Lean In: On the future of leadership for young women

16 Dec 2015 Katherine O’Regan

Leadership is a topic that many of us have covered during our studies and as we have progressed through our careers. What are the attributes and styles of good leadership? Do you need different leaders for corporate consolidation, growth and start-up? Who are leaders that you admire?

These questions, and their answers, have filled many text book pages and occupied many hours of debate. Yet the leadership question that is perhaps the most critical is: What type of leadership is needed for this time?

In the decades ahead, workplaces will be dominated by Gen Ys through to Gen As. These generations will have been nurtured by technology and will have a whole new set of attitudes, aspirations, and no doubt, acronyms and apps.

This will be a world where the abundance and accessibility of information makes the old adage ‘information is power’ redundant. What will be powerful is how we connect information through and with our growing networks. The mantra ‘it is all about me’ will reverberate even more, making personalization a priority, and big data will make it a reality.

In this linked in and logged on world hierarchical structures have been replaced by a flatter democratized dynamic. Giving preference to the loudest voice in the room is no longer as critical as the ability to listen and discern which voices matter most.

The ever increasing speed of change and globalized competition will demand leaders to be proficient at multi-tasking, with the ability to test and learn in market and manage risks in real-time.

The successful leaders of tomorrow will favour those that embrace the key attributes of networking, listening, personalization and multi-tasking.

These attributes are ones in which women in particular excel. So to all the women readers, I say be persistent and confident in knowing that the future of leadership will demand a new vision for conducting business.

Growing up as one of seven daughters in a family of ten children I did not know or understand gender bias. Each family member had to perform the same chores, had the same compulsory music lessons and the same sporting opportunities. While you could say that the numbers were stacked in my favour, I believe this family environment fostered a culture of true gender equality.

By comparison the workplace culture today has a long way to go. Recently, a female friend who works in a top six international law firm told me that in her performance review management stated she had excelled, despite being a single mother. I heard an executive from a well-respected private school that recently became co-educational lament that female students “just aren’t leaders, they simply don’t have what it takes.” And just the other day one of my colleagues criticized me for having ambition.

There is still much work to do. Higher levels of organisational performance are achieved in gender balanced environments. It is up to us to make sure our organisations are working towards this goal and we can start by fostering a culture across workplaces, public and private, where gender bias is identified and rooted out.

Equity issues affect us all and through strong leadership and persistence we can effect change.


Katherine  O’Regan is an internationally experienced executive and a Councillor at Woollahra Municipal Council. Having served as Chief of Staff and advisor to Federal and State members of Parliament and corporate Chief Executives she runs her own consultancy providing business and policy advice.

Originally published by the UNSW Business School www.business.unsw.edu.au

 

 

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