At a moment when the world stage is dominated by tough-talking, hypermasculine leaders, the organizers of International Women’s Day want attention for a different style of leadership.
The event, scheduled for March 8, calls itself “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.” Indeed, men could learn a lot by emulating women, according to authors who have examined gender distinctions in working, communicating and managing.
In The Athena Doctrine: How Women (And the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, authors John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio make a case for a distinctly feminine style of leadership, one that emphasizes empathy, collaboration and listening over ego, competition and greed.
They recount the tale of the women-led takeover of Iceland after the “male excesses” that led to its economic meltdown during the global financial crash. Voters elected a female prime minister, and women took 40% of the seats in parliament and replaced the CEOs of failed banks. And they see Iceland’s shift as one that could work elsewhere.
“Most of the traits exhibited by the successful entrepreneurs, leaders, organizers and creators we profiled seemed to come from aspects of human nature that are widely regarded as feminine,” Gerzema and D’Antonio write.
By acting as a role model for other ambitious women, Iceland’s female prime minister fills a crucial void.
“If a woman looks upward and sees few or no leaders she can relate to, she may never see leadership as a believable future for her or other women,” writes Selena Rezvani in The Next Generation of Women Leaders.
Eileen Pollack is another author who laments a lack of female role models. In her memoir, The Only Woman in the Room, Pollack recounts the rigors of majoring in physics at Yale at a time when few women studied math and science. She soldiered through grueling courses in linear algebra and statistical thermodynamics, and she excelled at quantum mechanics.
But Pollack remained shaken by a lack of female role models in the sciences. And when she took a writing class, she found herself showered with the sort of recognition that had eluded her as a female physics major.
Decades later, she realizes that women don’t lack the brains to major in math, but they do lack a support network.
“Instead of trying to elevate a young woman’s IQ, all we need to do is elevate her confidence,” Pollack writes.
The authors who espouse more feminine styles of leadership and management don’t call for a battle of the sexes. Instead, they urge men to learn from women’s emotional intelligence – and women to emulate at least some of the more aggressive characteristics of men.
“Men can be as caring as women,” Gerzema and D’Antonio write, “and women can be as analytical and assertive as men.”