A simple web search for the definition of leadership returns over 130 million results. But what stands out among all these millions of theories is the gradual shift in emphasis from "who" the leader is to "what" the leader does. While some may posit that a leader’s success is determined by a combination of values like emotional intelligence, communication skills and vision, others might argue that it is the ability to drive change and produce results that truly defines leadership.
While definitions and dictionary entries may have evolved with time, the question "what makes a successful leader", however, continues to be driven by gender-specific notions.
While there are many factors that contribute to successful leadership, one crucial element that we must all recognize is that gender has no bearing on one's ability to lead effectively. In fact, attributing certain traits to either "male" or "female" reinforces harmful biases and undermines the very concept of leadership. Such biases perpetuate the notion that men are inherently better leaders, while traits associated with women are seen as inferior. It is high time we move past such narrow-minded thinking and recognize that leadership is a universal quality that knows no gender.
Agility Over Gender-Colored Notions
In an ever-evolving world, leadership requires the ability to navigate the challenges posed by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This makes it crucial for leaders to have certain universal key principles that dissolve the need for them to "act" a certain way. It is critical to recognize that the fluidity of leadership characteristics and the shift away from gendered conventions is a positive trend for today's leaders, especially for the next generation. Ultimately, isn’t aiming to emulate the qualities of today's successful female and male leaders a better strategy than imitating 'ideal' characteristics?
Creating a Global Shift
The 2022 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report digest says it will take 132 years to achieve global gender parity. The report also states that gender parity can have a large impact on whether an economy or society will thrive. Such telling findings should be enough to make adopting genderless leadership a global priority. Yet, a broken rung on the first step up to leadership is an unfortunate reality. Studies show that women aren’t getting promoted to managerial positions, forcing them to be stuck in lower-level positions or leave organisations at a rapid pace.
Despite modest gains in representation over the last decade, women are still dramatically underrepresented in corporate setups, especially in senior leadership. While a recent McKinsey & Company study says that more businesses are prioritizing gender diversity, corporate culture and policies don't always reflect that - and it affects employee job satisfaction and the time they spend at the company. For the tide to change, organisations across the world must put gender inclusivity at the top of the corporate agenda; not as a good-to-have, but as a foundational pillar of growth.
As a woman in tech and a strong advocate of using a ‘gender intelligence’ lens in business, hiring without bias and creating equal opportunities for women has been a priority from the get-go. A gender-neutral upbringing and strong female role models have heavily influenced my conviction to build a culture of women mentors who can empower, support, and inspire young women. Moreover, at BYJU’s, we have employed over 12,000 women teachers and upskilled them to teach a new generation of learners around the world.
Divya Gokulnath is the co-founder of BYJU’S. Views expressed are personal.