By Martha Hiefield, Chief Talent Officer, POSSIBLE
Adaptation. Fluidity. Diversity. These are recurrent themes in business, particularly digital-centric businesses that are constantly in flux. Hotels are losing relevance now that millennial-favorite AirBnb is around, taxi businesses are suffering under the rise of Uber and Lyft, and even non-digital brands like ChapStick are being trumped by pop-culture superstar EOS. The takeaway: companies need to be on their toes more than ever. Innovation can't simply be talked about anymore--it must be enacted.
The solution for this? Diversity, inclusion, and creative conflict.
Panning out, the majority of girls are socialized from a young age to be, above all else, likeable and nice, accommodating and polite. Yet when these traits are applied in a conference room when girls have grown into professional women, they are often described as lacking leadership qualities.
That being said, this old and tired view of femininity and leadership is changing, not coincidentally alongside the pressing need for businesses to innovate. As explored in John Gerzema's The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, typically feminine traits--vulnerability, patience, empathy, and candor--are already being viewed as more critical aspects of our most capable and innovative leaders (male or female!) in the business world.
From the moment we become self-aware, women are hyper conscious of the change in our physical bodies. We're literally built to adapt, accommodate, and plan for the long term, whether we ultimately decide to become mothers or not. Women live their lives knowing that they can't afford to live like there's no tomorrow (or, like there's only tomorrow). We're always thinking about ten years from now--this kind of forward-thinking is exactly what translates into innovation in the workplace.
Yet the number of females in leadership roles is not looking great, meaning so much of this potential is not being leveraged. According to Sheryl Sandberg's AdWeek article about marketing to women, women make up a dismal 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, 3% of creative directors, and 18.5% percent of congress.
In a world that is becoming increasingly transparent, a traditional framework of powerful and assertive leadership is being trumped by a more communicative and collaborative system that brings more brains to innovate together, also encouraging people to live their best lives in and out of work. This change in ideology is already being evidenced in the office space such as collaborative open floor plans, allowance to work from home, mentorships, fair maternal and paternal leave policies, emphasis on company culture, and more. These features come from a place of increased empathy, intuition, and understanding, which--you guessed it--are inherently feminine traits. Companies that have these office features are some of the most innovative and highest earning companies in the game, showing that this kind of diversity gives companies a competitive edge.
This is not meant to say that feminine traits are better than male traits and it's not commenting on what men and women should or shouldn't be consciously doing to get ahead. It's simply a sound case for diversity. Women have masculine traits, men have feminine traits--and the two can work together in harmony to provide balance in leadership roles.
And this means the business case for diverse teams grows stronger everyday. According to Dr. Kathleen Wong(lau) professor at The University of Oklahoma, women think peripherally, whereas men think in a more linear manner. Mixed gender teams foster creative conflict--and this leads to innovation.
Easier said than done, as Jamie Holmes of New America states in "The Benefits of Getting Comfortable with Uncertainty": "We have this natural distaste for things that are unfamiliar to us, things that are ambiguous. It goes up from situational stressors, on an individual level and a group level."
Think "like hires like." So, as managers, we must make it a priority to foster a culture where speaking up is safe, and get comfortable diversity of thought. After all, diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.
Women should no longer need to feel the need to "toughen up" to be leaders. Let's embrace our empathy, our intuition, and our ability to inspire those around us to innovate in a turbulent business landscape and, to put simply, get shit done.
Previously Managing Director of the Seattle office. Martha's responsibilities at POSSIBLE range from working with clients to realize their digital strategy to developing the organizational strategies that grow the business. Martha is dedicated to making POSSIBLE the best agency and the best place to work, which is evident in her diligence and participation in growing POSSIBLE's unique culture. Linkedin
POSSIBLE is a WPP Digital Agency that cares about results. We back up every idea with real-world insights to create work that makes a difference--and makes a measurable impact. With more than 1,300 employees around the globe, POSSIBLE brings results-driven digital solutions to some of the world's most dynamic brands, including Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Shell, and the Coca-Cola Company. POSSIBLE is part of WPP Digital. View our latest career opportunities at www.possible.com/careers. Follow POSSIBLE on LinkedIn , Twitter and Facebook