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Navigating the Changing Landscape: Women in Leadership and the Evolving World of Work

March 6, 2024 hr-observer-amandawhite-taology-womenempowerment-iwd

Amanda White is the Vice President Middle East and Africa for Talogy, a global and world-leading occupational and business pyschology consulting firm with regional offices in the GCC. White has been at the forefront of talent management strategy, talent assessment and leadership development across the Middle East since 2008.

In this interview, she talks about the evolving world of work, particularly post-pandemic. White explains that the pandemic era has brought significant changes with the potential to impact women in leadership roles.

While discussions often focus on tasks and Artificial Intelligence, White argues that the evolving landscape presents a need for leadership skills to adapt. 

She explains that women, in particular, may have an advantage in this changing landscape, as those traits most associated with feminine traits are increasingly valued in leadership.

As the world of work evolves and changes, how has these changes impacted on women at work? 

Post pandemic everybody is talking about AI and when they discuss the world of work, they talk of ‘task’.  However, they are not necessarily talking about how this impacts on the leadership skill. 

This is important because effectively leading in the future world of work is going to be different to reflect the new ways of working that continue to emerge. 

All this change presents an opportunity; leadership skills are going to have to adapt, and potentially women may now find greater advantage in this new and evolving landscape of work. 

The changing world of work was a key theme at the recent Human Capability Initiative in Saudi Arabia and a key factor for this is the need for evolving and different skills sets for the empowerment of everybody who is working or entering the workforce.

Saudi Minister of the Ministry of Energy, His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud commented on the role of women in the economy, “the biggest machine for our economy is youth and women’s empowerment”.  This is echoed by the leadership across this region as they continue to legislate and provide social policies to ensure women become leaders, it is commonplace now to talk about talent and talent strategies, culture, transformation, and these kinds of things.  

How have these skills and attributes for leaders at work evolved in more recent times? 

Talogy’s global research and development recently published Leading in the Future World of Work -an international research report, that combined surveys of both employees and leaders across 24 countries along with structured in-depth interviews with HR leaders supports the view that leadership skill has evolved. 

One of the first observations I had make is how similar everybody’s perspective was, despite the fact they came from the GCC, America, New Zealand and everywhere in between. 

There were four key areas examined: the first looked at the impact of leadership on organisational performance, and how leaders make a difference. Then we explored how leadership impacts on the employee experience, and we asked for the lessons learned post-pandemic. Lastly, we examined what does the future of leadership looks like.   

What is particularly interesting is that the top five attributes of leaders identified by both employees and leaders were the same, and that in the past we have spoken a lot about commercial acumen, strategic thinking – hard skills as they relate to leadership. Now, ‘soft’ skills such as emotional intelligence attributes, empathy, authentic connections and the ability to be humble were the adjectives used for leadership behaviours that rated highest. 

I think that COVID did change everything in this regard, everybody was empowered to work alone, in their own way, and thus they enjoyed greater work flexibility and autonomy and the whole experience helped to create this big shift in expectations and work culture. 

What kind of leadership behaviours are being observed that has impact on results? 

The leadership behaviours that both employees and leaders considered to impact organisational results most positively were:  

  1. Inspiring, motivating and engaging people 
  1. Fostering collaboration, trust and respect 
  1. Empowering people to deliver 
  1. Coaching and developing people  
  1. Being open, authentic and ethical  

It is interesting to observe how the values-based styles of leading, such as ethical and authentic leadership, indirectly influence performance by engendering greater levels of employee engagement, trust and commitment along with heightened levels of creativity and ownership.   

Many of these attributes could arguably be considered more typically ‘feminine’, so potentially effective styles of leading are changing in favour of women, whereas previously women may have considered it more advantageous to adopt a more ‘masculine’ style to lead. The old hierarchical way of working where a leader has all the answers, is autocratic and seeks to control and direct is no longer appropriate.   

So how are these findings applied to new leadership programmes? 

Our research led to a new leadership competency framework we call InView Leadership. We have at the centre of that framework Identity, as we lead from who we are; self-awareness is fundamental to leadership.
The next layer that weaves through everything we do whether it is strategic thinking or inspiring purpose is our Emotional intelligence. 

Our research confirms Emotional Intelligence is the golden thread that sits behind all of what we do, and it’s defined as being intelligent about both emotions and our mindset while also paying attention to our feelings and those of others.

Managing our attitudes and behaviour intentionally to enable our personal effectiveness and productive relationships. 

The outer layers of the framework are behavioural competencies clustered into six areas, and these include: enabling and empowering, opposed to telling and directing. 

Inspiring purpose, which is ‘if I don’t tell you what the goal is, and what we are all trying to strive for, then why should you be bothered?’. 

Agility was also important, being open to new experiences and being flexible, which is also accepting to some extent that no leader will necessarily have all the answers but should be willing to learn, which is especially critical when considering new areas of technology.   

Leaders need to show up, they need to be consistent, take ownership and be dependable. Finally, there needs to be authentic connection, humble people, real people, people who inspire trust and have empathy, you don’t get that if you are so busy trying to have all the answers and directing and telling, you get that by ‘being human’. 

It is a point of view that potentially many of these attributes are particular strengths in women, and studies around the world have found that women tend to score higher than men on EI skills such as empathy, although clearly this is not exclusive to them. 

Increased use of professionally run evidence-based assessment and development centres support diversity within organisations and help to remove stereotypes that can sometimes disadvantage the advancement of women into leadership roles.

It also supports the individual’s development as learning can be tailored and potential can be harnessed in a directed way. The learning then has a greater chance of becoming embedded and individuals will have better engagement with the process which in turn drives improved return on investment. 

How do women who have hybrid roles or who are working remotely still ensure their career contributions are being recognised and that they continue to have a seat at the table? 

It is an age-old problem when working remotely, whilst you potentially gain greater flexibility and can be more productive, you still have to be mindful to remain visible. It is helpful to make efforts to still get to the office once or twice a week or attend extracurricular activities and/or be on working committees.  Pre-read before team meetings to have a view to share, be conscious of your visibility.  Consider your personal brand and your impact. Managers should be trained anyway on things like diversity, inclusion and coaching skills – because that is how we harness creativity and the development of all in the workforce.   

If you were giving advice to young women at the start of their careers, how would you advise them to position themselves for success and leadership? 

I think you have got to be well versed and become knowledgeable about your sector and understand what is happening, whether that’s reading, or talking and listening to colleagues, attending conferences or seeking out LinkedIn or YouTube learning. 

Get to know the dynamics of your industry, be visible, be curious, learn and be prepared to occasionally be uncomfortable in the process in order to challenge and grow. 

Another point that has been made many times is that there is evidence to suggest that men are more likely to ask for a promotion or apply for a job at the point where they may only be just 60% qualified for the role, yet conversely women are more inclined to wait until the point where they would consider themselves to be 100% qualified.

If women continue to expect they need to be perfect before they go for what they want, they are potentially holding themselves back, missing opportunities and again lacking visibility when roles become available. 

They need to lean in and be prepared to identify their own potential and highlight their own achievements in order to get where they want. 

Editor’s Note: This year, The HR Observer celebrates International Women’s Day by rolling out different perspectives on how to empower women.

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The HR Observer

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