Women Leadership – Is it different?

Women Leadership

I finally got around to reading the book Lean In by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. It was a good read and it got me thinking about my journey as a female leader.

The interesting fact is that I never thought about my gender while studying or while working in the corporate world.

Focused Thinking

While studying for engineering in India, females were a huge minority. But I didn’t have time to think about my gender. All I thought about was how to be ahead of the curve.

Even in the workplace, I never felt that I missed out on any opportunity because of my gender. I was always given an opportunity if I had demonstrated potential and I showed interest. I believe that this is what Sheryl was alluding to in her book that it is very important for females to ask for those opportunities and more importantly believe that they can perform.

Having the confidence and grabbing the opportunity are both equally important.

Universal Leadership Skills

Let’s shift our focus to leadership skills. The question that came to my mind was this:

Are leadership skills different for women versus men?

During my career, I came across a couple of male co-workers who ignored my opinions for what seemed like a gender bias. But in the majority of the cases, my opinions weighed as much as others. I tend to think of these two cases as error in judgment.

I remember once a female co-worker came to me for advice on dealing with a male colleague. When I heard her concerns, I didn’t see anything that she was doing wrong specific to her gender but it was a generic leadership skill she needed to work on.

My conclusion from my experience is that leadership skills are consistent across the board whether we are talking about female or male leaders.

The same soft skills that work for male leaders also work for female leaders as well.

Thinking Internally

The aspect that women need to keep in mind is how they think internally. Are they constantly thinking about their gender or are they thinking of themselves as peers to other colleagues. Keep in mind that your internal thoughts seem to always have an external effect.

Whenever I was in a leadership position, I never thought “How am I going to be perceived as a woman.” I always thought about “How I am going to be perceived as a leader” and it always worked for me. I made similar mistakes as potentially a male coworker would and I learned the same way as he would.

Directing Our Emotions

I remember attending a leadership program designed only for women. I distinctly remember the first day, the coordinator of the program pointed us to boxes of tissues on our table in case we needed them. I was put off by that comment.

Why would the coordinator assume that we as female leaders would be shedding tears?

I tend to think if we want to be emotional, we should be directing our emotions towards excelling and leading right.

So what do you think about women leadership? Do you find that you have less or more control over how you focus, learn, react, and perceive things? Or are you more inclined to think otherwise? How does this type of thinking impact your level of influence where you work? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Aditi Chopra

Aditi Chopra is an experienced leader in the software industry
She is a consultant, writer and a leader
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9 Responses

  1. Yours is one of the most encouraging and informative posts I’ve read on this subject. For 40 years I worked as a trainer and a consultant in the non-profit sector. Often I worked with and for women in leadership positions. This was in the 1970′s when women were just beginning to break into positions of authority. It never was an issue for me but a few with whom I worked seemed to be sensitive and defensive which my have been justifiable considering the times and resentment by a few men.

    After I retired I took a job a Lowe’s for the insurance and a little extra income. Lowe’s moves managers around within stores quite a bit. During the 2+ years I was there I had two women managers in my department and one woman assistant store manager. I had a lot of respect for the female assistant store manager. She was the only one who dealt with everyone the same, male, female, young, old, full-time, part-time. And she was the only one at the store management level who had a clue about business and how to maintain margin.

    The two department managers were another story. One, the final one before I fully retired, was top notch. She worked hard, treated us fairly, and most importantly, let us do our job. I found out that she had reported to the store manager that she was working with grown-ups and it made her job easier. She could focus on her responsibilities because we focused on ours. Taking direction was never an issue because I and the other specialist in the department (also male) understood that there was reason and logic behind her directions. The other was a big issue and nearly caused me to terminate my stay there prematurely. She was quite young and amazingly inept at handling people. She dressed poorly, tight-fitting but very, very casual clothing that allowed body parts to fall about (I received more than one complaint from customers about it). How one dresses, man or woman, either contributes towards the respect one wants and needs to function or it detracts from it.

    But the management issue became a problem for two reasons. We, the other specialist and myself, were hired to sell. She was hired to maintain inventory counts, stock the department, and address installation issues. She decided she wanted to sell and proceeded to interrupt us both while were dealing with customers. She simply moved in n a sales interview and took over. The result is that her job was neglected, then pushed off on us. I remember one occasion when I had $50,000 worth of contracts that needed to be processed and closed when she asked me to lay those aside and stock shelves. I am not “too good” to stock, but the job description emphasizes sales and $50,000 is nothing to sneeze at.

    I doubt that most men have any problem at all working for a woman in leadership. The issue for us is not gender. It is competence. Leaders of either gender will encounter self-induced turbulence when they are incompetent. One mistake does not indicate incompetence but a series of them usually does.

    Anyway, thank you again for your article. You have eloquently captured the essence of the issue.

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    • I am glad that you liked it! Thanks for reading and sharing your views.

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  2. I had the opportunity to meet Sandberg at the BlogHer conference in Chicago this past year and she was truly an inspiration! She has helped me to turn my views on women in leadership roles from a negative one to a positive one. I’ve played soccer in college and my coach was a woman…it wasn’t a great relationship. However, at my current company, seoWorks, a woman just got promoted to the Director spot. I was so excited by my initial reaction was “You go girl!” and I honestly felt that she can lead me the way I should be led in a work environment. I think women make great leaders even though it’s still a new position for us in the workforce. I think the next 20 years will bring a lot of new and exciting explorations for women in business.

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  3. Anna – Thanks for sharing your experience of meeting Sandberg. Yes, she is truly inspirational.

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  4. I liked your article. You hit the nail, squarely — it is about leadership, not gender!

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    • Thanks for reading and liking it!

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  5. Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

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    • Thanks for liking and reblogging!

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  6. Sairam. “Women leadership is not any thing new or unique in this era. Women too have good exposure and they are highly educated. They also get huge pay pockets anually running in lacs. Hats off to those able competent and skilled women leaders.Neverteless, there is another term,”Servant Leadership”. This needs greater study & write up is essential. Regards, sitaraman.s.

    Liked by 1 person

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