The Future is Female … We all need “more female” attributes to seize the opportunities of an incredible new world

November 19, 2018

Last week I was in Dubai, with a highlight being to deliver the opening keynote of the Global “Women in Leadership” Economic Forum. Organised by the excellent Naseba team, this event was established in 2006 when it broke new ground in the Middle East by giving a platform for women leaders to gather and advance gender diversity. Since then, the forum has traveled across continents and evolved much.

While staying committed to its initial objective to champion gender diversity, the Global WIL Economic Forum now shines a light on other economic imperatives such as the inclusion of all and social impact. Endorsed and opened by the UAE Minister of Economy for the past five years, the forum is bringing together 1,000 like-minded individuals from around the world, to shape the economy of tomorrow.

Download a summary of my keynote: The Future is Female

This year, the program focused on impact investing, social entrepreneurship, STEM, arts and culture – addressed by regional and global leading organisations, policy makers and story-tellers. Other speakers ranged from the first Indian-American to win Miss America through to the leaders of Du, Pfizer and other organisations – all focused on themes related to diversity and inclusion, social innovation and impact.

So why is the future female?

Well for starters, we need to address the basic inequalities, prejudices and sexism in the world. Women are equal to men. Second, diversity is not just good, but it creates better solutions, bringing together different perspectives and talents. But my point is more than this. In the new world, in particular driven by new technologies, we need new attributes to survive and thrive.

Making sense of today’s complexity requires us to rise above the data points and short-term priorities, to see a bigger picture – to make sense of a changing world. That requires intuition more than logic (intuition is more forwards looking, whilst logic looks back). To add value beyond machines and AI, we need to unlock our humanity, our creativity. That requires us to be more empathetic, to make new connections. Ideas, design, relationships are most valued in today’s business world. And to solve the big problems of our world, we need to be more thoughtful – to find more responsible, caring and inspiring solutions.

This is why “the future is female”

It’s not just about getting to a level playing field in diversity and inclusion, which matters … but even more, its about taking those attributes, those qualities, which are typically “more female” and to embrace them … both for men and women. We could go into a biological and neurological discussion at this point, but I think the point is clear. Women therefore can have an advantage, whilst for men it might require some unlearning.

The future is not like the future used to be. Being a leader of the future, is not achieved by following the traits of the past success. It’s time to look forwards, together, with a positive mindset, to embrace the opportunities of an incredible new world.

Download a summary of my keynote: The Future is Female

While the world is evolving, women are still lagging behind when it comes to leadership roles in business. Today, only 26 women are in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies, making up 5.2% of the female population, according to a report by Pew Research. The stats stay virtually the same for women CEOs of Fortune 1000 companies at 5.4%, showing that there is little movement of women making up these high-ranking positions as company leaders.

With women still pushing to reach the top, they are faced with a range of challenges that many of their male CEO counterparts don’t have an understanding of. It is these issues that are preventing many women from achieving their goal of becoming a leader at their company and diminishing their ability to get ahead in business.

Consider one example from the latter article, which demonstrates the attitudes which still need to be overcome, and to recognise the real value of women, and equally what is required to lead in today’s complex and connected world:

Here are some great examples of successful female leaders in business, women who have reached the top of organisations either as entrepreneurs or through managing the politics and power of corporate organisations to become successful:

Mary Barra, CEO General Motors … reinventing the auto business for the future

Ana Botin, Executive Chair, Santander … transformational leader of the Spanish bank

Cher Wang, Chairwoman, HTC … perhaps the world’s most successful female entrepreneur

Indra Nooyi, ex CEO, Pepsico … from India to America, bridging east and west 

Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM … leading one of the world’s largest consulting firms

Sara Al Madani, founder Rouge Couture … fashion designer and leadership coach

Ayah Bdeir, CEO Little Bits … the Lebanese founder of electronic building blocks

Forbes magazine recently asked 15 female leaders to share what they see as the big challenges, and their advice to take a lead:

1. Being Treated Equally

One of the biggest challenges my female clients are currently facing is equality in the workplace. My advice for women leaders everywhere is to go for what they want in their careers and not to give up. Hone the skills necessary to give you those opportunities, such as your communication skills, leadership development, and emotional intelligence. Raise your hand in meetings. Speak up, and be heard. –Valerie Martinelli, Valerie Martinelli Consulting, LLC

2. Building A Sisterhood

The biggest challenge my female clients face today is garnering support from other women. My advice to women worldwide is to support and empower each other, starting with our basic principles of who we are — our morals, values, integrity. We must be just. Be humbled, show togetherness, passion, excellence and enthusiasm toward laying the foundation for our progress through our work. – Nadidah Coveney, CTM Consulting Group LLC

3. Generating Revenue

One of the biggest challenges my female clients currently face is growing their revenues. Money solves everything; it gives you freedom and choices. My advice is to focus on what generates revenue wherever you are. After all, if you don’t have revenue, you don’t have a business. For entrepreneurs, that’s called a hobby. –Christine Hueber, ChristineHueber.com

4. Being Confident

One of the biggest challenges I see when I speak with females is their confidence. I tell them they need to get comfortable knowing that people will always try to take you off of “your game” or dislike you for no apparent reason. But if you go in knowing this, if you are clear on your purpose and on what you are trying to achieve, then you will be successful in getting what you want. – Francine Parham,FrancineParham & Co.

5. Speaking Up

It’s not enough to be in a role or to sit at the table. One must also speak confidently, regardless of odds faced. Women leaders fear being ostracized or rejected; however, respect comes when one’s voice is heard. I coach leaders to share their voice and perspective because it can help shape policy, the workforce and perspective. Make your presence known as a leader and collaborator for good. – LaKisha Greenwade, Lucki Fit LLC

6. Building Alliances With Decision-Makers

My female clients come to me because they’ve been put down, pushed aside, or told they don’t belong at the table. It’s not easy to be bullied, but there is a way to get past it. I suggest women build healthy relationships with advocates, create a strong personal brand, establish guidelines before each project, position themselves as experts in their field, and communicate with confidence. – Christina Holloway,Christina Holloway

7. Becoming A Member Of The C-Suite

Women everywhere are making auspicious moves in the workplace. They are taking more risks and preparing themselves to take on more challenging roles. That said, one of the greatest obstacles they face is making their way to the C-suite. My advice is that they take the bull by the horns: Know what you want and be relentless in your preparation. Equivocation will always be your worst enemy. –Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq., WordSmithRapport

8. Asking For Money

For over 32 years, I have led women entrepreneurs to their next levels in business, and often the challenge is sales and anything related to income — not charging enough, being afraid to ask, underpricing, marketing, promoting, “bragging” to establish authority, and giving away services for free. My advice is to learn to master sales and get confident in your skills so you price properly and gain respect. – Tracy Repchuk, InnerSurf Online Brand & Web Services

9. Standing In Their Success

Some women leaders shy away from speaking on their accomplishments for fear of being boastful or conceited. Women tend to think that it’s needed to shrink themselves to seem non-intimidating. I advise clients to gain the confidence to know that if they’re in the room, that means they deserve to be there. Shrinking does nothing but delay your voice from being heard and taken seriously. – Niya Allen-Vatel, Career Global

10. Tackling Imposter Syndrome

The biggest challenge my female clients face is an inability to internalize their accomplishments. We first get to the root of why this belief exists, then adjust their locus of control by making accurate assessments of their performance, then get feedback from other leaders to confirm their strengths. By tackling imposter syndrome, they are able to better develop their leadership. – Loren Margolis,Training & Leadership Success LLC

11. Overcoming Perfectionism

Many of the women leaders I coach get paralyzed by their perfectionist tendencies. I often recommend reflection for clients when they get really stuck. It might be a shorter pause, such as a few deep breaths or short meditation, or a longer activity like a walk, journaling exercise, or a Brené Brown book excerpt or TED Talk. All of these approaches have worked well to help manage perfectionism. – Jill Hauwiller,Leadership Refinery

12. Trusting Their Own Voice

In conversations with leaders, there is one recurring theme that haunts me. It is the virtually inaudible question I hear women asking themselves too often: “Who am I to…?” What I tell my clients is that right now, they are among the wealthiest, most educated and powerful women on the planet. They have not risen to their current title by accident. They must trust and use their own voice! – Susanne Biro,Susanne Biro & Associates Coaching Inc.

13. Shifting Their Word Choice

Women share the challenge of reconciling an internal conflict between being perceived as a respected leader versus a bossy woman. Professional women can resolve this issue and own the respected leader role by shifting from judgmental to neutral words. This subtle transition positively influences the way a listener digests the message and perceives the speaker’s authority and leadership. – Elaine Rosenblum, J.D., ProForm U®

14. Dealing With Negative Thoughts

One of the biggest challenges my female clients face is they allow for the negative thoughts that arise in their mind to take control of their life. My advice for women everywhere is to take control of their thoughts by becoming consciously aware of them and to either replace them with more positive and encouraging thoughts or to accept them and decide to move forward despite them.

15. Re-Entering The Paid Workforce

Relaunching a career after a long hiatus as a full-time caregiver for children or aging parents is challenging. It requires combating ageism, rebuilding confidence, reconstructing a network, dusting off old skills or developing new ones, and catching up on technology. Women leaders — help these relaunchers advance themselves, even if your path was different and didn’t include a career break.

A recent article in Inc magazine says when people call for more women in the workplace, it may sound as though they’re just trying to meet a quota. Gender diversity, though, could be the key to any company’s success. Diversifying a variety of top positions, specifically executive roles, is more than a movement to level the corporate playing field — it’s about using the best resources to maximize every organization’s potential.

Effective but Underrepresented

“If women ran the world, there would be no wars.” It’s an old stereotype, but there’s something to be said for the effects of more women in leadership positions. In fact, according to a Morgan Stanley report, “more gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

Despite the observed benefits, however, company leadership around the world remains unbalanced, with women accounting for less than a quarter of management positions globally. The disparity is even greater when it comes to higher-level management positions. 24/7 Wall St. analyzed data compiled by the research group LedBetter and discovered that of the 234 companies that own almost 2,000 of the world’s most recognized consumer brands, only 14 of the companies had a female CEO, while nine of them had no women at all serving in executive positions or on their boards.

It’ll take more than just a motivated resistance to overturn years of systemic inequality and create opportunities for more female executives. But by employing a few key strategies, everyone from business leaders to individual employees can help combat the gender gap and move our workforce toward greater leadership balance.

1. Promote a Welcoming Culture

Creating more opportunities for women starts with creating a more inclusive environment. Any specific efforts to recruit women to leadership roles in corporate settings are useless if companies don’t encourage a work culture where they can succeed.

According to Anu Mandapati, founder of IMPACT Leadership for Women, some initial steps to creating this culture are to focus mainly on education and experience in the hiring process, offer salaries based on the market rate rather than salary history, and start rewarding outcomes achieved instead of hours worked. Each of these guidelines could build the foundation for gender equality in the workplace, thus creating an environment where women can thrive in leadership roles.

2. Invest in Companies That Champion Diversity

The business community can also have a positive impact on female equality by investing in companies that are pioneering this change. Christine Alemany, CEO advisor at Trailblaze Growth Advisors, claims it’s not enough to rely on existing, male-centric corporations to promote equality. “It’s time for women to start their own businesses and begin to invest in new ones that are diverse,” Alemany notes.

According to Alemany, there are a handful of venture capitalists and private equity firms that see diversity as a priority and focus on companies with diverse executive teams as part of their investment strategy. The firm 112Capital, for instance, has invested in female-led tech companies, while the JumpFund focuses on female-led ventures in the southeastern U.S.  If more firms embrace this objective, a new wave of female executives will emerge.

3. Make the Results Public

Improving the opportunities for female executives at your own company is one thing, but inspiring other organizations to do the same is where the real battle lies. One way to do that is by making women leaders visible. When Emily Culp, CMO of Keds, is invited to industry events, she shares her invitation with her female colleagues.

Culp raises the visibility of her entire team by encouraging them to partake in public speaking events and activities outside of work, such as serving on a board or volunteering. She explains the value: “Real business opportunities come out of these events, but you have to be present to network.”

Creating a more inclusive culture takes time, but with cooperation from companies around the world, gender equality in upper-level management may be closer than ever.

My four sessions during my week in Dubai were:

“Disrupt or be Disrupted”

  • Disruption as both a challenge and incredible opportunity
  • Innovation that solves bigger business and social problems
  • Leadership that creates the future world you want to see

“The Future is Female”

  • Technology disrupts the logic of a male-dominated world
  • Creativity, humanity, empathy, and intuition matter more
  • The 21st century and the power and influence of women

“Can AI and technology drive social impact”

  • How business can be a powerful force for good, and make money
  • Embracing digital technologies to accelerate the impact
  • 16 examples of businesses who win through social impact

“Leading from the Future Back”

  • Progress starts by thinking from the future back
  • Developing a 5:3:1 approach to strategy and innovation
  • Leading with a growth mindset – bold, brave and brilliant

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