IWD: Are women holding themselves back or is it the attitudes and biases of others?

On International Women's Day, when the media is full of positive and uplifting stories about women, I am delighted to be taking over as Chairman of Women Leaders in Communications (formerly Women in Communications Careers Network).

Men and women should be trained to recognise and value different leadership styles, argues Claire Jarvis
Men and women should be trained to recognise and value different leadership styles, argues Claire Jarvis

This network brings together senior female communicators with the aim of empowering women in communications at all levels to achieve their full potential.

People might question the need for such a network in a female-dominated industry.

The gender balance of the most senior communications professionals in the FTSE 100 is roughly 50:50 after all.

But can anyone show me a male-dominated industry that has an equal ratio of males and females at the very top?

Our industry has a healthy pipeline of female talent and we’re interested in what happens to that pipeline when it comes to senior-level appointments.

Are women holding themselves back? Or are they being held back by attitudes and biases of others? Are women with caring responsibilities not afforded the flexibility they need to operate at senior level?

Undoubtedly, the issues are complex and there are numerous factors at play.

An increasing amount of data demonstrates that organisations which have a good gender balance are more successful than those which don’t.

The value of diversity is in bringing different perspectives to the table, but women who bring different perspectives are not always recognised as adding value.

Even some of the eminent women speakers at our events have mentioned the concept of being the ‘annoying woman in the room’ when they voice a different perspective and challenge what they hear in male-dominated boardrooms.

Organisations need to foster a culture where different perspectives are valued and encouraged at all levels.

Groupthink is dangerous and the person in the room who voices a different perspective deserves respect, not disdain.

I also believe that women’s leadership styles are often undervalued and misunderstood.

Men tend to have more outwardly confident styles while women often have more modest, but equally effective styles of leadership focused on developing and empowering their people.

Organisations frequently address a lack of gender diversity in senior roles by investing in women’s leadership training.

While this has some merit, I would argue it could be more beneficial to train both male and female leaders to recognise and value different leadership styles.

Women Leaders in Communications has recently launched a toolkit bringing together a wealth of information to help organisations promote gender diversity.

The next step will be to commission our own research to dig deeper into the factors that enable both men and women to be successful in leadership roles in our industry and to investigate the barriers that hold some women back, with a view to making recommendations and taking appropriate action.

We aim to further the cause of women in communications and take a positive, solutions-based approach which helps women fulfil their career potential.

We want to make a difference and I am looking forward to the challenge.

Claire Jarvis is the chairman of Women Leaders in Communications and the founder of Claire Jarvis Communications

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