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Are women leaders different from their male counterparts?

30 March 2011

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and as women look back and commemorate this special occasion, it is timely to ask some questions about what has been achieved and how society can benefit from women leaders.

Since the early 1900s, massive changes have occurred on this planet, some of which are saddening and many of which are exciting and inspiring.  On the negative side, we have witnessed two world wars, mass destruction from the atomic bomb, frequent global unrest from religious and sectional differences, mass destruction of the environment, assassinations of world leaders and a seeming breakdown in community, as we know it.  On the positive side – and sometimes possibly because of these social challenges, we have seen a massive increase in wealth of and opportunity in the western world, developments in healthcare and education, increased women’s rights and massive access to information through technological advance.  In the gender arena, the status of women in the world has increased dramatically for many women in terms of obtaining the right to vote, rights over property, finances, children, education, fertility, marital status and legal protection.  Not least are advances in employment and business.  Many more women are now represented in senior management and hold board positions.  This continues to be an exciting time for women in leadership.

The March lunch hosted by The Ruby Connection and chaired by Larke Riemer (11/3/2011) was testimony to the massive advance of women in leadership.  Larke Riemer highlights the potential of women’s voices on the global stage through numerous senior roles including that of  Chair of the Global Banking Alliance for Women.  The discussion facilitated at this lunch saw three senior women  (Alison Watkins CEO and Managing Director of Graincorp, Elizabeth Bryan, Director of The Westpac Group and  Belinda Hutchinson AM, Chairman QBE Insurance and current CEW President) explore the effects of women in leadership in different areas of industry.  Joined by Richard Lee, Chairman of AIDC & Salmat, each contributor highlighted that women have something really special to offer the future of organisational, social and economic life.

As an organisational psychologist, I have witnessed first-hand organisational cultures on three continents and it is my opinion that women hold the key to transforming organisations from a singular focus on bottom line results to ones where profit is an outcome of sustainable business cultures and responsible stakeholders simultaneously creating satisfying communities in which to work.  The Ruby Connection is an example of understanding the subtle differences in how women communicate and conduct business.  I observe that the majority of women are natural net workers and prefer to first build trust and engagement upon which business can be conducted.   Westpac has responded to this vital ingredient in how women do business and are celebrating a context in which everyone in our society can benefit from responsible and collaborative business initiatives. 

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