Women are rising pillars in the business world. Despite unfortunate belief systems, studies show women as exemplary leaders — especially when it comes to key leadership skills reflected in emotional intelligence, like empathy, conflict management, influence, and self-awareness.
Times are changing, but they are not changing fast enough! In 1995, only 9.6 % of Fortune 500 Board members were women; by 2016, this number doubled to 20.2%, still only 1/5 of all board members. Fortune 500 CEO positions show an even slower increase, reaching their highest percentage at 5% in 2017. Your eyes are not deceiving you — after all that progress we’re still at 5%. If studies show us as such strong leaders with advantages in crucial skills, then why are we still falling behind? Believe it or not, ladies, we’re standing in our own way: we don’t show emotion while making business decisions. We’re cutting out and nullifying an incredible skill set! Our goal should be to demonstrate why women are unique and valuable assets in the business world on their own, not how they can be exactly like men.
True, this can be a difficult line to walk, especially in companies run by the stereotypical ‘boys club.’ Here are some ways us women can rise to the top, without compromising that edge that proves our success in the business world.
1. Lead by exemplification, not by replication.
Repeat after me: Never try to mirror men! This is the absolute opposite of what we want to do. Remember to prove women’s value in leadership positions, rather than furthering the idea that men are the ideal. Use the emotional intelligence in you that is already proven successful. Rather than succumbing to the “emotional” stereotype given to women leaders, prove the power of using emotion in the workplace. An eye-opening study done by Hay Group proves exactly this, finding that high levels of emotional intelligence are critical in work environments. That’s right — the very skill we have an advantage with is not just useful, but critical. While male leaders are traditionally using methods of aggression and intimidation to climb the executive ladder, show them what Mother Nature (or should I say Nurture?) really has to offer. Show them what they’re missing by being the empathetic leader you naturally are.
2. Use social constructs to build you, not break you.
Society loves to make gender rigid by constantly telling us what we can and cannot do. For instance, society allows women to show emotion while men cannot, ultimately attempting to create a dichotomy of emotional and “illogical” women and emotionless and “logical” men. Flip the tables and show the world that the very box women are squeezed into is the same box busting the door of opportunity wide open. Our emotional intelligence allows a greater sense of self-awareness, logic, and an ability to plan long-term. Ironically, but not surprisingly, being in tune with our emotions is what allows us to better control those emotions! Reality check: because men don’t have permission to show emotion, they grow up with less self-awareness and ability to think long-term, making rash decisions fueled by emotion — the very same stereotype given to women (let’s all take a moment to reflect on the irony of that). Do not allow yourself to be beaten down by the social constructs placed on you. Rather, use them to build you into the position of power you deserve.
3. Remember, even science is on your side!
Studies show women’s advantages when it comes to emotional intelligence, but did you know that even neuroscientists agree? Quick science lesson: the insula is a portion of the brain that communicates with the rest of the body and translates to empathy; this identifies how another person is feeling. In women’s brains, feelings of sadness emitted from someone else will remain present. However, in men’s brains, the feelings will remain briefly and then immediately shut out, in order to stay calm while exploring a solution. But our self-awareness is what already allows us to stay calm; the feelings of the other person do not need to be removed from our brains in order to find a solution. That’s an advantage. It is necessary for a leader to understand and be in tune with the emotions of all the people involved in a conflict before trying to resolve it. So, next time a man tells you to “calm down,” teach him a little about his insula.
Leaders need to plan and make decisions for long-term goals, while observing all factors involved. Luckily for women, our emotional intelligence makes this possible. This is not to say men cannot be emotionally intelligent; society simply clears an easier pathway for women to grow emotionally intelligence than it does for men. (Remember when we established that irony?) Just by being ourselves, women can prove how truly valuable and important we are as leaders — and rise to the top at faster rates than ever seen before.