Empathic `and´ Strong-minded. Are We Ready to Embrace Women as Multi-faceted Leaders?.


Empathic `and´ Strong-minded. Are We Ready to Embrace Women as Multi-faceted Leaders?

Ten years ago, when I conducted research about women in politics there was a sense that female leaders could never get it right: being never the right age, wearing too much or too little make-up, dressing too bold or too boring. Descriptions of their appearance, style of dress, or body language, which marked them as frivolous and lacking in prestige, served as a tool to discredit their credentials for public offices. Here are some examples from Polish quality press at the time:


´Perhaps the Minister of Foreign Affairs would have a slightly better reputation if she had not been wearing a mourner´s outfit´.


´She dresses up rather than gets dressed. Her outfits are not suitable for her age and the role she performs´.


´A style suitable for the sex shop, yet embarrassing in the Parliament´.


´The dress stirs zero sex appeal. Lieutenant Columbo´s raincoat. The female symbol of PIS looks like a terribly clumsy man´.


´The parliamentarian dressed in her usual frilly skirts could dance lambada in the Parliament´.

Negative reactions towards women in power are well attested in media cultures across the globe and researchers of communication studies have revealed the pernicious nature of ´double binds´ - the no-win situations, which burden women with unrealisable expectations that inevitably lead to their failure. One example of such a scenario is a ´competence/femininity´ bind, which shows that if a female leader behaves in a stereotypically ‘feminine’ fashion, she may well be liked, but not respected. However, if she chooses to act in a stereotypically ‘masculine’ manner, she may be disliked and judged harshly.

10 years later and the perceived tension has not only been reconciled, but even shown to be synonymous with effective leadership. In his bestselling work, ´The Culture Code´, Daniel Coyle demonstrates that persistence and vulnerability are the true engines of human cooperation. Searching for the secret components of highly successful teams, from Pixar to Google to US Navy Seals, Coyle makes a list of qualities embodied by their leaders. One of them is a female designer working for an international design firm, named Roshi Givechi; a small woman in her 40s, who ´listens with her eyes´ and makes no special effort to win her audience with jokes or sophisticated small talk. Givechi is unassuming, subtle and has an uncanny ability to connect to deeper emotions by asking questions that unleash motivation and ideas. In Coyle´s words:

`When you talk to Givechi´s colleagues they point out a paradox: she is at once soft and hard, empathic but also persistent. There is an underlying toughness to Roshi. She does not present an agenda (..) or try to drag you someone. It´s a gentle guiding´.

When Coyle visited groups to conduct research for his book, he met exceptional individuals with excellent interpersonal skills, who ´unlocked teams´ and made it possible for their people to share unpopular views or take risks. Perhaps in uncertain times like ours we can finally recognise the potential of emotionally intelligent leaders. It is my wish that the two choices that professional women used to face – to be less than a woman or less than a leader – are no longer present.

Coyle, D. (2018) The Culture Code. The Secrets of Highly successful Groups. London: Penguin. Random House

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