A major challenge in proving that gender diversity in top management produces better results is that some companies have enough precedent of women in such roles to supply significant data. Women currently hold only 4.6% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.

There are significant examples and studies that draw correlation between financial performance of organisations to gender diversity at the top. A recent McKinsey research points to the link between the characteristics that women leaders bring to organisational health. The research highlights that many women bring an approach and style to leadership which actually helps overcome challenges that major organisations face today.

As women continue their upward trajectory in the corporate world, they have yet to be wholly appreciated for the unique qualities and abilities they bring to the workforce. One reason for this is that leadership has been looked at from a masculine lens. Most people automatically assume that women leaders must do the same things that their male counterparts do. Agreed, eventually all leaders in the corporate landscape must drive growth and results. However, it is the approach that will need to bedifferent for women. The skills, circumstances and opportunities they leverage have to be different from that men leaders do.

It is clear that there are several obstacles for women to grow into senior corporate roles. Some cited in the research are lack of access to informal networks to make important connections, a lack of women role models higher up in the organisation, and a lack of sponsors that can provide opportunities, which male colleagues have. There are also family concerns arising from the always-on round-the-clock executive lifestyle and excessive travel requirements.

However, the most insidious barriers for women are embedded mindsets that halt their progress. Society, including women themselves, hold limiting beliefs that stand in their own way. These embedded mindsets are often institutional and individual, deeply ingrained in the social fabric, thus making them difficult to eradicate. McKinsey asked global business leaders what they believe the most important leadership attributes are, for success today.

The top four were:

· Intellectual stimulation

· Inspiration

· Participatory decision-making

· Setting expectations/rewards

Each of these were more commonly found among women leaders.

Let us see what women leaders typically bring to the table. Note that these are generalisations with the understanding that it may not hold true in all cases.

Value teams

Women are known to value relationships with others. Bringing this trait into the workplace can result in team building that contributes towards healthy thriving productive teams. According to a study published by Caliper called ‘Qualities that Distinguish Women Leaders’, female executives can use relationship building and listening skills to lead their teams. They have a natural ability of making everyone feel that their contributions are being valued. They use this to keep information flowing freely throughout a department, ensuring that everyone has the information and resources they need. They are able to navigate difficultrelational problems in the workplace.

Persuasive

The leadership skills of persuasion and negotiation come quite naturally to women leaders. This partly stems from the fact that they are empathic listeners, learning about people in ways that enable them to appeal to their unique needs and sensibilities. This enables them to they easily understand objections or concerns of others and know how to effectively communicate. They exhibit a stronger sense for what was happening beneath the surface of a conflict, problem or tension in a meeting. Allowing them able to navigate through delicate circumstances to achieve a more positive outcome for all involved. This skill, of relating to others and to nurture toward success, makes them the best candidates to help people express their workplace feelings, emotions, and decisions to find intrinsic meaning and rationality.

Risk averse

Women tend to be more conservative, and process risk differently than men, which actually puts them in a position to be more effective leaders in some sense. One example of this is that a research on women working on Wall Street by Professor Melissa Fisher from NYU, found that women tended to be more risk-averse in investments. In an analysis of stock portfolios over time, if women were running the big banks, we would have avoided the financial crisis of 2008.

Enable innovation

Innovation thrives when different ideas collide in an open non-judgmental space. Diversity of varied life experiences, dissimilar values and ideas allow the same things looked at from different perspectives. Women also allow others to participate and build a very open environment for other people to get in.

Multi-focused

I don’t mean multi-tasking here. I’m talking about the ability to focus on many objectives, to see things in a nuanced way, and to notice the connections between things that someone else may have missed. In the corporate environment, there are always multiple layers and stakeholders involved.

It is time for everyone to acknowledge, tap, and leverage the above and enable more women leaders. A standalone diversity programme, no matter how comprehensive, is not enough to combat prevailing entrenched beliefs around leadership and women. There is need for systemic social and organisational change.

Bhavna Dalal
Bhavna Dalal

The views expressed in this article are not those of Fortune India.

The author is the founder and CEO of Talent Power Partners a global Leadership Development company based in Bangalore. She is a Leadership Development Specialist, an ICF Certified Executive Coach [PCC] and author of the book - Team Decision Making.

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