Leading women

by 11 Dec 2007

Women are notoriously good at underselling their leadership capabilities. We dont know why this is, and authors such as Amanda Sinclair offer many reasons. But the fact still remains: women are less likely than men to put themselves forward and to assume a leadership role

Women are notoriously good at underselling their leadership capabilities. We don’t know why this is, and authors such as Amanda Sinclair offer many reasons. But the fact still remains: women are less likely than men to put themselves forward and to assume a leadership role.

However, what we also know is that women make excellent leaders, and they don’t have to be in positions of high status or power to be able to influence decision-making and change. Many people confuse management with leadership, and use the terms interchangeably, but they are essentially different. Quite often, when we talk about exercising leadership, it is assumed we are referring to a particular position, rather than a set of qualities. In making this assumption, many women will actively deny that they are already leaders in their own way, or that they aspire to being described as leaders.

At Griffith University we actively set out to run a program that not only encouraged women to think about themselves as leaders, but to seek out opportunities to practise their leadership skills in a diversity of ways. Unlike traditional development programs that present participants with a range of leadership theories, and talk about skill sets and attributes of “effective leaders”, Griffith’s Women in Leadership program focuses on women sharing their experiences and telling their stories.

Women who are leaders in all walks of life as well as women from within the university come in as guest speakers, and the networking that occurs as participants mix with each other and the guest speakers results in an increase in confidence, and a concomitant development, in each participant, of their own leadership style. Executive members of the university are actively involved in and supportive of the program.

What we have seen as a result is women increasingly exercising leadership in a variety of ways – through participating in projects and on committees, through taking on management roles, through applying for and being successful in gaining advancement, and even winning Churchill Fellowships.

They are able to achieve this because the culture of the organisation is one that both encourages and supports staff through a variety of ways, and enables women to not only feel that they can be leaders, but makes it happen. Cultural change happens more readily when the organisation is in synchronisation – the strategic priorities, the organisation’s policies, and most of all, the practices that are implemented from the top down are all in alignment. At Griffithit is just this that has made it a leader in the advancement of women.

By Heather Cameron, principal adviser – equity, diversity & policy implementation, GriffithUniversity