One of the most effective ways you can revolutionise your business is to employ more women and tap into their superpowers of empathy and flexibility.
Data from the Pew Research Center in America showed that 59 per cent of adults said that they find female business leaders do a better job of being compassionate and empathetic than their male counterparts. Ninety-one per cent of our own delegates at Elevate Talent tell us the same thing, though there is consensus that some men are also really skilled at this style of leadership – and, of course, not every woman has these skills.
Unfortunately, the ‘old’ style of leadership is deeply ingrained. I interviewed Olympic athlete and Financial Services Executive Gavin Stewart about his thoughts on increasing gender representation in the workplace. He told me, “I don’t think any of us realised how hard it would be to challenge the status quo”, and that’s becoming increasingly evident. Although there’s been historical discussion on this topic, we still need to make huge progress.
In this blog, we’re going to explore why empathy and flexibility are vital ingredients to the success and longevity of your business, and the business case for employing more women now.
Why leading with empathy is important
Without empathy, it’s impossible to understand what someone else is experiencing. Each employee deserves to be treated as an individual; while one person might be able to brush off feeling about a difficult meeting, another employee might require sit-down support and reflection time. If both are expected to respond to an event in the same way, it’s likely at least one person’s needs are not being met, which can lead to frustration, resentment and, in the long term, an employee exit plan.
Our communication coach and trainer, Nicky Perfect, explains that empathy is often misunderstood: people think it means being able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. However, if you imagine wearing one of your shoes and one shoe belonging to another person, that’s when you can directly experience how different it feels; from this place of awareness, you can ask the other person to share their perspective so you have the full picture.
Empathy is a clear indicator to employees that their feelings and opinions are important, and it’s this range and flexibility of emotional availability that helps employees feel acknowledged and appreciated.
How flexibility improves leadership
Flexibility is said to underpin every single leadership quality. There’s a well-known concept used in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) referred to as the Law of Requisite Variety; it’s based on the premise that the system (or person) with greatest flexibility in their approach has the best chance of controlling a favourable outcome.
Look at it this way: a willow tree has flexibility – it bends and sways to allow the wind to pass through; it adapts without a fight – whereas a rigid oak tree is more likely to snap. The strength of the willow tree rests in its flexibility. As a leader, you have choices: you can remain committed to your rigid, unwavering stance (like the oak tree) and risk being taken out by a storm, or you can be flexible (like the willow tree), take stock of each situation as it arises and consider all the available options.
When Elevate Talent asked delegates to share their views on the importance of flexibility, 29 per cent agreed it was important, while 70 per cent strongly agreed it was a vital leadership skill.
From what we’ve shared so far, it’s obvious that the skills of empathy and flexibility are valued by our delegates. What do you think? Do they matter to you? Can you think of a time in the workplace when you felt listened to and supported, or can you remember an occasion when you felt dismissed or disregarded?
What’s happening in your organisation? Are leaders (male and female) being taught to be empathic and flexible? Is it part of the leadership curriculum? If not, why not? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
The path of least resistance
Logic suggests that, by default, the presence of more women in the workplace will automatically start to increase the levels of empathy and flexibility which, over time, will start to change the overall leadership culture. The solution? Employ more women so that senior managers can directly benefit from experiencing the positive impact of these two superpowers (remember Nicky Perfect’s idea of imagining that you are walking with one shoe that belongs to another person, not just assuming you know what it would feel like).
Until you experience the reality of the ‘old style’ leadership versus empathic leadership coupled with flexibility, it’s hard to develop a 360 degree understanding of the difference. By employing more women, a graceful transformation becomes possible, and inevitable!
If your business created and followed a five to ten-year plan, with the right metrics in place to measure success in terms of retention and employee satisfaction, I’m optimistic it would reap the rewards.
The business case for employing more women
There has been so much research done over the years showing that there is a strong business case for employing more women:
- Typically, women support your business to make informed, well-balanced, measured decisions.
- They frequently adopt an empathic and flexible leadership approach, which can boost staff retention by helping employees to feel heard, understood and valued.
- By filling your business pipeline with more female employees, your male staff will benefit from modelling their approach to leadership, further increasing employee retention and improving leadership ideologies.
- Anecdotally, women are known to be more committed to driving forward the diversity, equality and inclusion agenda, which in turn helps boost your bottom line by introducing new skill and creativity.
- Women onboard a greater number of new clients than their male counterparts.
We’re passionate about inspiring women and businesses to excel by giving them the skills and the data to create a thriving workforce that works to the best of its ability and gets results.
Drop us a message and let us know your experiences when it comes to leadership. What do you think is the fastest solution to creating more flexible and empathic leaders? I’ve shared mine (and I’m “flexible”, remember!).