Workplace Wellbeing

Lead Like A Woman: A Work Revolution for All Genders

When we embrace and cultivate “feminine” leadership qualities—championing authenticity, inclusivity, inspiration, and emotional intelligence—we bring our complete selves to every aspect of our work with bold integrity.

Written by
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Kali Love
Chief Impact Officer, #lovework
Clinically reviewed by
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Three women discussing a business project in a meeting

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    “Business is war. I want to go out there, I want to kill the competitors.” —Kevin O’Leary, Shark Tank

    “Business is not war. It’s creation. I go out there, and I want to create a sustainable future for my customers and worthy competitors so we can create a better world together.” —Kali Love, #lovework

    A truly boring boardroom

    I’d like you to picture a boardroom—a typical table of leaders gathering to make a decision that will affect their entire organization. These are the people at the very top making the rules that determine how accessible joy and energy are at your workplace. Let’s say there are 10 of them. 

    How many women are there? 

    If you said 4, you’re wrong. We’re talking typical. 

    2? Nope. Lower. 

    1? Still wrong. 

    As of 2022, there would actually be roughly 80% of a woman there—which we know isn’t possible, but it’s true.

    Here, we find a startling gap: as of 2023, despite women making up 58% of the workforce, only 10.6% of S&P 500 CEOs are women. If we consider any position that could be regarded as senior leadership, we might have 2.7 women there, but this is still far too low. 

    Traits, not gender

    You might immediately assume that I’m saying men are the problem. They’re the ones making the rules, so they’re the reason work is imbalanced and lacking in mental-emotional awareness. But that’s not the whole story. 

    The entirety of business is currently unwisely defined by masculine traits. And this is causing people to fragment themselves instead of showing up as their whole and authentic selves. 

    Women have had to put aside traits such as their nurturing side or their intuition to be considered “professional” at work and face disproportionate mental hardships compared to men as a result. 

    According to LeanIn's latest Women in the Workplace study, women leaders are about 1.5x as likely as male leaders to have switched jobs because their workload was unmanageable. They’re twice as likely as men to spend substantial time on DEI work, but 40% of women leaders say their DEI work isn’t even acknowledged. 

    Additionally, 43% of women leaders are burned out, compared to 31% of men at their level. 42% of women even say they have been discriminated against at work simply because of their gender. Summarily, women are nearly twice as likely to have a common mental health problem as full-time employed men.

    Non-binary, LGBTQIA+, and other minority identities have had to mask their true selves to conform to work mores and traditional cultures for far too long as well. We’ve had to assimilate to fit into stated and unstated parameters to get and keep a job with management that would discriminate against us. 

    No wonder 85% of LGBTQ+ experienced burnout, anxiety, depression, or another major mental health difficulty due to work in 2023.

    Men have also been harmed by gender stereotypes that perpetuate toxic masculinity and discourage vulnerability. This particularly affects men from marginalized communities who may face added stressors related to race, sexuality, or socioeconomic status. Men are far less likely to seek mental help, demotivated by gender-related barriers and stigmas.

    Men face social stigma about showing emotions or even talking about anxiety, mood, and stress. The traditional male stereotype in several cultures—and in the workplace—includes socialized ideals of masculinity that require men to be strong (vs. weak), self-sufficient (vs. needing help), action-oriented (vs. emotional), and in control of their life (vs. in collaboration with others). 

    Men are not less emotional than women—and that’s not better, anyway

    It turns out men are not less emotional than women. They have just as many highs and lows, and that is critical for great business. We now know emotion is a biological driver for intelligent thought and innovative thinking. We should encourage its healthy expression. Masculine stereotypes in business are not just irrelevant—they’re holding us back. 

    So, the problem isn’t simply that too many men are leading. The problem is that we’ve all been taught to lead a certain way—a way that champions our perceived “masculine” traits and minimizes the importance and effectiveness of our more “feminine” traits. We’ve all been taught to lead in a way that excludes our vivid, valid, valuable emotions. 

    But what if that could change? What if it was already starting to change?

    2024 top leadership trends

    Considering Harvard’s top leadership trends, we find the rigid views of leadership beginning to shift. The workplace skills needed right now include: 

    • The willingness and ability to take risks 
    • The ability to provide clarity and direction to team members in dynamic situations 
    • The ability to not just endure but embrace ambiguity and uncertainty 

    Harvard also highlights empathy in communication, feedback sharing, and listening, as well as high emotional and social intelligence and the ability to manage conflict among team members.

    These are skills women excel at and are most needed in leadership today. But don’t just take my word for it—research proves it. 

    Women are rated higher than men in leadership traits

    Recent research from Leadership Circle, based on assessments with over 84,000+ leaders and 1.5 million raters (comprising boss, boss’s boss, peers, direct reports, and others), shows that female leaders scored as showing up more effectively than their male counterparts across every management and age level. 

    The traits evaluated, which comprise the highly-validated “Creative Competencies” in leadership, include relating, self-awareness, authenticity, systems awareness, and achieving. 

    Feminine leaders were also found to lead from a 'playing for all to win' orientation rather than ‘playing not to lose.’ This focuses on collaboration and partnering to create the future envisioned. Women also create stronger and more caring connections, emphasizing mentoring and developing others. 

    This study also highlights that women have a lower “reactive impact”. They rely less on early life scripts of what leaders are supposed to do and say, which often leads to autocratic micromanaging. Instead, women leaders display higher levels of effectiveness and creative competency, which is crucial for more humane business environments.

    Harvard’s Leadership study also lauds “feminine” contributions. In an analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. 

    A better, more beautiful boardroom… and world

    The possibilities of a beautiful boardroom are currently being hindered by the masculine ideas of work and the traits we feel pressured to embody. Many are held back by beliefs that work is supposed to be hard, a zero-sum competition, and we all need to operate in battle mode. Let’s stop using war analogies to describe work and those working.

    My call to action for you is to embrace and foster “feminine” leadership traits in your own journey, and encourage others to do the same. Bring your whole self to your work instead of leaving part of yourself at home. Be bold with high integrity. Lead with authenticity, inclusivity, and emotional intelligence. Build inspiring and motivating relationships. 

    Let's embrace a more humane, shared future where we create more productive environments because they’re nurturing, dynamic, and inclusive. Let’s all play for all to win.

    Together, we can build a better workplace and world… and doesn’t that make for a more beautiful boardroom?

    Watch this webinar replay to discover how working with a coach can help executives and other leaders enhance leadership skills and drive organizational success.

    About the Author
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    Kali Love
    Chief Impact Officer, #lovework

    Growing up queer with neurodivergence in extreme adversity, I have survived trauma and toxic cultures to challenge societal barriers and become a champion of workplace inclusivity and an empowering future of work. I am a coach, speaker, facilitator, author, and poet who has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world like Bank of America, Shea Homes, Chanel, and more. As Chief Impact Officer at #lovework, I am continually developing the field of energy intelligence and encouraging practice-oriented productivity on a global scale. Human-centric leadership and practicing energy intelligence to enact positive change is the future of work. We are most effective and able to create a lasting impact when we work together, and I'm here to help everyone bring their whole selves to work to do the best work of their lives!

    About the clinical reviewer
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