How to promote and successfully establish female leadership in male-dominated sectors?

Leslie Tedgui – 2 April 2019 – Reading Time : 3 minutes


Female employees can find it very difficult to assert their leadership in male-dominated sectors of activity. To counter this difficulty, organizations are increasing their efforts to support their female staff in planning their careers, progressing through the hierarchy and reinforcing their self-confidence. Another indispensable step which must be taken in order to enable female leadership to take its rightful place within an organization is to explode preconceived ideas.

Developing female leadership despite negative stereotypes

Women are still struggling to carve a place for themselves in sectors such as transports, logistics, industry, construction and civil engineering and security. In the best cases, they represent just over 20% of overall staff numbers and their progression to managerial positions, and above all to top executive roles, is still tortuous. According the McKinsey Women Matter Report (2017), women make for only 12% of executive committees of the Top 50 listed companies. Stereotypes are hard to overcome. Will women find a way to assert themselves among teams of men? Will they have sufficient temperament to stand up for themselves and their opinions? Will they exercise sufficient authority?

Promoting gender equality within an organization

Attitudes are now evolving in the right direction. The French Construction Federation has launched a campaign to promote female presence in the building sector while the SNCF (French national railway company) is proactively going into schools to inspire young girls to embrace their professions. The transport company has also entered into a partnership with the non-for-profit organizations that fight to obtain diversity and gender equality within industrial and technological corporations. At the same time, the SNCF promotes gender equality within its own ranks and is stepping up efforts to increase the percentage of women among its staff. The company is not the only one to do so.

Inside corporations, an increasing number of programs aimed at supporting women in planning and succeeding in their career progression are seeing the light of day. Corporations must make sure that their staff are aware of and can derive full benefits from these actions.

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Support is proving to be an essential key to the development of leadership skills

A number of options are available to corporations who wish to support their female talents:

– Development programs: the company sets up actions to foster performance development among its female talents. The goal of such training or coaching programs is to enable women to unleash their potential and climb the corporate ladder.

– Sponsorship and exemplarity: here, top management takes the initiative to highlight the talents of their female staff. This is particularly important in sectors of activity with very few women in leadership positions. The purpose is to demonstrate to all the women in the group that it is possible for them to progress and to attain positions at the highest hierarchical levels.

– Awareness-raising campaigns: specific events or workshops are organized during which certain observed behaviors or mindsets are discussed and ingrained stereotypes de-constructed. Debates on such subjects are often dismissed as being too emotionally-based, so the intention here is to objectively demonstrate that inequalities really do exist and are not just myths or beliefs. This education is essential in order to achieve greater professional equality.

Participative versus directive leadership

An essential pre-requirement in asserting leadership over a group, especially when the group is predominantly composed of men, is to understand the manner in which women are seen within the company. How are they perceived? How are they impacted by and how do they react to social demands? Because they are most often associated with gentleness, discretion, empathy and good listening skills, it is held that the members of the “fairer sex” favor participative leadership styles. On the other hand, men have contracted a reputation for directive leadership exercised with authority and rigor.

Going beyond these cleavages, it is essential for each individual to find the right balance and invent their own leadership style. This is what management is all about! Individuals must learn to draw on their emotional intelligence in order to create positive working relationships with their teams while at the same time knowing how to be directive when necessary.

Leslie Tedgui