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Are Female Leaders Born or Made?

One of the arguments against gender quotas is that it is more important to have the person with the right skills and attributes rather than a person of a certain gender.

Research  completed by myself has found that there is a need for support mechanisms to be put in place by employers in order to assist females in their quest for leadership positions within an organisation.

Ireland has a long way to go considering latest results from The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) 2013 outlines how only 21% of senior business roles in Ireland are filled by women worse than the position four years ago.

Considering that, at the height of the financial crisis, only one woman was serving on the board of Anglo Irish Bank and the number of female directors at each of Ireland’s two largest (now ‘bailed-out’) banks was just two, I was curious to see whether things would have turned out differently had women had a louder voice amongst the controlling elite, had there been a more equal gender representation at senior decision-making levels in our governments and powerful financial institutions.

I completed a piece of research to explore the differences between females who have succeeded in reaching positions of leadership in their chosen fields in Ireland, and those who have experienced relative success but have struggled to make the step-up to leadership positions.

The research findings led on to creating a Model of Excellence for Successful Irish Female Leaders which can be introduced into any organisation.

I created the Model of Excellence for Successful Irish Female Leaders using an assessment tool called iWAM. This online assessment is based on a model of cognitive thinking styles where 48 parameters are measured. It is one of the most in-depth tests available that can offer accurate information as to how and why people do what they do in a work environment.

The Model of Excellence for Successful Irish Female Leaders is based on a comparison of an individual’s motivational and attitudinal preferences against a model set of patterns proven to be characteristic of a high performer in a particular role or in a particular context.

Using this model I can create a framework when working with women aspiring to be in or already in leadership positions.

Women need to take more ownership of their careers and organisations need to support them in doing this. Coaching, mentoring and sponsorship are the way forward to support females in the workplace.

Organisations need to think smarter in terms of how to harvest their female talent, and how best to invest in females that are demonstrating leadership potential as this is an essential component to ensuring an optimal balance of leadership styles in the boardroom.

I recommend the following mechanisms to organisations looking to support women on their leadership journey:

Role Models – having strong and supportive female role models gives confidence and encouragement to other females;

Equality Policy – ensuring an open and transparent organisational commitment to providing equal access to leadership opportunities;

Formal Support Structures – the availability of Mentors, Coaches and Sponsors provides significant support to females through their leadership journey.

Bridging the gap – how organisations can develop female leaders

Attributes of successful female leaders Attributes of females who have struggled to reach senior leadership positions How this can be addressed
are looking for the big picture want to understand the detail A coaching led approach that allows clients to access the big picture
want immediate action need to think things through Develop a more action orientated approach to work
will decide for themselves need other people’s opinion before deciding Deepen their own internal reference
know the policies and rules and are willing and able to tell others what they should do need others to tell them the rules and policies Build their confidence in communication and delegation
want sole responsibility want shared responsibility Focus on how they can lead a project
focus on the future focus on the past and present Work on a career trajectory plan


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