In January, the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project hosted a three-day online seminar on LeaderNet called “Women in Leadership.” The sessions aimed to have participants discuss the leadership styles of men and women, the challenges women face in aspiring to leadership positions, and gaps that need to be addressed to better support women leaders.
Specific discussion topics included:
- Women’s Leadership: How is it Different? Who’s a Better Leader? On day one, discussion centered on the provocative Harvard Business Review article, “Are Women Better Leaders than Men?” Participants shared experiences and observations of leadership styles, and differences in men’s and women’s leadership practices. Many associated women leaders with: the ability to drive compromise, being nurturing, and having good listening skills.
- Obstacles and Challenges Faced by Women Leaders: On day two after reading an excerpt from “A Hard Back and an Open Mind: Interviews with African Women Leaders,” participants reflected on the obstacles and challenges women face in rising to leadership positions, and how their challenges differ from those faced by men as well as how they may vary depending upon the age and generation of the leader. Many participants asserted that cultural issues were the underlying cause of many challenges women face in the workplace.
- How to Support Women in Leadership Positions? Day three of the seminar was based on the reading, “Conceptual and Practical Foundations of Gender and Human Resources for Health,” and participants were asked to analyze how they are currently supporting women in leadership positions within their own organization. Participants talked about how leaders can help young women prepare for leadership roles, and many advocated for more mentorship support for young women.
Throughout these insightful discussions, many of the participants, who included men and women health leaders and professionals from around the world recognized and articulated challenges for women in leadership. Five main themes emerged from the discussions and are summarized below, along with illustrative quotes from the participants:
1. Leadership is a journey that starts early in life. Home life, communities, and schools are important in building confidence in young girls that proves vital later in life.
Said Enida Mesi from Bosnia and Herzegovina:
“I believe that upbringing plays an important part in developing leadership skills. There is a difference in how girls are being brought up and how boys are being brought up, especially in developing countries that hold on to tradition. On one hand it develops wonderful leadership qualities such as honesty, compassion and understanding, but on the other hand it also prevents them from flourishing and reaching the top of political or business careers.”
2. Women may face additional challenges, but if they find support they can succeed.
Fola Richie-Adewusi in Nigeria said:
“In Ekiti State Nigeria, we formed a Forum of Women in Leadership. This is a forum for women in elective and appointive position including Female Permanent secretaries. We identify needs and we bring experts to share with the forum. We provide a support network that each member can tap into and we encourage mentoring of younger women coming up in their career.”
3. Gender stereotypes can influence our perceptions of leaders:
Said Eddah Karijo in Kenya:
“What will be called assertive in a man will be called abrasive in a woman. When a woman is feminine she is said to be too “soft” and unable to handle issues of greatest influence. When women adopt authoritative masculine style, they are rated lower as leaders, aggressive and ambitious.”
4. Mentorship networks can be used to support a new generation of aspiring women leaders, exchanging ideas and experiences, and build their confidence.
Adeola Adelana in Nigeria of the benefits of a leadership network said:
“As established women in leadership, we can provide support to young women to prepare them for leadership roles. This would be basically through coaching, mentoring and supportive supervision. We can also encourage them to take the lead in delegated tasks while we draw back and allow them to learn their lessons.”
5. More research is needed and should be focused on women in low- and middle-income countries.
John Wafula in Kenya said he wants to see more research:
“Foremost, develop a research and policy agenda for addressing the subject of women in leadership. The research should identify problematic issues that encumber women’s leadership and what women themselves and other stakeholders propose as intervention measures. For instance, research on the affirmative action measures in countries like Kenya can establish whether it is a best practice that can be paraded for replication elsewhere in the world.”
As the seminar came to a close, participants shared the impact of their participation on how they perceive and support women leaders. Lauretta W. Nagbe in Liberia said, “It has challenged me as a woman to intensify my advocacy campaign for women’s involvement and full participation. One interesting thing I enjoyed was listening to and learning from the views of the others, getting a wide range of perceptions from both males and females from different cultural and social backgrounds.’
As part of the Women in Leadership seminar, the LMG Project conducted a survey on Mentoring of Women Health Leaders [link to article on the survey below], and many participants expressed interest in the value of a supportive mentorship network. The LMG Project will be following up on this topic; the findings of the survey are being used to inform the formation of a women’s mentoring network that will soon be piloted in Kenya. More news on the mentoring network pilot will be shared on the LMG Project web portal and social media as events unfold.
More on LeaderNet and how you can get join this dynamic network of global health professionals: https://www.lmgforhealth.org/es/leadernet