The Other Lens: The New Essential Leadership Competence

7th May 2015

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Jennifer Kenny

The business case has been very clearly made for gender balance in the workplace. To ignore it at the moment is akin to claiming that the earth is flat.

Words: Jennifer Kenny

It is also, clearly, no longer a diversity, social justice imperative, or women’s issue. For visionary leaders gender balance is a competitive strategy. The data are pretty compelling:

 – On a national competitiveness level, The Millennium Project reports that: Fortune 500 companies with gender-balanced boards can outperform others by as much as 50%

 – Companies with women on the Board of Directors have at least a 66% higher return on investment capital is a 53% higher return on equity and they’ve 42% higher return on sales

 – The World Economic Forum reports that the larger your gender gap index the lower your national competitive capability

With the business and societal imperative for gender balance and gender equality as a backdrop, it is exciting to note that there is some really interesting work being done, and I’m hoping to contribute, on the differences between the leadership styles, traits and qualities of the genders.

The feminist movement has brought women and men up to believe that we are equal – thank you feminist movement and thank you powerful grandmother and parents who were way ahead of the times on this.

As society gets more sophisticated in our understanding of gender and leadership, we see the implementation in action and we get to refine and recalibrate our thinking and understanding, such is the nature of learning and progress. In so doing, we are seeing from experience that, of course, we should be equal in the eyes of the law – something that developing countries are only now really catching up on (Ireland ranks #11 and the US comes in at #20, just above Ecuador and Slovenia). But gender balance requires a lot more that just legislation.

Having long conflated legal equality with sameness we have missed out on a huge global leadership capability enhancement opportunity. Feminine and masculine leadership qualities, traits and styles are not identical. They are, it has long been speculated and is now beginning to be backed up by science, quite different. There are substantial areas of overlap, of course, but what is really interesting is that there are, what I am calling Complimentary Differences that begin to explain why gender balance is producing such exciting leadership results for the corporations, organisations and societies forward thinking enough to step up and implement such practices.

Naming and understanding these Complimentary Differences, which include qualities like Perception (a more feminine quality) and Action-Orientation (a more masculine quality) is rapidly becoming an essential leadership competence and can be a key sustainable competitive advantage for the companies that are wise enough to experiment and to fine-tune the process of leveraging them. I will be elaborating on these Differences throughout this series.


Jennifer is a speaker, writer, Leadership Futurist and Wise Leadership coach, @WMBMagazine contributor, Global Women’s Leadership Network Board Member @GWLN, Huge fan of @theelders, Mom and general mad Irishwoman., @jenniferlkenny