Research conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2017 showed that even though women worldwide are closing the gender gap in leadership roles—especially in the fields of health and education—inequality continues in politics and the workforce. Women represent fewer than 50% of leaders in every industry analyzed—with energy, mining, and manufacturing showing fewer than 20% of leadership positions being held by women. When women are better represented in leadership roles, more women are hired in the industry they work for.
According to a 2014 Business Insider report, women tend to be more effective leaders than men—and their effectiveness increases with age, while that of males declines. Women scored higher than men on 12 of the 16 competencies measured, including taking initiative; embodying integrity and honesty; inspiring and motivating others; collaborating and supporting teamwork; and connecting groups to the outside world.
In regard to women being better leaders, Barack Obama has said, “Not to generalize, but women seem to have a better capacity than men do, partly because of their socialization.”
An outstanding example, and a personal role model of leadership for me, is Mata Amritandamayi—an Indian guru born in 1953 into an impoverished family. She grew up being very aware of poverty and the suffering of others, and began to physically embrace people to comfort them, saying that her duty was to console others. Mata became known as Amma (“Mother”) and is referred to as the “Hugging Saint.”
In 1981 spiritual seekers who followed Amma created a worldwide foundation, of which Amma is the chair. This network of charitable organizations in forty countries provides food, housing, education, and medical services for the poor. Following from these efforts, for the first time, Catholics and orthodox Christians, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders (including Amma) met in 2014 to endorse and sign a shared proclamation that called for the elimination of slavery and human trafficking by 2020. This has influenced many societies and countries to also take steps to do so. For example, now there is a National Human Trafficking Hotline, where help can be sought via a free phone call, TTY, chat, or text message.
In July 2015 Amma delivered the keynote address at a United Nations Academic Impact Conference on technology and sustainable development. International delegates from 93 universities attended. She asked the scientific community to infuse its research with awareness and compassion, stressing the importance of keeping in mind the goal of uplifting the poor and the suffering when undertaking technological research. Amma truly brings her nurturing, grounded, feminine self to her role as leader.
In our current sociopolitical climate, we can see that women are rising up and embracing the next level of leadership—from the Women’s Marches to the #MeToo movement to this year holding a record-breaking number of women running for office. Who are some of the female leaders you look to? What are the qualities in them that you admire? Please also share some of your achievements and struggles with stepping into your own leadership.