Content Hub

Content Hub


How to Nourish Future Female Company Leaders

John Nelligan




To understand how to nourish the role of women in today’s working world and how women can shape the future, we need to take a look at how leadership works in the modern world.

There’s been a general shift towards a more people-oriented, flexible and decentralised leadership style – sometimes it’s even doubted whether leaders are needed at all.

There are numerous examples of businesses that have become successful by adopting a flat management system, but research shows that organisations without a formal hierarchy are still driven by leaders, albeit informal ones with different attributes from a traditional leader stereotype.

A successful business leader creates a system which helps everyone within it achieve their full potential: engaged employees, outstanding customer experience, enriching relationships with partners and suppliers, happy shareholders, forming close links with local communities and larger society.

In order to get there, the leader must create an inspiring mission, generate profits, reward people fairly, keep the team motivated and provide a valuable service. A true leader is never self-centred but committed to community, learning and justice.

Looking at the changing landscape of leadership, you could argue that women are better attuned to its current values and demands. They often have excellent team-building and ‘soft skills’ which are increasingly coming into play.

At the same time, increased diversity, recognition of a wider set of talents and different leadership styles should encourage women to take up higher levels of authority.

So why are women hugely underrepresented in the top positions in business?

Dr Isabel Fernandez-Mateo, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School, set out on a mission to find out why “top management is still a man’s business with women accounting for less than 16.9% of top executives and directors in Fortune 500 firms, and only 5.2% of CEOs, despite representing 40% of the workforce.”

There is a popular belief supported by the media that this glass ceiling exists due to discrimination during the selection process. This appears to be a myth. Women have equal chances to be shortlisted and appointed to senior executive roles as men. The problem doesn’t lie at the top: most women don’t even get to that level due to a lack of promotion at earlier stages of their careers.

If we want to nurture female leaders, we should start early. The two most important transitions where employers can make a difference happen when a young woman starts her first job after finishing education and gets her first promotion.

To attract talented young women to a workplace and support them in pursuing their careers to higher levels, we have to discover what motivates them and give them what they really need.

Researchers from the International Consortium for Executive Development Research, led by Lauren Noël, asked company executives and rising female stars at A.P. Moller Maersk, BlackRock, eBay, Fidelity, HubSpot, Pearson, Philips, and RBC what they value and what hinders their success.

There were some surprising answers.

Contrary to popular belief, balancing work and family life no longer seems to be the main challenge, unlike older generations of women. Today, the most common reasons for women around age 30 leaving a job are poor salaries, no learning and development opportunities and a lack of meaningful work. It also appeared that women and men of that age are equal in being demotivated predominantly because of the lack of adequate rewards.

The most desired things that next generation women leaders need at work can be expressed in five statements:

“Know me” – Invest the time to understand me as a person, including my passions, interests, desires, and needs both in and out of work.

“Challenge me”- I need to grow and continue my learning through new challenges and see multiple paths to advancement.

“Connect me” – I want to interact, collaborate, and build relationships with a dynamic network of peers, leaders, mentors, coaches, and sponsors.

“Inspire me” – I want purpose from my workplace from which I derive a sense of meaning.

“Unleash me” – I want to lead initiatives, have my voice heard, experiment, and use my entrepreneurial flair.

Providing the environment that meets these needs and desires is the key to making female leaders emerge and flourish.

Would your workplace withstand this challenge?