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Women, Technology and Leadership in the new Millenium
By Mary van der Boon
(this article first appeared in Woman Abroad magazine)
Unprecedented Opportunities for Women
As more women enter politics and senior management, and the world shifts to a truly global economy, new kinds of leadership are required. Womens focus on relationships, comfort with direct communication and diversity, refusal to compartmentalise skills, talents and lives, innate scepticism of hierarchy and, most importantly, desire to lead from the middle (not from the top) are all key attributes required by tomorrows leaders. Todays lean organisations require high morale, and increasing consumer choice means a real understanding of customers needs is essential.
An entire day of the recent Women in International Leadership Summit in Brussels was devoted to Women and Technology. The discussion of leadership competencies for the new economy, and the role of women in technology, provided a tantalising look into the future. The talents, experiences, attitudes and skills that women bring with them are precisely those needed in the evolving post-industrial economy, according to Sally Helgesen, best-selling author of The Female Advantage: Womens Ways of Leadership (Doubleday, 1995). Helgesen feels that this confluence of abilities and required leadership capacities is creating unprecedented opportunities for women to play a vital role in leading transformational change in organisations and communities. In The Female Advantage, she writes: "Women are better at seeing the human side, quicker to cut through competitive distinctions of hierarchy and ranking, impatient with cumbersome protocols."
Research conducted recently by the Hagberg Consulting Group, a California firm of psychologists who specialize in leadership development, revealed that women managers are better at keeping people informed, using influence rather than authority, creating and articulating a vision, taking charge, being an inspirational role model, setting high standards of performance, assuming responsibility and managing a diverse workforce than their male counterparts. Furthermore, women are more tolerant of differences and less bound by social traditions. According to Richard Hagberg, "What emerged (from the survey) was the picture of women executives as having a more appropriate style for managing in the new millennium. Its a much more team-oriented style".
Women must be prepared, however, to acquire the skills necessary to compete and become full partners in the information technology revolution. At present, women make up only 19 percent of the science, engineering, and technology workforce, according to a new report by the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development. Women and girls must be encouraged to explore careers in these disciplines for rewarding work and compensation in the coming millennium. New websites such as Silicon Sally and Webgrrls are providing role models for the Y generation.
Learn the Net
That women must first become more comfortable with the new economy, and the technology that drives it, is a sentiment echoed by Denise Brosseau, CEO of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs. Denise suggests some ways for women everywhere to acclimatize themselves to these challenges:
- try new ways of doing old tasks Think Outside the Box. Consider online study as a way of upgrading your skills, particularly if time is a problem
- ask your friends for their favourite sites, surf the net and make an eclectic collection of those sites that interest you. Share them freely with others
- remember: saving time is saving money, so make use of the advantages offered on the web. Comparison shop for travel bargains, run errands and send gifts online, post your CV to online recruiting sites. An ever-increasing number of positions are virtual, and can be carried out from wherever you are, and taken with you when you move
- you cant master everything yourself, so seriously consider outsourcing certain aspects of your business (website design, customer service, technology research, recruiting and much more)
- read magazines, such as Fast Company, Business Week and Management Today to learn about new trends (many magazines and articles are available, free of charge, online).
As Leaders, Women Rule
Under this heading Business Week magazine released some startling findings this past November. Unrelated research and studies revealed that women ranked higher than men on 28 of 31 diverse management and leadership criteria, including intellectual areas such as producing high-quality work, recognizing trends, and generating new ideas and acting on them. ''Women's strengths are stronger than men's,'' says Janet Irwin, a California management consultant who conducted one of the studies, ''and their weaknesses are not as pronounced.''
Signs that women are better managers of people and time than men, but less decisive as leaders, have emerged from further research conducted last year by the Gale Group which shows that women are better suited than men to certain IT jobs, but that only a few get to the top.
In yet another study, more than 70% of the 1,000 people surveyed by Management Today magazine said women use time more effectively than men, and almost 45% of men see female managers as considerate (defining women as "open minded team players"). In comparison, 45% of women believed men's top defining characteristic to be insensitivity and other studies identify less desirable male management traits such as being a know-it-all, losing sight of the truth, short-term thinking (not focusing on long-term gains, solutions and strategies), egocentric and aggressive behaviour and the last, and most damning of all, "all style and no substance".
So does this mean we can all stop "playing the game?" and make our natural abilities and strengths more apparent? These strengths are not universally appreciated, according to researcher Frank Greene. In a Wharton Business School study of solo women working in all-male teams, Mr. Greene made a surprising discovery. He found out that women who enter these groups in a quasi "helpless" mode end up getting more help from the men at first, and are then able to move into positions of more authority than women who come on strong and are labelled "bitchy."
A New Leadership Model
Dynamic Julie Meyer, founder of First Tuesday and one of the most successful women on Europes dotcom scene, spoke at the WIL Summit in Brussels and quoted Nelson Mandela, from A Long Walk to Freedom, to inspire women who wish to make their mark in the new technology:
"It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us
We ask ourselves who am I to be brilliant, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are we not to be?"
''The nature of modern business requires what's more typical to the female mould of building consensus as opposed to the top-down male military model,'' says Millington F. McCoy, managing director at New York-based executive search firm Gould, McCoy & Chadick Inc.
www.findarticles.com - search engine for journal and magazine articles
www.fastcompany.com - Fast Company magazine
www.refdesk.com - the single best source for facts on the net
www.fwe.org - Forum for Women Entrepreneurs
www.learnthenet.com - internet for beginners, in five languages
www.siliconsally.net - Silicon Sally
www.webgrrls.com - the womens tech knowledge connection
www.girlgeeks.com - for professional women (and wannabes) in IT
www.monster.com - international recruitment
www.stepstone.com - UK-based Europe-wide recruitment
www.thinq.com - online training
www.travelocity.com - fare watcher
www.expedia.com - online travel resource