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Gender intelligent leadership matters

‘As the impact of the Covid–19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 to 135.6 years.’ (World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2021)

Why?  The pandemic has impacted women leaders significantly because of an amplified carer tax, that has created a regression in the progress to gender balance.

The ‘broken rung’ of the talent pipeline into executive roles is significant and especially alarming when you take an intersectional perspective.  The significant under-representation of women of colour in senior leadership roles is only one such example.

Yet the business case for diverse talent and inclusive cultures has never been stronger, both economically and morally, so how do we overcome the barriers to change?

We believe that only a systemic, inclusive and gender intelligent approach will enable organisations to make the step-change they are seeking.  Successfully addressing gender inequality requires a multi-faceted approach that creates inclusive cultures and leadership teams.  And these must be operationalised through targeted recruitment and promotion processes, manager development, flexible and other working arrangements and a wellbeing focus to name but a few.

The role of leadership development in gender equity

It is critical solutions that support women leaders and those impacted by gender equity, (such as the trans and non-binary communities) avoid the bias and exclusions inherent in society so as not to make the mistake of amplifying stereotypes.  However obvious this may sound, it is common practice for organisations to unintentionally disable their leadership development or create more barriers to gender equity, by not taking a nuanced gender intelligent approach.

Through our research and work with clients we have seen first-hand why gender intelligent leadership development matters.  Below we share four key insights and how we respond to them in our programmes.

#1  Solving for the confidence gap

Confidence is a gendered word with associated normative expectations.   Research shows that confidence is perceived as a more masculine trait, and consequently women receive more feedback that they lack confidence.  So when we hear that women leaders want or need to be ‘more confident’ we know that it is easy for organisations to fall into the trap of delivering confidence and self-esteem focused training, that unintentionally reinforces gender stereotypes.

At WDI Consulting, we acknowledge that this stereotype exists, and we focus on gender intelligent leadership strategies to overcome it.  These include building a visibility plan, taking a proactive approach to feedback and developing self and peer coaching skills that build resilience to ensure women can respond effectively in challenging situations.

#2  Fixing women increases the imposter phenomenon

The imposter phenomenon is a social occurrence and not an individual medical condition as the phrase ‘imposer syndrome’ can suggest.  The feeling of having to ‘fake it to make it’ is compounded when you are asked to shapeshift your style to fit into a social norm you don’t feel part of.

Placing the onus on women and minority leaders to change in order to ‘fit in’ and be successful, can feel like a micro aggression as it increases social stressors and triggers imposter phenomenon.  Leadership programmes can, unintentionally, give advice to women leaders that limits their ability to navigate existing social norms effectively and authentically.

At WDI Consulting, we start with authenticity and work to address the barriers to progression through a gender intelligent lens.  We empower individuals to achieve their ambitions their way, and we are incredibly inspired by the successes and innovations being achieved by the diverse cohorts of leaders who have completed our programmes.

#3  Missed amplifiers for female talent

Leadership development is often seen as an individual learning activity, one to quietly fit in around the day job.  Yet, when we look at what drives the engagement, loyalty and progression of female talent it is much more than that.  It is about having relatable role models, feeling a sense of belonging and knowing that the different perspectives of under-represented and diverse leaders is valued.

So surely it makes sense to embed these amplifiers of diverse talent into the core of leadership development.  We think so, which is why WDI Consulting’s gender equity leadership programmes are different.  Our approach is designed around networked learning that utilises peer-to-peer coaching, group connection and support and confidential small group coaching.  This enables participants to share insights, test out new capabilities and maximise their transfer of learning to the day job.

It is important to us and our clients that we measure impact and results. Illustrations of this include: 77% of participants agree and strongly agree that their network of peers has significantly expanded. Qualitative feedback “This network is the story I tell when asked about career development.”

#4  Parenthood is not a balancing act 

Becoming a parent profoundly impacts how you see and experience the world and your role within it.  It can also act as the trigger for people to re-evaluate what matters most – perhaps even more so when faced with the significant additional challenges that parenting in a pandemic brings.

From a career perspective, it is often a time to reflect on purpose and a deepening desire to do meaningful work and to work differently.

In a rush to find solutions to retain talent, initiatives such as flex working, compressed hours or part time working are offered to ‘fix the problem’.  Regrettably, assumptions are made that often miss the critical drivers for employee engagement; personal purpose and intrinsic motivation.  Organisations frequently fail to fully explore these, which can result in talented individuals being unintentionally side lined, missing out on the next challenging project or having their career progression and ambitions stifled.

At WDI Consulting we focus on ensuring that parenthood is an opportunity, (rather than a missed opportunity) to realign to purpose. We know that significant life experiences form part of people’s individual leadership gems that enhance their ability to excel professionally.  They are also a source of their superpowers.  In the Purpose module of our programmes participants identify, articulate and apply their purpose to achieve their goals and implement the ways of working that represent thriving for them.  They tell us that identifying and leveraging these leadership gems is ‘life changing’.

In summary

Women leaders and those impacted by gender equity, (such as the trans and non-binary communities) are inspired by development that enables exceptional, inclusive, authentic leadership styles, rather than a uniform approach.  The path to empowering authentic leadership for a diverse talent group who are impacted by gender norms is through being gender intelligent.

Being gender intelligent means dismantling stereotypes by looking:

  • Inwards to beliefs with insight and self-awareness
  • Outwards to behaviours, systems and social norms and building the capabilities to respond effectively.

These principles underlie our four-module gender intelligent programme that builds both self-insight and the high impact capabilities essential for cis-women, trans-women, trans-men and non-binary leaders to achieve their ambitions.

We have delivered our programmes to leaders from 13 countries across diverse sectors and our exceptional programme ratings, tangible business results, and participant promotions on every programme, demonstrates the power of an inclusive approach to gender equity.

We deliver programmes at scale to organisations, offering a unique approach to your challenges – always working in partnership with you.  To learn more about our insights, our programmes or to inquire about joining our new multi-organisation cohort beginning January 2022, contact or for a conversation.

Authors: Clare Russell and Lynn White

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