you enhance your critical thinking and cut loose from biases.

If the above seems too daunting or not even necessary to consider implementing because you as a leader and your organization are embracing gender diversity in so many ways, think about it this way: The Titanic, the “unsinkable ship,” sank on its maiden voyage because of human error and crucial design flaws.

Now ask yourself: What are you missing (what is the blind spot) in your leadership and organizational design that you have yet to see because you have not included different perspectives?

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