A quick quiz for you -- which country has: the most women in parliament? The largest number on boards? Drum roll -- Rwanda 63.8 per cent and Norway 40.6 per cent. And, in case you're wondering, the U.S. comes in at number 84 with 18.2 per cent, and the U.K. at 65 with 22.6 per cent; and on boards 16.9 per cent and 20.7 per cent, respectively. Not quite what you were expecting, was it? So it seems that when it comes to leadership, the glass ceiling in the U.S. and U.K. isn't about to be shattered any time soon. But does this really matter? I think it does, and here's the reason why.
We are nowadays bombarded via smart phone, tablet, wide screen TV, radio and paper with tales, which have as their roots in the failure of leadership. This failure is in terms of the activities associated with leadership, as well as the lack of opportunities for more than 50 per cent of the population - women to lead. Such negligence is no respecter of economic systems or national borders. And it embeds itself like the worst malware into areas as diverse as the treatment of women, the governance of corporations and nation states, football and religion, to name but a few.
Part of the problem is that people use the term and want the role, but don't know what leadership means. A "word cloud" on leadership should include terms such as: followers, role model, authenticity, responsibility, vulnerability, drive, integrity, vision, change and so on. So far, so easy; however, the more challenging aspect of designing the image would be working out the size of each word in the picture, to reflect its comparative importance.
Recent research and theory has thankfully moved away from the 'great man' theory of leadership (that leaders are born, not made, are charismatic, etcetera), to the more palpably realistic focus on leadership behaviour that is simpatico with one's personality and the situation in which one is working. And shock horror, that quiet people often make rather good leaders. However, there is still no consensus in the academic and business worlds on what effective leadership is. Nevertheless, most people recognize bad leadership when they see it, probably because there is just so much of it about.
Part of the problem seems to lie in that too many people want to lead because they want what it can do for them materially -- the trappings of power rather than what they can do for others, such as the populations and organizations in which and for whom they work.
Without good and effective leaders, it's difficult to be optimistic about the future and making things better than they are. Sans leadership all hope is lost. That is why investing in the leadership development of girls and women right now is key. If we train, mentor and coach girls now to take their leadership roles in the world and help the boys and men to understand why it's important, we will do a better job of removing the glass ceiling than we have to date.
At the moment, there are far too few women leaders. This is in part because of residual concerns about whether women make good leaders. We need to get over that and get the numbers up because there is plenty of evidence that women make very good leaders. Moreover, experience has shown that attitudes towards minorities change in the light of exposure. Thus, getting women into leadership from the grass roots up is key to ensuring that, in countries like the U.S. and the U.K., the glass ceiling melts to become a thing of the past.
By Carolann Edwards, Global Director of Learning and Organizational Development, Norton Rose Fulbright
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