Why female leadership is problematic

I think most of us agree that we need to level up our leadership in this world. We need leaders that act less out of shame, guilt, fear, jealousy, pain, greed and gaining power. Instead we need leaders that act out of justice, compassion, courage, love, understanding, connection, strength, trust and vision.

Female leadership is Bull Shit

Many people make a distinction between female and male leadership. That is total bull shit. I know I’m normally a bit more sophisticated and gentle with words. But in this case I simply can’t as it’s doing more harm than good. And I want people to realize this. So that we can move forward in developing our leadership, instead of backwards. Because the world is screaming for it!

Five reasons why the distinction between female leadership and male leadership is problematic:

1. Leadership is a set of skills, not a gender
2. Gender stereotypes limit potential
3. Boxing in leadership stagnates innovation
4. The idea that man and women lead differently reinforces gender bias
5. Male and female leadership excludes people

1. Leadership is a set of skills, not a gender

Leadership skills are not determined by gender, but by a person’s abilities, experiences, and knowledge. There are plenty of successful female leaders who exhibit traditionally ‘masculine’ traits such as assertiveness, decisiveness, and strategic thinking, just as there are plenty of successful male leaders who exhibit traditionally ‘feminine’ traits such as empathy, collaboration, and communication. And who decided which qualities are traditionally male or female anyway? 

Men are hunters

I regularly hear – mainly men – argue that thousands year ago men were the hunters, while women were the caretakers. 

Anthropological studies have shown that in some hunter-gatherer societies, women played a significant role in hunting and providing food for their communities. Like the women of the Aka and Baka tribes of central Africa and the Inuit people of North America. Another study showed that between 30 and 50 percent of the hunters living between thousands till eight thousand years ago in the population the research focused on, were women. 

Women are more emotional 

Another reason people come up with to make a distinction: women are more emotional. This is total bull shit again. Research has shown that men and women both continuously have emotions. That we act and express them differently, for sure! We are different. We have different hormones flowing through our bodies. And most of all: we have people reacting differently on us. 

Most women are appreciated for empathic skills and showing emotions since they were small, getting my little ponies and dolls to take care of. Boys are appreciated for fighting, building stuff and being a big boy for not crying. Really effective I can tell you, if you want to raise men that can’t deal with or dare to show their emotions. Not very helpful though in relationships with their loved ones, in raising their kids or being great leaders. Hence the amount of leaders visiting me with similar issues on a weekly base.

It’s crystal clear that gender roles and activities vary greatly among different cultures and time periods, so making generalizations about this is nothing more than making unjust assumptions. 

Research show that the differences in leadership may be due in part to socialisation and cultural expectations, as well as biological factors. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and both men and women can exhibit a wide range of leadership styles and qualities.

2. Gender stereotypes limit potential

The idea that there are inherent differences between male and female leadership styles reinforces gender stereotypes and can limit people’s potential. It creates a false belief that women are inherently better at nurturing and collaboration, while men are inherently better at assertiveness and decision-making. This can lead to women being passed over for leadership roles and men being discouraged from exhibiting ‘feminine’ traits.

The belief that men and women lead differently can impede progress toward gender equality in leadership. It may lead to biased assumptions and preferences during hiring, promotion, and selection processes, favoring one gender over the other based on perceived leadership styles. This perpetuates gender disparities and hampers efforts to achieve equal representation and opportunities for all genders in leadership roles.

3. Boxing in leadership stagnates innovation

Boxing in leadership based on gender or any other limited categorization stifles innovation. The idea that there is one ‘correct’ way to lead based on gender is limiting and ignores the complex nature of leadership. Leadership is influenced by a range of factors such as personality, experience, skills, and values. These factors vary among individuals, irrespective of their gender. 

Embracing a fluid, inclusive, and open approach to leadership allows organizations to tap into a diverse talent pool, challenge stereotypes, foster a culture of innovation, and adapt to the ever-changing realities of the modern world. By breaking free from constraints, organizations can unlock the full potential of their leaders and drive innovation to new heights.

By focusing on individual qualities and capabilities rather than gender stereotypes, organizations create opportunities for diverse leadership styles and approaches.

4. The idea that man and women lead differently reinforces gender bias

Reinforcing the notion that men and women lead differently sets predefined expectations for individuals based on their gender. It creates a rigid framework that may restrict opportunities for individuals to explore different leadership styles and approaches outside of what is traditionally associated with their gender. This can limit personal growth, career advancement, and the potential for diverse leadership perspectives.

The idea that men and women lead differently doesn’t only reinforce gender bias it can also create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When women are expected to lead in a certain way, they may feel pressured to conform to these expectations, even if it goes against their natural leadership style. This can create a double-bind for female leaders, where they are criticised for being too aggressive if they exhibit assertiveness or too weak if they exhibit nurturing behaviour.

5. Male and female leadership excludes people

If we’re talking about male and female leadership, it excludes people who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, or other gender identities that don’t conform to the traditional binary of male and female. It assumes that leadership traits are inherently tied to gender, which is not only untrue but also harmful to those who don’t fit into these rigid categories.

By perpetuating the false idea that there are only two genders with distinct leadership styles, we fail to recognize the diversity of experiences and perspectives that exist within individuals. The distinction between female and male leadership is a social construct that reinforces gender stereotypes and can limit potential.This can lead to exclusion, discrimination, and a lack of representation for those who don’t conform to gender norms.

A broader view on leadership

Leadership has long been associated with ‘masculinity’ and ‘male’ qualities. And of course, if you see what is happening in the world right now, it seems a good idea to opt for a more ‘female’ and ‘feminine’ style. But then we keep on thinking and doing the same way as we always have! This view of leadership is outdated and limiting. So what is a good way of looking at leadership moving forward?

It’s important to recognize that gender is not the only factor that influences leadership styles. Other factors such as personality, culture, upbringing, and life experiences also play a significant role. By focusing solely on gender, we ignore these other important factors and miss out on the full range of leadership styles and potential leaders.

Leadership should be based on skills and abilities, not gender, and a mix of different leadership styles is beneficial for organizations.

Conscious leadership 

Another term that is used frequently is ‘conscious’ leadership. I’m not a big fan of that either. Mainly because there are so many leaders consciously fucking up the world, that I can’t really relate to it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Wise Leadership

Therefore I plead for looking at leadership in a broader perspective. A perspective that includes all genders, heritages, cultures, who we are in a certain context and our relations with nature. Enter Wise Leadership. 

Wise Leadership is a holistic approach to leadership that emphasizes the importance of wisdom in decision-making and problem-solving. It recognizes the interconnection of different areas of wisdom, such as emotional regulation, self-reflection and understanding, acceptance of diverse perspectives, and spirituality. 

Wise Leadership is not limited to any particular gender, but rather acknowledges that anyone can develop wisdom through intentional practice and learning. By cultivating wisdom, leaders can make more effective decisions, build stronger relationships, and create a positive impact on their teams and organizations.

The Wisdom Compass

Based on this broader view and a combination of neuroscientific research, NLP and indigenous wisdom the Wisdom Compass was developed. This unique approach to leadership recognizes that true wisdom comes from a combination of knowledge, experience, and emotional intelligence. 

The Wisdom Compass also recognizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in leadership. It understands that gender is just one aspect of a person’s identity, and that individuals may identify in a variety of ways. By focusing on wisdom rather than gender, the Wisdom Compass provides a more inclusive and effective approach to leadership.

If we focus on developing the skills and traits that lead to wisdom, we can create a more equal and effective leadership landscape that benefits everyone.

Want to discover which leader you are and how to become a Wise Leader? Do the FREE Wise Leadership test.