I have written a lot about women leaders over the years. I have had first-hand experience with women as leaders since childhood—my mother was an executive, so was my wife and, for more than twenty-five years, I have been an advisor to women executives in Asia, America, and Europe. My support of women is widely published and well documented. However, I must admit that when I was asked to write a column for Hospodarske Noviny’s “Top Twenty Five Women in Business”, my first reaction was, oddly enough, one of resistance. Sure, I’m busy, but so is everyone else today, so that wasn’t a credible reason to be reluctant. It was during a phone conversation with Zuzana Lunakova, who is in charge of this special section, that the reason for my reluctance hit me; all of a sudden I realized that I viewed “Women in Business” as a stereotype.
Ever since childhood, growing up in the farm country of the mid-Western United States, I have been fascinated by the shallowness and falseness of stereotypes, and I felt no small amount of joy when I discovered on my own what they were—oversimplified, biased, formulaic opinions, usually about a group of people. The unfortunate thing about stereotypes, however, is that if we don’t stop and recognize them for what they are, we’ll just keep perpetuating them.
Just for the record, I want to extend my sincere congratulations to each and every person on the Top Twenty-five List this year. This is a wonderful honor and recognition. Several of you I count as friends and all of you are leaders who deserve our respect for your accomplishments—and therein lies my point. You should be respected for your accomplishments as leaders, not women leaders. The modifier women creates a separation that can easily become divisive. Yes, I see the positive impact things like this can have on a group of people, and I realize that we have not all been given equal opportunities, and I commend Hospodarske Noviny for creating this event. My hope, though, is that we can move beyond the limitations of the past and that stereotypes, especially gender stereotypes, in the world of business will continue on their accelerating and richly deserved downward spiral to extinction. How about getting out in front of the curve on this one and creating categories like consumer goods, technology, or leaders of companies that are in different revenue categories, or geographical regions, or start-ups, turnarounds, or any category in which we could celebrate the accomplishments of smart, dedicated, accomplished men and women leaders together?
I have spent my career studying leaders and the attributes that make some of them exceptional. And, when you examine the core attributes of an exceptional leader--self-awareness, impulse control, continuous personal growth, relationship management, the ability to inspire and motivate, developing others, teamwork, and empathy--not one of those attributes has anything to do with gender—individuals differ in style of leadership and effectiveness, not genders.
I wrote in my column in this paper last week that I don’t believe in quotas as they relate to women executives. I believe in education. I believe that the more facts we know about the significant contributions of women in business, the more likely it is that we will understand and appreciate those contributions in a more inclusive mindset. For example, there have been many studies--McKinsey & Company’s most recent “Women Matter” for one--that painstakingly, and in great detail, prove that women and men working together are much more effective than groups of only women or groups of only men. These findings are not opinion. They are not hearsay. They are facts using universally-accepted financial metrics to measure performance, and frankly, I would like to see Boards of Directors, CEOs and investors in the Czech Republic use these facts to become a worthy example to the rest of Central and Eastern Europe.
As a point of clarification, I do not consider myself a feminist, or a “masculinist”. I am a humanist, and as a humanist I would be much more interested in a study titled “People Matter”. My hope for us all is that is exactly where we are headed, some walking, some running, and some being dragged.
In closing, it is my sincere wish that the talents and accomplishments of these women will serve as an inspiration to all professionals—women and men. I know they inspire me.