Are feminine attributes the future of business?

The gender gap in international assignments is still as wide as ever, but women are being told the route to leadership in business has never been clearer. Are feminine attributes the future of business?

Women make up 16 percent of those working abroad on international mobility programs, despite a concerted effort by corporations to try and break the 20 percent barrier.

However, rapidly-changing opinions about what makes a strong leader could be the spark that finally puts women on the road to equality.

In many cultures the leader prototype has historically emphasized masculine characteristics – resulting in a lack of female leaders.

“That’s changing,” says Joanne Danehl, our Global Intercultural and Language Training Practice Leader. “What we’re seeing at the moment is more of the desirable competencies for a modern leader being traits that many would think of as feminine.”

Six or seven years ago, the traits people valued were decisive, risk-tasker and competitive. But businesses are now looking for: 

  • A consensus builder, someone who is inclusive in their decision-making process
  • A relationship builder who is good at navigating and handling complexity

“What strikes me is that not only are these competencies much more feminine, but they are skillsets often learned by working globally in a culturally-diverse environment,” adds Joanne. 

The move towards valuing women in leadership has been marked over the last few years. A Grant Thornton report in 2015 showed company boards where women out-performed all-male boards by up to 25 percent.

“It’s no longer just about what is said in a meeting that matters. Reading a room and getting it right is just as important. It’s all about emotional quotient, intuition and integrity.”

Interestingly some cultures are experts in this – such as the Chinese and Japanese. They traditionally understand the tone of the room far better than western cultures. So, working in a global environment can help build those skills, too.

“Nobody is saying men cannot be great leaders, of course they can. But it is clear there is a real opportunity for women to join global mobility programs and build a successful career at the highest level.”

Closing the gap is certainly something to think about on International Women’s Day …