Digital era a plus for women?

Virginia Rometty’s recent appointment as the first female head of IBM drew silent applause from women around the world. It was an encouraging sign in an otherwise depressing picture of business’ senior ranks. Despite good intentions, the diversity cause advances at a sluggish pace, with McKinsey’s 2010 Women Matter report confirming that gender diversity remains problematic at both board and executive committee level. In the post-industrial, digital age, that may cost organisations dearly. American start-up specialist, Nellie Akalp, says women’s typical skillset means they’re well-equipped to thrive in the Web 2.0 world. While family circumstances are often the practical reason many gravitate to entrepreneurial or small business pursuits, Akalp says several traditionally female leadership qualities are now more significant than ever: social intelligence, listening and collaboration skills, and a lower appetite for risk. Canadian Harold Jarche, who consults on 21st century work practices and organisational complexity, has written widely on the emergence of new core leadership capabilities including the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, manage interdependencies, foster creativity and challenge assumptions. “A transparent, flexible and open organisational model is necessary so that leaders can listen and analyse what is happening in real time,” he says. “In turn, leaders can help set context and build consensus.” Ironically, continuing economic turbulence has forced some companies to make radical changes regardless of looming digital challenges. In flatter organisational structures, skills such as team-building and inclusiveness become increasingly important to get things done. Global consultancy Hay Group has conducted extensive research on how women are changing the leadership equation. “The outstanding women used a better blend of what we think of as traditional masculine styles—being directive, authoritative, and leading by example and as well as feminine ones,” says Mary Fontaine, head of Hay Group’s leadership and talent practice. “They also knew when to be more nurturing, inclusive, and collaborative.”

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