Women must be free to be tyrannical (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/12/2001

Do women and men manage differently?

A majority of executives polled in a Conference Board of Canada study stated men and women differ in their approaches to leadership, with women exhibiting more of an ability to develop and nurture strong interpersonal relationships that have a positive impact on the bottom line.

The report, Creating High-performance Organizations: Leveraging Women’s Leadership, surveyed CEOs, women executives and HR professionals, and its findings offer ammunition for equality fighters looking to make a business case for breaking the glass ceiling. But is the perceived nurturing aspect of women something businesses can leverage at the top?

Men can be, and often are, nurturers. And women can be, and often are, the most tough-as-nails bosses imaginable.

Women in power — and of course Margaret Thatcher comes to mind — can and do act the same as men. In fact, feminist theory sees Thatcher as a representative of the male leadership style that has seen the world wage bloody war after bloody war. The antithesis of what it is hoped women can bring to leadership. So while she broke down gender barriers by becoming Britain’s prime minister, her behaviour in power can’t be used as an example of the unique qualities women can bring to an organization.

So if you are a CEO looking to improve your diversity image, add female perspectives to help understand that segment of your market, and score someone who can rally underlings with a “female” management style, you may have some difficulty on the last point.

Who is to say that women striving for the top employ these attributes? The opposite may even be true — that in order to reach the top in spite of discrimination a tough-as-nails approach has been necessary. So if you’re looking for those nurturing qualities you may not find them in a successful woman.

In any case, a significant number of respondents to the study disagreed with the majority opinion that women offer a nurturing take on leadership. Twenty-four per cent of CEOs, as well as 10 per cent of women executives, disagreed that men and women differ in their leadership and management capabilities. (Fifty-six per cent agreed men and women differ in their contributions to an organization; 20 per cent neither agreed or disagreed.)

For organizations pursuing gender equality in executive suites, perceptions of nurturing female leaders can be a distraction. Women must be included for moral reasons and should be free to be tough and even overbearing. Of course, whether being dictatorial is an effective leadership tool is another issue.

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