For a long time, the ‘alpha’ model has been the default version of what we consider a leader. More and more evidence is surfacing to disprove this stereotype, but how much damage has this myth already done to the self-perception of young female would-be leaders?
Organiser, ambitious, proactive, empathetic, listener. These are the five words our members thought best described them in our survey of female Bright Network members earlier this year. Among the ones thought to describe them the least however were ‘decision maker’ and ‘leader’. If these qualities are not included in our traditional definition of leadership, then not only we are discouraging a swathe of young female talent but we are also missing out on the benefits that a fresh take at the top could bring.
This is the not the first time we have mentioned this disparity in confidence between the sexes. At PwC’s Aspire to Lead event earlier this year, we learned that women tend to underestimate their abilities by 20% while men overestimate theirs by 30%. From a young age, ambitious girls risk getting labelled ‘bossy’ or ‘ball-breakers’ and such attitudes carry on into the professional sphere, despite evidence that females at the top can bring a multitude of benefits and often acquit themselves better than their male counterparts.
A recent study by Cambridge University and Barclays revealed that 42% of female entrepreneurs claimed that their businesses were prospering, compared with 62% of men. This is in spite of the fact that female-run businesses are shown, on average, to report higher pre-tax profits.
Evidence of the impact of women in top roles is not difficult to find, and it belies the modesty of those entrepreneurs mentioned above. The 2004 report by Catalyst, a US-based research organisation, found that Fortune 500 companies with the highest number of women on their boards experienced significantly higher returns on sales, equity and invested capital than those with the least.
In addition, it is clear that women in the top roles are not only good for businesses, but also for communities. The Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Arancha Gonzales, revealed in 2014 that female entrepeneurs tend to reinvest 90% of their revenues in their communities and families, compared to 45% of men.
The ‘alpha’ definition of leaders and entrepreneurs is no longer accurate, if indeed it ever was. Greg Davies, head of behavioural finance at Barclays commented on the report above, claiming ‘The political and financial environment in which entrepreneurs operate is built on the false premise that all entrepreneurs are the same’. It's clear that this environment extends also into minds of even our brightest young women. Entrepreneurs and leaders come in many varieties, now we need to persuade more young women that that could be them too.
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