Females in business – balancing it all

Female leadership in the digital world. Balancing family and life and work. Structuring a career. This and more were all the difficult topics discussed at a superbly attended event in the ‘Female Leaders’ series in the Startup Disrupt event this April.

The digital world has by far greater potential to be more equal, less prejudiced and more inclusive than the traditional one–we don’t know who is sitting behind the machine, who is handling the application we have sent, etc. And yet the digital world is still dominated by men. During UCTAD’s E-commerce Week that took place early April in Geneva, Rebecca Enonchong, a tech founder and CEO of AppsTech, shared how hiding her title as a female founder helped her grow her company. However, she could not hide her role from VCs and that has limited her ability to raise funds. “We can grow without funding but we can’t scale without funding. Time and energy have been invested in figuring out what women entrepreneurs need but what we really need is the money itself and access to finance”, she pointed out. On the other hand, Candace Nkoth Bisseck, ex-Country Manager of Jumia Group Africa and currently Program Manager at eTrade for Women Network at UNCTAD tackled the policies when it comes to women leadership–“There must be policy initiatives to give women leadership positions. Otherwise, the digital economy will never be gender inclusive.

When it comes to women’s inclusion in leadership positions, we’re actually very lucky here in the Czech Republic. Eastern Europe leads the world in gender-diverse leadership (Catalyst, 2018). According to Grant Thornton’s 2018 rankings, 87% of Eastern European businesses reported having at least one woman in senior management, and 36% of businesses’ senior roles are held by women. However, the data globally is underwhelming–the percentage of women in senior roles is declining. Women hold under a quarter (24%) of senior roles across the world in 2018, a decrease from 25% in 2017. In 2018 just 5% of senior roles were held by women. In addition, between 2017 and 2018, the share of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 dropped by a whopping 25%. Women represent just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs—down from 6% in 2017.

The “Glass Ceiling” is still an invisible barrier preventing women from reaching the top positions. Men are still viewed as default business leaders, affirming the “think manager, think male” mindset. So then should women who aspire to lead try to think like males?

A Harvard Business Review study investigated male vs female leadership taking into consideration 16 competencies that are proven as most important to overall leadership effectiveness, according to 30 years of research. Their findings concurred the stereotype that women “take care”–women scored higher than men in building relationships, inspiring and motivating others, practicing self-development. However, at the same time, it braked the stereotype that men “take charge” as the two traits where women outscored men to the highest degree were–taking initiative and driving for results.

So if women are more competent than men, why the “numbers for women in management positions” are declining instead of increasing? Is it a matter of confidence rather than competence? In his book “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It)“, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic asks two powerful questions–“Why is it so easy for incompetent men to become leaders? And why is it so hard for competent people–especially competent women–to advance?“. He explains that we commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women.

In a marketplace defined by complexity, disruption, and change, today’s most successful enterprises are those that bring diverse perspectives and experiences to each new challenge. Along with being the right thing to do, diversity and inclusion offer a strategic advantage –, especially at the leadership level. That is why it is critically important for businesses to look at the challenges women often face and clear the path for talented and dynamic leaders to rise to the top. This understanding – together with our own commitment to fostering a culture at KPMG that is both diverse and inclusive – inspired us to commission this study on women and leadership. At KPMG, we have long believed that creating a work environment where women can thrive, and implementing initiatives that support, advance, retain and reward them, is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart and strategic business approach. It is our fervent belief that this study will inform and encourage leaders to take clear and decisive steps to develop the leadership potential of their female employees—and that we will all be stronger for it.

Check out a panel discussion in the following video below.

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