Gender equality and traits that define good leaders

Even though women still take a minority part of managerial positions in the economy,[1] the argument “men are born leaders” now represents a thing of a past. Research shows that companies with a higher proportion of women in leadership positions have been proven to generate 35% higher returns on their capital and the companies in which women take 30% of leadership positions create 6% higher profits (EIGE 2019). However, can this success be attributed indirectly also to the inclusive policies of the companies that offer their employees the feeling of being valued and appreciated, regardless their gender? Namely, the core cause of women taking only a minor part of leadership positions cannot be found in lesser competence or performance of women, but in stereotypical roles that are attached to either gender in our society. When the latter is surpassed, all employees (regardless of their personal circumstances such as gender) have the possibility for full self-realisation of their potentials.

Have you ever heard that men are intellectually superior and more determined? Or that women are emotionally unstable? What about men caring more about achievement, progress and work than women, due to which the most successful managers possess masculine attributes? All of those are proven to be mere gender stereotypes. Managers do not differ in their essential attributes, capabilities and behaviours, and in both genders, we can find both excellent as well as average or poor performance (Mekač 2001). Nevertheless, the mentioned stereotypes work as an entry barrier for women in management (or in traditionally male professions in general) and their advancement on the hierarchical ladder in management. Research (Crampton and Mishra 1999) even suggest that social pressure is the biggest obstacle for women in management: due to entering a traditionally ‘male domain’, they also enter a whole new role in which they meet new stereotypical ideas (e. g. women are not able to cope with crisis situations, their training and professional development is meaningless as they will soon be leaving for the maternity leave, career women are losing their femininity by taking over masculine characteristics etc.).

Such and similar stereotypes are dangerous to both individuals and our society as a whole. They lead to reduce self-esteem in the situations in which people with certain characteristics are expected to not perform well or to lose interest in working in the field in the long-run. A society permeated with gender stereotypes allows a person to think that she does not possess real managerial competences, which leads to the individual’s subconscious internalization of such thinking, indirectly shaping her career path. In the long term such chronic exposure to a stereotype leads to the so-called ‘stereotype threat’: the individual will no longer perceive herself as a part of this group, e. g. will no longer see herself as a manager, which psychology ascribes as a result of the desire to maintain self-confidence in the face of failure. The mere existence of gender stereotypes and not addressing them appropriately can, therefore, lead to a loss of valuable potential if individuals are not given a specific opportunity based solely on their gender.

On the other hand, researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenora Jacobson proved already in 1968 that the achievements of children, of whom their teachers expect more, are only improving. If we apply this to the managerial positions, we can conclude that men have much greater support from the society, which in turn also results in their easier entrance to the managerial waters and unhindered movement – and advancement – within them.

In the last decades the phenomenon of “women in management” became a trend which has slowly but surely also been increasing. Nevertheless, one of the more topical questions became whether women entering management truly have a different leadership style than men due to their unique characteristics (supposedly deriving from their gender). In the 1980s, it was widely acknowledged that successful managerial style is characterised by qualities traditionally associated with masculine characteristics. Some of these stereotyped characteristics are aggressiveness, competitiveness, individualism, authoritarianism, command and control tendency, negligence, risk-taking, exclusiveness in decision-making, even hard-line enforcement. In the 1990s however, it was said that ‘women’s style’, characterised by stereotypically feminine traits is a successful one. This applies to traits such as being democratic in decision-making, patient, cautious, precise, interactive, to collaborate with colleagues and help employees, to integrate a feeling of a family into the work environment. However, is it true that all women in leadership positions use the so-called female leadership style or all men use the so-called male leadership style?

Of course not. Research shows that women in leadership positions can have even more pronounced stereotypically masculine traits than men in leadership positions. It can, therefore, be concluded that individual characteristics can be called feminine or masculine, but this merely a stereotyped language. Both men are women possess personality traits from one pool as well as the other – we are basically talking about human traits, which, in line with certain societal expectations ascribed to a particular gender are generally (stereotypically) divided into two poles. Such awareness is especially important when we are talking about finding a successful way to lead. The most successful way in the last century has turned out to be the androgenic management style of leadership that combines both positive ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. Managers are managing both female and male employees, so it is extremely important that they are able to also understand both perspectives and all intermediate greys, formed by individual blends of personality traits of employees.

Even before the beginning of the 21st century, a new leadership style emerged, one that was already set out in a more inclusive way, namely the transformative style of leadership. This style is categorised by leaders that are developing positive relationships with subordinates with a goal to improve the success of both individual employees as well as the organisation as a whole. They also stimulate employees intellectually and pay attention to their emotional needs. This leadership style is in itself much more inclusive since it focuses on all employees and their satisfaction at work, which means that the proportion of traditionally feminine or masculine characteristics of individuals (both in management or other functions) plays no role, it is irrelevant.

The needs of job seekers in the labour market today are again different, which makes it necessary to introduce new paradigms and premises into our management methods. Research by Sunnie Giles (2016) demonstrated that the employees in the 21st century want from their leaders the following in particular: high moral and ethical standards, promoting self-organisation (loose guidance), clear communication of expectations, flexibility to change set premises, cultivation of growth and employee professional development, as well as regular and open communication with employees. Peter Brandman’s approach, however, illustrates four basic characteristics sought in leaders today, namely: self-esteem, connection with others, dedication to the meaning of one’s work, emotional courage, which should all be closely interrelated and mutually interdependent, as the absence of one disrupts the balance and efficiency of the manager. Generations of Millennials and Generation Z are in particular included wishing from their superiors a strong interpersonal relationship and genuine interest for their personal and career development.

We can, therefore, observe that the key question is not who is a better leader – a man or a woman. The key question is the trend evolution that emerges with each new generation entering the job market – great managers should adapt and internalize their leadership style (regardless their gender) to those generations in order to achieve good results. It is also necessary to understand that each situation demands its own leadership style. Good managers must be adept at assessing a given organisation’s structure, current circumstances and the characteristics of the people they work with, and adapt their leadership styles accordingly.

[1] 24,6% of women in Slovenia are executive or non-executive directors and 17,7% of women are in the positions of board chairs or board members.


Millennials and Generation Z in the workforce and in the workplace

Laziness, narcissism, egocentrism, unmanageability and the feeling of entitlement are just some of the attributes ascribed to new generations entering the workplace today, the so-called Millennials and Generation Z. Although their age range is not well defined, the former term (Millennials) usually refers to people born between years 1981-2000, while Generation Z is represented by those born in the second half of the 1990s and the beginning of 2000s. Millennials currently represent the largest share of the working population, while Generation Z is also starting to take an active role in the labour market. For the employer it is essential to understand the core of their existential dilemma: this enables them to successfully recruit, and more importantly, effectively integrate the new generations into work processes, as well as retain younger generations in a particular workplace. In order to meet the needs of the latter in the labour market, having a deeper understanding of the modern hierarchy of their priorities is even more important.

Notwithstanding the many prejudices and stereotypes that emerge about new generations in the workplace, something holds true – the impact of the innumerable profound changes in our society (e.g. technological development) has been shaping younger generations in a different way than the Generation X before them. This has brought us to the point where we refer to them as ‘instant generations’: generations that want to reach for everything very quickly, which includes seeing the results of their work (promotions or financial awards).

A survey conducted by Deloitte in 2019 showed that Millennials are overall dissatisfied with the work they do – as many as 49% say they would want to change jobs within the next two years of their life. This figure is far greater than what we could find in the same survey conducted in 2017, in which 38% of the interviewees were similarly chronically dissatisfied. This undeniably poses a significant challenge for structures of businesses and organizations that want a reliable and stable workforce. The reasons behind new generations leaving their current jobs are primarily related to dissatisfaction with the payment and a lack of opportunities for promotion and professional development. High on the list are also the lack of diversity in the workplace and a lack of integration policies. Millennials were found to be largely (49%) distrustful of corporate business ethics (this figure turned out to be as high as 65% in 2017 survey). This has multidimensional effects for the generations in question since complementarity of business and their personal principles is also very high on their priority list. It comes as no surprise that freelancing work is attractive to as many as 84% ​​of millennials and 81% of Generation Z members.

So what can an employer do to attract the best millennial staff to their company or organization?

1. Impacting the society through the prism of social responsibility: Deloitte study also found that Millennials and Generation Z designed very high standards related to the positive effects that a business should have on society. As many as 80% of millennials say that they would be more dedicated and motivated to work in a company or organisation if they felt that their employer was seeking to make a positive impact on society. When applying for a job position, they strive for employment at a company whose value system is aligned with theirs. If a modern company wishes to thrive in its markets it is, therefore, important to realize that their best job candidates will pay attention to their outward image (reputation) that should reflect socially responsible practices at all levels. The survey also found that key values ​​for younger generations also contain caring about a healthy environment (addressing also climate change), and gender equality and diversity in the workplace. Organizational culture can, therefore, be a key contributor to the higher satisfaction of younger generations in the workplace, which needs to be constantly nurtured. Through socially responsible corporate policies, Millennials and Generation Z members grasp their most important work-related priority: to find meaning in their work.

2. Enable learning and developing professional competencies in the workplace: Millennials and Generation Z are looking for workplaces that they engage with fully, they learn quickly and present positive effects of their work already early on. Most often, they strive for positions through which they can influence the functioning of their company or organisations in at least some ways. They want to constantly improve their knowledge and competences; hence it is not difficult for them to engage with work also outside their prescribed workday.

3. Actively involve employees in work and decision-making processes: new generations want to be actively involved in work processes to a greater extent than the Generation X while taking responsibilities seriously and maintaining a strong relationship with their employer (or their immediate supervisor). Gallup’s research has shown that the latter is in 70% of cases crucial to how well a Millennial or a Generation Z member feels in the existing structure and processes. Consequently, they need to be managed by people who are not afraid of strong and ambitious young people and truly believe in their skills, abilities and potentials. Millennials are also eager to be involved in decision-making processes within a business or organization, believing that they can contribute their share to the already existing knowledge and experience. These generations are much more proactive than most Generation X members are, as well as not afraid to voice their opinions. They are not ashamed of failures either. When a Millennial feels that he/she is not contributing to the financial well-being of the company or organisation (either through innovation, new knowledge, concrete improvements etc.), this can lead to dissatisfaction with the latter and their impulsiveness of his/her engagement with the labour market. Fulfilling this aspect is particularly important when employing the members of Generation Z, whose top priority in the workplace is supportive leadership. Nearly a third of Generation Z members say that they are more motivated to work and do not find it difficult to stay in work late into the night if the management of the company or organization is supportive. As many as 37% also claim that they would not work for a person that does not act constructively or supportively. They need to feel “acquainted” in the workplace (47% value trust the most, while 40% support). This translates into a fact that (if they want greater employee effectiveness) their superiors should make a sincere effort to be acquainted with their employees, which includes inquiring about their career paths and wants.

3. The flexibility of working time and space: younger generations are constantly connected to and engaged with their work. This means that there is no need to be physically present in the office. A survey conducted by PwC found that millennials are most effective when they are provided with clear guidance and concrete goals by their superiors before commencing the task. It is better if the superior focus on the quality of the task and the accuracy of the achieved goals, rather than on where/where the task was performed. Last but not least, the quality of the work done is what really counts for employers – even though someone might do it on the other half of the Earth in their pyjamas.

However, companies and organisations also face the challenge of retaining outstanding employees, not only hiring them. Deloitte research outlines that both diversity in the workplace, as well as opportunities for ongoing training and corporate learning,  influence the retention of good employees. For long-term business engagement with new generations, it is also crucial to know and understand the concept of reverse loyalty. More individualised young workers today do not perceive loyalty to a particular company or organization as positively and nobly representatives of generation X did. Loyalty at any cost for them is overvalued, youth is much more aware of their value in the labour market and they are not afraid to navigate between different employers. The concept of reverse loyalty, therefore, comes into place when younger generations expect a loyal relationship from their superiors instead (supportive activities, personal engagement at the individual level, corporate learning, etc.). They do not want to exist in a company as a mere ‘number’, because their work (under the condition that it is self-fulfilling), no longer represents only a necessity to them. Work has with younger generations and new technologies transitioned from being a virtue to being an actual lifestyle.

Why cannot a challenge be an opportunity at the same time? By properly understanding the mind-sets of Millennials and Generation Z members, an employer can enrich his or her organizational structure, culture and work processes in a manner that promotes their creativity, innovativeness and personal development. In doing so, the employers secure indispensable individuals; the ones, who do not mind long hours and are prepared to put in great effort to work for a company or organisation, which has a clearly defined purpose, as well as offers possibilities of promotion and advancement.

GEMA certification ensures that your company or organisation reaches and attracts the young and the talented in a greater way. Being one of GEMA certificate holders engages with the youth through showing that your company or organisation strives for social responsibility in the field of gender equality in its employment processes and at the workplace itself. The mentoring system will also allow them to quickly develop old and acquire new skills, while a regulated wage gap will show your commitment to the de-facto equality of your employees and promotion of diversity in the workplace.

Mentioned 2019 Deloitte survey is available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/ Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/deloitte-2019-millennial-survey.pdf