Female leaders must embrace talent liberation to experience fair treatment

Gender equality is one of those wide-ranging issues that continues to bubble away under the surface of modern society, but for many of today’s progressive businesses it is a topic that is being tackled head on.

Positive steps are now being taken to deliver increased opportunities for female leaders to progress to the very heights of the corporate ladder, but one area of concern that is becoming increasingly apparent is what happens when female leaders make a mistake? Are they judged more harshly than their male counterparts? Well, new research published in the Harvard Business Review states that in many cases, they are.

What’s good for the goose…

A study into gender stereotypes carried out by Victoria Brescoll, social psychologist at Yale School of Management, examined the differences in response to high-profile mistakes made by men and women in positions of authority.

It saw a mixed group of male and female participants given a fictional news article detailing a police chief in a major city that was preparing for a large-scale protest. At the height of the rally, the meeting got out of hand and officers had to be sent in, with the result that 25 civilians were seriously injured.

In the two different versions of the article, one chief was male and the other female. The results showed that overall, the male police chief saw a ten per cent reduction in their standing as a result of their mistake in not effectively policing a potentially volatile event. However, the female protagonist was hit with a 30 per cent reduction in their approval rating – highlighting a marked disparity between the sexes when it came to apportioning blame for individuals in a position of authority following a bad decision.

So how then can female leaders offset this potential bias? By playing to their strengths, and this is where talent liberation becomes an integral part in developing a more positive business environment in terms of gender equality.

What is talent liberation and why is it so important?

In its simplest form, talent liberation is a process of recognising the inherent strengths that individuals bring to a business, and it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to their primary role or function.

A father who works in corporate payroll but at the weekends coaches his son’s football team could have inspirational leadership skills, but they might never be utilised to the full if this information is not known to his colleagues. Meanwhile, a technical analyst who in their spare time volunteers to work with those less fortunate may have all the compassion and empathy required to be an effective team leader; but again, if nobody knows this at work, then these talents could be going to waste.

Talent liberation lies in harnessing these hidden skills and attributes to ensure individuals are being utilised to their fullest – delivering increased productivity for the business, but also ensuring people are given the greatest chance to flourish and grow. It’s about maximising potential and understanding how these skills can be best put to effective use.

However, here is where some female leaders could be missing the point at present, as by focusing on attempting to fit into the traditional male stereotype mould of how to lead, they could be doing themselves a disservice.

Inspirational figures for a new generation of female leaders

Some of world’s top female business leaders have already embraced the ethos of talent liberation, with these women not afraid to showcase their talents and to be more feminine in their approach to management.

The example of Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at tech giant Facebook, is one name that springs to mind, as she embodies the premise of playing to one’s strengths. In her TED talk of 2010 entitled ‘Why we have too few women leaders’, she tackled the current issues faced by women when pursuing their career goals in the modern business world.

In it, she claimed that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to female progression is the fact that women will often underestimate their own abilities. A shift in mindset is therefore necessary, as female leaders need to recognise they have many skills that their male counterparts may not have, while also having the confidence to attribute their own success to themselves. Self belief is something that is integral to success – ensuring they have “a seat at the table” and are willing to make their voices heard.

Ultimately, the next generation of female leaders should be inspired by women like Sheryl, as she has the self-confidence, drive and ability to be the equal of any man. However, without utilising her individual talents, she would not have been able to rise to the top in such a male-dominated industry as tech.

Make talent liberation ubiquitous and reap the rewards

Uncovering the hidden strengths of staff is arguably one of the most cost-effective and rewarding ways for businesses to improve many aspects of their operations, including overall levels of performance, morale and employee loyalty.

By taking the time to understand what it is that individuals are passionate about and good at, this information can help to ensure people are placed on the right career path to fulfil their potential. Investing the effort into getting to know people on a more personal level is the starting point for any effective talent liberation scheme, but in reality it boils down to the development of positive team-building and the relationships that this creates. Curiosity and an inclusive culture are therefore key to talent liberation, as without these attributes, hidden talents will remain just that.

Creating an environment where individuals (regardless of their sex) are judged on their abilities and are given the opportunity to showcase these skills should be an ideal of all business leaders that are aiming to fully unlock the potential of their workforce.

To find out more about the benefits of talent liberation and the importance of ensuring all staff are being treated fairly and appreciated for their skills, read ‘Retaining professional high-calibre staff in fast-moving and demanding roles‘.