With female executives stepping up to the plate and making their voices heard, women now have many more role models in leadership. Women like Mary Barra of General Motors, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, and Virginia Rometty of IBM are becoming household names and accelerating the conversation about female roles in corporate America. Government positions are seeing an influx of women in leadership. German chancellor Angela Merkel heads up a long list of women holding high positions both abroad and in the U.S. What is prompting this seeming explosion of women in leadership roles, are our voices and cries finally being heard, and how can we sustain this trend?
In the past, women have been discouraged from pursuing higher education, because our culture considered educated women to be unnatural. Many people believe that the education of women is a new and modern idea that springs from the Enlightenment. But in Scripture, you see examples of women with a deep understanding of their religious tradition. It is Scripture that leads us to believe that these women must have had some level of education.
Wisdom cries aloud in the streets, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks (Proverbs 1:20-21).
Today, more women are seeking higher education than men, and in terms of college degrees, the gender gap is widening quickly. This trend actually began back in 1978, when for the first time ever, more women than men earned associate degrees. Over time, this trend has also been replicated for bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
- By 2006, women dominated college degrees at every level, with more women earning doctorate degrees than men.
- In 2009, there were 25 percent more female college graduates than male college graduates.
- For the graduating class of 2013, the Department of Education estimates that there were 140 women graduating with a college degree for every 100 men doing the same.
Do our natural traits and tendencies as women better position us for leadership roles today and in the future? As work practices shift from compartmentalizing talent to collaborating as teams, our natural strengths as women seem to set us up well for leadership roles.
Allen G. Hedberg, author of Living Life @ Its Best, describes emotional intelligence as a set of competencies that enhance a person’s ability to relate positively to others in a wide variety of settings. It means being smart and effective in your interpersonal relationships. In Romans 12:15, Paul expresses the importance of emotional intelligence and empathy saying, “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” We must show empathy in order to understand and relate to others.
A Lee Hecht Harrison survey of more than 600 employees found that empathy among managers is in short supply in today’s workplace. Empathy requires that individuals be honest, authentic, and present, while allowing themselves to be vulnerable. The Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology published a study suggesting that in stressful situations, women become more empathetic and open to others while men become more self-centered.
The Evolution of Women in Leadership:An Analysis of Effective Leadership Skills, a 2013 white paper that cites a 2008 McKinsey & Company study, offers insights into leadership behaviors that are important for addressing future challenges. The four most critical behaviors are:
- Intellectual stimulation
- Participative decision-making
- Expectation and reward
Of these four critical behaviors, women demonstrate the last three behaviors more often than men.
While the inherent talents of women may naturally position us to be leaders in our evolving society, teaching women how to lead is still important. With the demand for female leaders on the rise, professional industries are embracing the need for education and offering innovative programs designed specifically for women.
There are now organizations, research, mentorship programs, and peer counsels designed to help women grow as professionals. Harvard Law School offers a free report called Training Women to Be Leaders: Negotiating Skills for Success, and there are numerous training programs available at universities across the country and online. Organizations such as 4word, CREW, and The Christian Working Woman are providing support networks and content to help women reach their full potential.
Whether it’s a result of education, inherent qualities, specialized training, or a combination of all three, women are meeting current leadership demands in record numbers. While the road to this point hasn’t been easy, the unprecedented strides we are making reflect the evolution of the workplace as well as our advancement as women.
Are you a leader?
Katie Yee is a Business Development professional for Fuscoe Engineering, a civil engineering firm in San Diego, California. She has worked in the construction and real estate industries for over 10 years and has become passionate about encouraging and supporting professional women. As a mother of two young girls, Katie strives to be an example to them and other young women that hard work, faith in God’s plan, and a good sense of humor can get you far in the world, even in construction. She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from San Diego State University and uses her passion for understanding and connecting people to promote others around her.