The debate over the differences between men and women is ongoing, and might never be answered definitively. However, there is more likely to be agreement on what are considered masculine versus feminine characteristics, regardless of whether they are exhibited by a male or a female. Increasingly, life’s complexities in the 21st century are driving the need for more careful consideration of which of these traits, masculine or feminine, are most productive in any given situation.

The most valued leadership skills

A recent PEW study, which I referenced in my previous post, revealed some interesting insights regarding which leadership skills are more important in today’s business environment and who is most likely to possess those skills—men or women. For example, honesty tops the list of desired leadership traits, and is increasingly so given the focus Millennials have on honesty and transparency. Twenty-nine percent of adults believe women tend to be more honest than men, and 31% say women are more ethical. Women are also perceived as being fairer when it comes to pay and benefits, and do better than men at providing guidance and mentorship. However, women fall short in terms of risk-taking—a more masculine trait.

One of the most interesting results from the research is that 29% of respondents believe women would do a better job running a financial institution while only 19% believed men would do a better job. There’s evidence to support this opinion.

When women take over

Consider the case of Iceland, which was especially hard hit during the financial crisis of 2008. Though the country has an exceptional reputation as a gender-equal culture, up until the crash, its banking system was male dominated. At that time, the practices that drove Iceland’s banking industry were considered to be masculine—behaviors such as risk-taking, aggressiveness, and hyper-competitiveness. The one bank that did not suffer to the same extent was run predominantly by women.

Following Iceland’s severe financial crash, women assumed leadership of more of the banks, infusing the business environment with what are considered more feminine qualities, such as emotionality, social consciousness, and cautiousness. The sector rallied considerably. Though the country is not yet out of the water, Iceland may well owe its recovery to the inherent leadership power of women.

Soft skills and financial services

As I pointed out in my series on the human touch in banking, as the financial services industry transitions to a more human-centric business model, soft skills could become increasingly important leadership differentiators. And if Iceland is any example, accelerating women up the corporate ladder could be a significant step toward making financial services firms more successful in a changing world.

In my next post, I’ll share how you can help your firm make soft skill development, and the acceleration of female leadership, part of your human capital strategic plan.

To learn more about positioning women to lead, please see:

Accenture “Listen/Learn/Lead” 2015 Report

PEW Social Trends Research 2015

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