By Lauren Stricker
Among Fortune 500 companies, 5% of CEOs in North America are women and 6% are ethnically diverse. In Europe, the picture is even bleaker – women represent 1% of CEOs, while 3% of CEOs are ethnically diverse. Despite what I call the Lean In Revolution – the modern phenomenon in which women have shifted their thinking to transcend expectations and norms in the workplace and are more often refusing to let accusations of being “aggressive,” “emotional,” and “bitchy” get in the way of leaning in to professional success – these statistics are difficult for anyone to swallow. As an organization focused on bridging the gap between undergraduate and professional life for women at Georgetown while empowering them to have the confidence and resources to follow their ambition, GUWIL seeks to fight these statistics, and last week’s Leadership Training Seminar was an incredibly valuable peek into the psychology behind them.
Gary Hayes, PhD, father of our very own Freshman Liaison Claire Hayes, visited GUWIL to present his search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates’, breakthrough research entitled “Inside the Mind of the Chief Executive Officer: Factions, Fiction and Future Trends.” His intention, both for his own work and for GUWIL, was to debunk stereotypes about contemporary leadership and elucidate what it really means to be a successful leader. “Many women simply say, ‘I don’t want to play this game,’ and then go on to be wildly successful as entrepreneurs of working in startups and small businesses,” Hayes explained, but he hoped that his research would provide a starting point, and perhaps more importantly, hope, to women who desire to be and are indeed qualified to be CEOs but may be cynical that expectations about their female personalities and attitudes will prevent them from succeeding with the same respect men are given.
According to the “Eyes on the I’s” section of their report, the best leaders possess the traits of initiative, inference, and influence. Hayes pointed out that initiative is typically characteristic of men, who are less concerned about appearing self-serving or bragging when they detail their successes and qualifications to bosses and more often considered “assertive” rather than “aggressive,” while influence is more stereotypical of women, who often take on the role of team player, more concerned about being well-liked among co-workers and taking their opinions into consideration before finalizing their own. With inference presenting a more “gender neutral” side to leadership, Hayes insisted that the successful leader will be the one to bridge the stereotypical gap between influence and initiative, a task that based on this divide is equally attainable for men and women.
Moreover, Hayes repeatedly emphasized that “there are no leaders without followers, and these people need to create a followership.” In many ways, he insisted, this should be easier for women, who tend to prioritize EQ, or social skills, personal emotional stability, and the ability to interact with and understand people, more than men, who remain under pressure to be “strong” and unemotional. “When a leader shows a degree of personal concern,” he continued, “the engagement of their followership increases greatly.”
Throughout his discussion, Hayes pointed to the value (or lack thereof) of traditional stereotypes of CEOs. In particular, he discussed that the traditional expectation of CEOs to be extroverted did not necessarily hold true in evaluating which CEOs were “best in class.” What mattered more than valuing time in groups as an extrovert over time alone as an introvert was possessing a laser-like focus on results and ability to process large amounts of information quickly, operating in a forward-thinking mindset, being willing to make calculated risks, and maintaining a competitiveness without being exclusively cold and self-promoting. In fact, Hayes confessed, Wall Street is currently facing a recruitment problem as millennials will not put up with the stereotypically arrogant, self-promoting “imperial CEO” even if doing so wins them a lucrative job, especially as social media allows millennials to call out such CEOs who cannot back up their bragging. Consequently, boards and employers, in Wall Street and outside it, are beginning to instead seek persuasive, critically thinking, and risk taking CEOs who are humble and unpretentious.
Perhaps, then, space is opening up for women in the CEO world. If CEOs are no longer solely the perceived braggart extrovert males who are safe from the sexist accusations of being too dramatic or too pushy, perhaps women’s capacities to be empathetic team-players will shine through.
Of course, Hayes added, this research deals in stereotypes. Not all men are arrogant, swaggering, loud-mouthed employees, and not all women are predisposed to influence over initiative. Even so, this research encourages hope that women may be reaching a turning point where traditional expectations no longer profit men based on gender perceptions.
Special thanks to Gary Hayes for taking the time to discuss this fascinating research and important topic with us- you serve as a model for fathers who support their daughters in breaking barriers and certainly deserve the title of "Manbassador"!