Recently, I attended the Thought Leaders breakfast at AIM about gender disparity at the CEO level in Australia, presented by Terrance Fitzsimmons.
Interestingly, the research shows some real gems of wisdom about how to raise girls to become future leaders. Our lessons about leadership start very early on, it seems, and our ability to lead is ingrained well before we even leave school.
The five key lessons I learnt from the breakfast amazed me. As an active member of Women on Boards, I had mostly decided it was at the organisational level that the change is needed. And change sure is needed. 51% of university graduates in Australia are now women, but only 2.5% reach senior executive levels in our organisations.
1. Girls schools could produce the next female prime minister
Boys get to learn their leadership skills very early in life, taking on roles like captain of the footy team, learning confidence and survival skills by going camping and fishing with dad.
Girls often miss out on these opportunities because it is not a ‘girl’s role’ or not a traditional girls activity.
In the traditional family environment, girls often do the ‘softer’ things, encouraged to care and nurture, not stand up and take the lead. They have to develop leadership skills later in life, often on-the-job.
Interestingly, a large number of the top executive CEOs in Australia went to all-girls schools, where leadership roles for women are an everyday occurrence and the gender issues are not present.
2. Male mentors fear making a mess
To become strong leaders, girls need access to male role models, but often are held back from enrolling those mentors for fear of sexual overtones or compromising the male mentor due to female partners attitudes to them spending time with another female.
We have to find a solution to this, to ensure our male senior executives feel ok mentoring women.
3. The “Ideal” Family Upbringing may be limiting
In traditional family environments, the male takes on the leadership role for disciplining kids, going out to earn the money and doing less of the domestic duties.
There seems to be some evidence that some sort of family trauma that leaves the girls having to take a primary leadership role early on, sets them up for leadership later in life.
Amazingly, all the female CEOs interviewed for the research fell into this category of not having a traditional family environment when growing up!
This made me feel better, as being a single working mother, my children are already taking on leadership roles, especially my daughter.
4. Teach them to be confident in their own skin
Lack of confidence is the thing that so many of the female CEOs mentioned as the major obstacle they had to overcome to reach the top.
Why do we teach the boys confidence and not so much the girls?
To some extent, confidence is learnt in battle and boys are encouraged to go to ‘battle’, whether on the rugby field, playing rough and tumble or in even online now with electronic games, whilst the girls play more quietly at more gentle pastimes.
Now, I know this is a huge generalisation, but to some extent still true.
5. Stop pigeon holing them
We fall quickly into what society expects, we dress the girls in pink and the boys in blue from day one. We have to stop doing this, and allow equal opportunity for our children to express their individual tendencies.
The concept of “the warrior” psychology has been gaining traction of late, but arguably it has been present in females as well as males over the course of history. As recently analysed, female warriors protect their tribe against all odds, while males conquer and divide. In the business world, there is a need and place for both approaches: it’s time to take a stand for females in leadership roles here and now.
Do you have any tips for raising entrepreneurs and leaders?
Jane Toohey is strategy director for Lumino Brand Design Agency in the Valley. Lumino was started more than 15 years ago by a woman, Pip Mcconnel-Oats, and has powered through recessions and 2 partnership changes to become one of Brisbane’s leading creative forces. Now with 2 women at the helm, Lumino is set to blossom. Both ladies have driven successful businesses and both have daughters, so watch this space.