The role of female managers in business, their unique challenges in their day-to-day work, and how to meet social and business expectations at the same time, have long been a hot topic in the forums. There are many other areas where business decision-makers believe that gender perceptions, functioning and pathways to success differ to a lesser or even greater extent. The general problem with the approach to this issue is that very few people dare to be honest, because, depending on societal expectations, honesty can be costly for a manager, because the subject is very sensitive. However, sound solutions based on a template clearly cannot support the real development of the people concerned, their reintegration into a new life after COVID-19, and in a war situation that is now under the world’s attention.
The basis for development
So far, I have talked about how male and female managers are no different, yet we have also made it clear that there are fundamental differences, and if we really want to train good female managers, we need to be aware of these, because they are the basis of development. The basis of all personal development is to hold up a mirror to the manager to be developed, creating a crystal-clear picture of her personality traits. The first task is to confront and accept this image. Every personality has qualities that are challenging for her in a given environment, culture or organisation, and qualities that are fundamentally easy to help her progress. In the development process, it is up to your professional to choose which dose of personality traits to focus on. Some people eliminate failure first; others focus on the good things. If both groups are in the picture, in the end it doesn’t matter which one they start with; it depends on personality type who responds better to which direction. We have already clarified that gender has no effect on our personality type, but then what are the specific traits that influence and determine the development of a female leader?
One of the biggest challenges is balancing the role of leader versus wife/mother. This needs to be addressed separately, as it is true for all managers that they need to become and remain an idol in the eyes of the members of the organisation and in the eyes of the business stakeholders. In 2022 and beyond, the creation of a happy private life will be essential to becoming an idol. This is just as much a challenge for male leaders, but female leaders have a much more complex role to play in this area. For a man, the idol image is often built up automatically, but for a woman, it needs to be managed much more consciously for real success. It’s a very important question of which area you want to focus on, because many women leaders fall into the trap of wanting to be the perfect, doting mother, the fantastic wife, and of course the successful manager at the same time. It is enviable to achieve this trifecta, but it is rare. But even if it is, these roles are gradually being developed. That is why the first thing a female leader must establish in herself is precisely that her existence cannot be defined by social and general expectations. She needs to develop a role that is perfectly suited to her own personality and personal space in order to be truly successful at the end of the process. If, for example, you have a very dominant, decisive, often unemotional female manager – because, despite expectations, there are such women managers – you need to focus on implementing this character in all aspects of your life. In other words, whatever the expectations of a “mother”, she will manage her child, her husband will have to support her, and she will never be the supportive wife category, and in the workplace, she will be a strong-handed, logical, cold-headed decision-maker. Of course, she also needs to know what the consequences will be. Namely, that your child will respect her, often not necessarily love or adore her, but will be attached to her and grateful to her for the rest of their lives. Her husband will often feel oppressed, they will comment that she is the “dragon”, but they will have a very deep and long-lasting relationship, which he can most often destroy with his selfishness. And, of course, many people in the company will say – mostly not to her face – that she only plays the tough leader because she is a woman and wants to prove herself. And, of course, it should be added immediately that these reactions will be typical in, say, a European country with an average democracy, but if we develop a society with above or below average recognition and understanding of women leaders, then these reactions may also change significantly. But the point is that women managers need to be specifically prepared for this.
There are several important factors that should be specifically addressed in making a female leader successful. A friend of mine, perhaps one of my most valued, mentors a lot of women in both business and sport. Her experience is very interesting, as she has been mentoring women business owners and leaders for 15 years, developing and maintaining very unique and deep relationships with them, virtually becoming the number one people in their lives. She has also mentored individual female athletes, national team,s and national captains to world titles and great achievements. Obviously, what she sees as a success factor in making women successful is relevant to me. The biggest challenge, she says, is building confidence, which is easier to lose than to build when you are just playing a role. It is fair to say that honesty is more important for women than it is for men. Although she was quick to add that this may only be true for her circle of partners, as she knows them. She also always stresses that she has been involved in the success of hundreds of women, but has never met two people who are the same, so the common perception that “women leaders are like this or that” doesn’t hold water. She sees that generalisation is still present in people’s lives and that female managers often fall into the trap of wanting to contradict conventional wisdom to the point of throwing away their own personalities, adopting different masks and behaviours, and setting themselves up for failure.
The world is constantly evolving and developing, and we hope that we will reach a point where it will not make sense to write an article about the challenges of women leaders, but until we reach that stage, let us try to remain objective about the subject in order to succeed. And what advice should we give to women managers in the meantime? To quote my expert friend, who starts his development programmes for women with a very eloquent American saying: “Water off a duck’s back!” Because water rolls off a duck’s back, which means, loosely translated, that if a woman wants to be a good manager, the first thing she must learn is not to care what other people think. She focuses on herself, on being herself and living a happy life. Then she has a chance to become a good leader!
Water off a Duck’s Back: women’s management development in 2022 (Part 1)