A fundamental component of New Work is the change in management structures. Breaking out of classic patterns can open up new potentials for companies. One important topic that should be highlighted in this context is female leadership.
In 2023, we should no longer have to worry about whether a woman or a man holds (or should hold) a executive position, or why it is important to create conditions that make it possible to combine family and career well. Nevertheless – and this has been impressively demonstrated by the pandemic – mainly women do the care work for children or other people in need of care and attention. Meanwhile, Germany’s top management continues to be male dominated: According to a 2022 study by the Allbright Foundation, there are more men named “Christian” in leadership circles of German companies than there are women in general. But how can this be changed? What are the arguments in favor of gender-diverse corporate leadership? And how do male and female leadership differ?
What is important to you in your leadership style?
Miriam Wiecha (Client Engagement Manager): I see myself as an authentic, open, and honest person, which also influences the way I lead. In my leadership style, the soft, people-oriented factors are particularly pronounced. I trust my team. This is because I have a positive view of people and I am convinced that everyone does his or her best within the scope of his or her abilities. Empathizing with the team is important to me. Since I can never be sure how others feel, I also explicitly ask about individual needs and try to respond to them. I also involve my colleagues, when possible, when decisions need to be made. I ask for opinions and appreciate open discussion within the team. My aim is to value the performance, but also the personal traits and strengths of each team member. I am convinced that teams perform best when individuals can contribute their strengths in the right place. This is true, even when we are working on different projects. In addition, it is my job to give my team confidence in challenging situations, which are not uncommon in our job, and to support them where I can.
I also try to show my colleagues perspectives for their future and promote their personal and professional development. This is especially successful in cooperation with the other Heads & Leads of the WARGITSCH Transformation Engineers. In addition to all the soft factors, I think it is important to find a suitable framework for collaboration so that project business and professional, internal development are balanced. This requires good structures, which we are constantly developing. In summary, I would describe my leadership style as situational and cooperative – interestingly, this was already apparent during my time at university.
Do women lead differently?
Alexandra Wiebe-Kaaden (Chapter Lead Communication Design): To answer this question, you can’t avoid thinking about common clichés: Women are too emotional and empathetic for leadership positions, they lack assertiveness. But is there any truth to this or are we just getting lost in stereotypes? The results of a study by the University of Mannheim and the Study Center in Bonn show the opposite: In women-led companies, there are more rules and clear leadership words. Men, on the other hand, tend to have a more “laissez-faire” style of leadership. There are now a number of studies on the subject of female leadership with interesting findings. Among other things, some typical characteristics of women in leadership positions have emerged. One of them is the involvement of employees. Women tend to use the transformational leadership style. This involves meeting employees at eye height and seeing oneself as a sparring partner, mentor and coach. Perhaps this is why women are increasingly found in leadership positions, because the work itself is also transforming.
In the agile collaboration model, it is not only work that is being redefined, but also leadership: collaboration is at the top of the list of competencies. And it is precisely this competence that women tend to fulfill better. A study by the Association of German Women Entrepreneurs figured out that female managers set their priorities differently: They rely more on intensive customer loyalty and good relationships with their employees. Men, on the other hand, attach greater importance to financial advantages and material benefits, such as company cars or cell phones.
Another characteristic of female leadership is clear communication. This avoids misunderstandings, which can lead to an increase in efficiency when working together. In addition, women are often more open to innovation. In change processes, women act faster and are more likely to take the initiative. All the previously mentioned aspects are prerequisites for good leadership, yet in my opinion the key can be found in the individual personality. Not every woman can automatically communicate well, and not every man attaches great importance to a company car. One’s own personality structure is responsible for how someone appears and acts to the outside world, how empathetic, power-oriented or success-oriented someone is. To be a good manager, it is crucial to know your own strengths and to use them, regardless of your gender.
What cultural elements make it easier for women to take on management positions?
Christina Weigert (VP Corporate Development): Much has been done in Germany over the past 15 years to make it easier for women to return to work, especially after the birth of a child. Be it through the introduction of parental allowance or the creation of childcare options for children from the age of one. This was also an important circumstance for me personally to quickly return to a job that I enjoy and that also puts me on an equal economic footing with my partner. But in addition to political framework conditions and a mutually desired equality within the partnership, the conditions in the work environment play a very important role in determining which paths a woman can take in her career. In my view, three principles are helpful in encouraging women to aspire to leadership roles, even if they are not independent singles. These are exactly the principles we live at WARGITSCH Transformation Engineers.
1) Leading by example: Male executives who are not afraid to make family life and their active role in it transparent (e.g. parental leave, taking over care days when children are sick) and female executives who, for example, actively set aside times for their children can become role models of modern leadership. In her book “It’s now,” for example, Janina Kugel, former Chief Human Resources Officer at Siemens AG, reports on her principle of not accepting appointments during her core family time between 5 and 8 pm. She stuck to this principle, even though she was aware that she would receive a lot of criticism. If we start to see people not just as employees, but as individuals in a social context with different lifestyles and challenges, we can break away from stereotypes and not be guided by gender, marital status, or similar factors in leadership issues.
2) Commitment: The (lack of) professional competence or personal suitability is often used as an argument for the lack of female managers. At the end of the day, however, it is the commitment of top management that acts as a catalyst for a higher proportion of female managers. The debate about whether some women are up to a leadership job can be easily sidestepped if an organization is committed to a strengths-based approach by reinforcing strengths rather than highlighting deficits. This also includes defining leadership and the strengths required for it, closely linked to the strength profiles of the teams to be led. With a clear commitment from top management (not just enforced by quotas), it is possible to promote a culture in which women are also encouraged to take on leadership responsibility, along the lines of their respective strength profiles.
3) Flexibility: Making work more flexible in terms of location and time allows all employees to better balance work and private life. Particularly where a significant proportion of remote work is possible, the prerequisite is created for mothers to take the leap out of the famous part-time trap. Valuable time is not wasted on travel to and from work, which is particularly difficult to reconcile with everyday family life or at least involves enormous stress. In addition, the ability to flexibly arrange working hours in close collegial coordination for appointments or meetings creates freedom and optimal work-life-blending. If this paradigm applies not only to team members but also to managers, this automatically makes it easier for many women to access leadership roles.
What are the advantages of a gender-diverse management team?
Isabel Svigac (VP Finance & Administration): I would say: a lot. First, I would like to briefly discuss the term “diverse”, since the question explicitly asks about gender diversity. Diversity is very complex and encompasses much more than just gender. This term can also refer to ethnic origin, sexual orientation, social background, age, and many other aspects that are equally important and should not be left out. To return to the question: In a nutshell, gender diversity in management teams can ensure higher productivity and also an increase in turnover. Different strengths and character traits come together and often complement each other perfectly. Each person has his or her own leadership style and different approaches to problems and their solutions, so it is possible to use the strengths of each individual leadership member and compensate for individual weaknesses. For this, it is essential that all leadership members have a cooperative competence. We find ourselves in a volatile economic world, which has been marked by many crises in the recent years, and this development continues. Priorities have shifted and new leadership competencies have come to the fore.
In this world, situational and people- or team-oriented leadership is more important than ever. Women are stereotyped as being more emotional, empathetic, and possessing strong social and communication skills. Men, on the other hand, are stereotypically seen as assertive, strong, and authoritarian. In our world, where emotional agility should also be part of the leadership style, gender balance can be an important strategic success factor. After all, with a mix of many different strengths and skills, one can generate optimal output. This represents a major competitive advantage for companies that act and live accordingly. Mental health in teams can also be strengthened and the motivation of employees increased. In addition to the direct effects and advantages in the company in terms of productivity and efficiency, which have already been worked out and proven in many studies, gender-diverse leadership is also relevant for the labor market and can be part of employer branding. A company with heterogeneous management teams is perceived as modern and innovative and suggests a future-oriented corporate culture, which is perceived as positive by potential employees. Many companies, like us at WARGITSCH Transformation Engineers, live this philosophy. It is part of our everyday work. Our management team is made up of men and women of different ages, with different backgrounds and family situations. It is fun to be part of this team, where we can communicate openly, honestly, and directly and support each other. Unfortunately, the reality across the board paints a different picture. Stereotypes need to be broken down and old thought patterns critically questioned to trigger change in companies. I am not an advocate of women’s quotas or similarly motivated quotas and minimum numbers. However, I do think that corresponding requirements are currently still necessary to drive this development forward and ensure a change in thinking.