The gender dilemma how to maximise your leadership skills

Authentic leadership is about being comfortable in your own skin and taking advantage of your talents no matter your gender!

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The gender dilemma

Authenticity means being true to yourself, which, in a work context, includes behaviour that is honest and aligned to our own true values. It also means cultivating behaviours that match the sector we work in.

It’s true though, that in some male-dominated sectors managing the “gender issue” is still an issue. This was raised last week at our circular economy workshop when one of the female participants, an owner of an engineering company, asked an important question – how to be authentic as a woman in a man’s world?

As we are a world of men and women, I would welcome thoughts on this from both sides of the gender fence! From my own perspective though, here are four leadership guidelines for women managing the gender dilemma:

Do business where there is a match of values: In my experience, the most important factor in lasting business success is working with people whose values match yours. This is critical to long-term business relationships, but is true for all your stakeholders, including staff. In a conservative sector, look for clients who ARE a match to you, because your partnership will set you apart from the competition. Check if you are aligned in your values by asking, observing and even looking into their social media profiles and if not, it may be best to walk away.

Dress code: Every industry has its standard dress code and “fitting in” can be a powerful tool for building a connection. For example, banking tends to be formal and neat suits are commonplace. In contrast, the design sector tends towards quirky, colourful and even outrageous. The farming sector is conservative, khaki and downplayed. Choose your clothing so that you are comfortable in them, and those you are meeting can feel connected to you too.

Friendly or flirtatious: It’s important to know the difference between professional friendliness and flirtation. Should the people you are meeting overstep your boundaries and make you feel uncomfortable, speak up and if their behaviour doesn’t change – walk away. Be aware of cultural differences here, but the bottom line is that rule number one applies here – and the days of women having to “sleep their way to the top” are long gone!

Results, reliability and reputation: In South Africa, it’s all too easy for women (and black women especially) to be discounted as a “quota candidate”. Self-respect is a powerful magnet for success so be the best, and use your results and reliability to build a reputation that focuses attention on your value, not your gender.

It would be great to hear your own tips and advice to maximise your leadership skills – as a man and as a woman in the working world.