Beyond stereotypes

1728IE Focus | By Celica de Anca, Director Centre for Diversity, IE Business School
The women’s leadership debate and the reasons that there are still so few women on boards of directors will come to nothing if we keep referring to the same old male and female stereotypes.
McKinsey recently published its Women Matter 2 study, in which it drew the conclusion that the women leaders analysed used certain styles of leadership that had a direct effect on the company’s performance more often than men’s styles. Women’s leadership styles involved people development, intuition and participatory decision-taking.Other studies along the same lines have insisted on the need for including more women in corporate bodies of management owing to their different leadership styles. However, despite the scientific rigour of the analyses, the same number of scientific studies can also be found to demonstrate that the presence of more women in senior management does not necessarily improve a company’s performance.

Accepting these studies as valid, I believe that in order to move forward in the issue of women in business leadership, certain untruths that add confusion to the debate must first of all be clarified.

The first is the search for reasons that justify something which, in my opinion, does not need justifying. Women represent half of the world population and 46% of its workforce. Some of them are competent and others less so, some are more qualified and some less so. Indeed, some of them are not qualified for senior management posts, most probably in the same percentage as men who are not qualified for positions of responsibility. In the globalised and competitive society of the 21st century and in the interests of corporate effectiveness there is no room for maintaining barriers that prevent talented or valuable women from taking up posts in senior management. The barriers we imagine exist, albeit indirectly and subtly, limit, for example, the number of women who sit on boards of directors to only 6% of the top 800 European businesses. Scandinavian countries have the greatest number of women on their boards of directors and the countries in the South of Europe have the lowest number. I hope there are other factors that explain what could otherwise be put down to Swedish women being more talented than their Spanish counterparts.