by Charlotte Gurney
In the month of International Women’s Day 2021 we are proud to highlight the fact that Volt has its first female CEO. This is something that reflects the inclusive nature of the workforce at Volt, as well as the diverse range of opportunities within the business. Over the past year there has been a great deal of discussion of women in work, including concerns that the pandemic has driven equality levels back to those of the 1970s. However, despite the challenges - new and old - to workplace equality there remains a great deal of momentum behind how female leaders and entrepreneurs are driving forward for success, broadening out what it means to be a leader in business today.
Female leadership at Volt
More diverse businesses do better, that’s something that we firmly believe at Volt. It’s also a statement that can be easily backed up by research. For example, listed firms where at least a third of the bosses are women have a profit margin in excess of 10 times greater than those that don’t. Our own executive levels are intentionally gender diverse. Linda Perneau is the Volt CEO and has more than 25 years experience as a senior executive in the staffing industry. She has a reputation for strategic and entrepreneurial thinking and has proven experience in delivering outstanding results. Linda also made the Staffing Industry Analysts Staffing 100 list for 2021, singling her out as one of the most influential leaders in staffing.
When women do better, economies do better
Economic recovery is at the top of the agenda for many businesses - and governments - in the coming months and the role that women have to play in this is especially important. At Volt our experience shows that intentionally diversifying the make up of a workforce at all levels is an effective roadmap for creating a more successful and productive business. There are many different ways in which a more diverse workforce can be influential but one of the most important is when it comes to redefining what leadership really means.
Broadening the scope of leadership
Research carried out by McKinsey identified that many organisations still rely on a traditional, stereotypical, masculine definition of leadership that focuses on authoritative decision making, control and corrective action. However, research from McKinsey has also established that these factors are the least critical to future success and businesses are much more likely to go on to be more productive, creative and profitable where other traits are being prioritised. Those leadership traits that are actually effective for success include intellectual stimulation, as well as inspiration, participative decision making, people development and role modelling. While men and women apply intellectual stimulation in equal measure, all the other major traits that are identified as critical to success are applied more frequently by female leaders. Narrow leadership models that choose successive leaders on the basis of traditional masculine characteristics - now identified as least critical to success - could be holding organisations back while those that have embraced women at all levels tend to engage with the most critical factors for success and, as a result, simply do better.
Where do the obstacles lie?
Mckinsey also found that women are often hesitant and unwilling to identify the barriers that exist in the workplace to their success - and, as a result, many employers are simply unaware that there are structures within their organisation that are holding equality back. There is also plenty of evidence of employers who will penalise those who complain as well as others who might view this as weakness. This is incredibly problematic, particularly as women often face obstacles and challenges that male dominated management simply may never have encountered by virtue of not being female. This could be anything from the reality of juggling billable hours targets after giving birth to the potential cultural issues of being a young female employee alone with a male mentor. Biased leadership models and hesitation when it comes to speaking up against obstacles that prevent women from rising can disadvantage not just the women themselves but organisations as a whole. There is a desperate need to create cultures where feedback is valued - and used to introduce real change in organisations - and where employers are more proactive when it comes to removing obstacles to equality.
The benefits for business of broadening leadership scope:
Equality in the workplace is often pitched as a battle of two sides - if one gains ground then the other must lose it. However, an increasing volume of research demonstrates that this is just not the case. Where women are more broadly represented in leadership positions - and right across the business - there are many benefits for all those who work in that environment.
Women are strong leaders in times of crisis. If the pandemic has shown us anything about women in positions of leadership it’s how female leadership has stood out during the past year. From empathy, to multitasking and effective decision making key areas of female strength are vital in crisis periods. Leaders such as New Zealand’s Jacina Ardern, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen have all demonstrated this to be the case.
Women bring more emotional intelligence (EQ) into the workplace. Women tend to score up to 15% higher on EQ tests than men - this not only creates a working environment more conducive to collaboration and satisfaction but has an impact on results too. Those companies that demonstrate strong financial performance tend to nurture employees with high levels of self awareness, one of the most obvious EQ traits.
Businesses with more women tend to be more inclusive overall. Women are more likely to stand up for racial and gender equality at work, to mentor other women and to sponsor those coming up behind them.
Moving away from unhelpful, traditional stereotypes. Particularly right now when businesses are trying to recover from the damaging impact of the pandemic - and looking for new opportunities to thrive - it’s essential that all members of a workforce are productive, efficient and satisfied. Traditional corporate culture conflicts with so much of what is now well established as being essential for healthy happy humans. Promoting and supporting women leads to environments that are just as - if not more - productive and effective, not in spite of the compassion and empathy that more female influence can bring, but because of it.
The traditional view of leadership is changing, not just in response to the impact of the pandemic but the conflict that has existed for some time between the way old fashioned masculine leadership perspectives impact people within an organisation and how much more could be achieved with a different approach. Increasingly, for those businesses with ambitions for growth and profit, female leadership is no longer just a nice to have - it is essential. The success of the female leaders driving for success at Volt is a testament to that.