Women in leadership: Have you ever had to “behave like a man” to get ahead in the workplace? As part of the Bravo campaign, Procurious will be hearing from a number of high-profile procurement leaders on the topics of diversity, equality and women in procurement.
This week, Procurious caught up with M.L. Peck, Chief Content & Engagement Officer at the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), who is concerned that even in the modern workplace, many women still feel they have to behave like a man to succeed.
She’s the man
Remember Twelfth Night? Shakespeare’s comedy featured a shipwrecked woman (Viola) who disguises herself as her lost twin brother (Sebastian) to find work in the service of Duke Orsino. If you’re not a Shakespeare fan, you may have seen the 2006 adaptation She’s The Man (starring Amanda Bynes), where teenager Viola Hastings disguises herself as a boy in order to play on the all-male soccer team. Both Violas have to learn how to behave like a man, with their accidental lapses into femininity providing many of the plot’s gags.
“Women shouldn’t have to change who they are in order to be taken seriously. Nobody should”, says M.L. “What we absolutely don’t want is to create a mold of how to be strong leader. Our differences are what make us an asset to the teams we work in.
“I’ve had the fortune to work with women who brought an inherent, feminine ability to collaborate, empathise, multitask and problem-solve to their teams. These qualities are often overlooked and under-represented in the workplace, where we expect our leaders to be hierarchical and dictatorial in approach. In procurement, particularly, collaboration is key. The characteristics attributed to women are the ones that all of our future leaders will need – you can bet that millennials and generation Z won’t want to work in a male-dominated environment.”
But what does “behaving like a man” actually mean? Stereotypical male qualities might include strength, dominance, bullish confidence and as little display of emotion as possible. M.L. comments that when women find themselves in a male-dominated workplace, “We can make the mistake of trying to behave like a man by adopting the characteristics typically associated with men.”
Workplaces still have a long way to come in accepting that people, and leaders in particular, are able to display emotion. Men and women are taught that leaders must be “strong”, which means emotions such as compassion and empathy are redundant. “We’ve still got some of these issues in 2017”, says M.L. “Men who show empathy are thought of as weak, while empathetic women get labeled as emotional. If you choose to lead a team without resorting to an authoritarian style, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to add enormous value in your own way”.
This, in a nutshell, is the power of diversity in our organisations. Building a diverse team of people from different genders, backgrounds and experiences will add new perspectives and insights, which ultimately leads to a better decision-making process.
Working twice as hard to be thought of as half as good
M.L. remembers her mother’s experience in the workplace, citing her as one of her inspirations. “My mum was a pipefitter and really lived in a man’s world. She was the first female on the refinery fire-fighting team. I was raised with my mum’s understanding that women needed to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good.
“In this scenario, it’s easy to feel victimised; to think ‘I’m different, and people are perceiving me that way’. This makes it all the more tempting to conform to certain workplace behaviours, but my mum always retained her own identity.”
3 ways to encourage more women into procurement leadership roles
- Initiatives that advocate for diversity are vital, particularly in supply management where there aren’t nearly enough women in leadership positions. Procurious’ Bravo campaign is a great example, as is ISM and THOMASNET’s 30 under 30 Rising Supply Chain Stars award, along with ISM’s annual Diversity conference.
- Providing access to female role models and mentors will help organisations attract and retain women from entry-level through to senior positions. Organisations that want to attract top female talent need to have a diverse and inspiring leadership team.
- Shout about what you’re doing to address gender disparity in the workplace. Companies that hold special events for women or minority groups really do see a difference – events give people an opportunity to build their networks, and provide direct access to the C-Suite who make the important decisions about diversity and inclusion.