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Canvas8: A New Leadership Paradigm

This article was originally published in Canvas8.


Around 80% of purchases are made or influenced by women, but with women making up less than a fifth of corporate board members, the gap between consumer and designer is huge. Despite this, the modern woman is setting her sights on increasingly ambitious career goals, and as concepts of power shift, they're more likely to succeed now than ever before.

John Gerzema, author of The Athena Doctrine, surveyed 64,000 people worldwide to find out which character traits comprise the ideal leader. Alongside co-author Michael D'Antonio, Gerzema discovered that two thirds of participants felt the world would be a better place if leaders were to think more like women. We sat down with him to find out more about the modern power woman; how her attitudes have changed, what hurdles she faces and how brands can cater to her needs.


Influence: the new laws of power

Traditional Machiavellian power worked well for thousands of years, but now we're verging on a new era that's far more social, interdependent and transparent. With technology and globalisation making the world more interconnected, power itself is changing – the way you get it, and the way you express it. Globally, around four out of five people now believe power is no longer about control, but about influence. As a result, success is now about being intuitive and having soft skills – being able to listen and communicate.

During our research for The Athena Doctrine, we spoke to hundreds of leaders, finding that 'feminine' qualities, like generosity, collaboration and patience, are becoming more prevalent – and this is bringing a very different approach to leadership from the traditionally 'masculine' command-and-control structures.

We interviewed Silvia Loli, who runs the private Women's House in Peru for female victims of domestic abuse. Frustrated by the Peruvian police's indifference to the mistreatment of women, she started her own private women's police force. Up until then, the police force was entirely male, but she made history by forcing integration between the female police officers she'd trained and regular police officers. She reacted to public anger over corruption, and her work lowered that corruption by around 32%. She's one of many who are going after huge problems in innovative ways – showing the courage to do what's right regardless of social barriers.

Some of the most interesting places we visited were countries where extreme change was occurring – many of them developing countries. In Columbia – a society trying to combat issues like drugs, violence and decades of civil war – we found courageous women taking on these extreme circumstances. We found Catalina Cock Duque, who was helping ex-rebel soldiers reintegrate into society. Her foundation, Fundación Mi Sangre (My Blood Foundation), has helped 30,000 former soldiers give up their arms and become citizens again. In these emerging societies, you find creative thinkers – enigmatic men and women who aren't bound by rules or conventions.

Can women be powerful and pregnant?

Despite this talk of high-powered women, traditional paradigms haven't been cast aside; the working woman's challenge of a work-life balance won't go away any time soon – and to be a housewife is still hugely respected amongst these women. A high-powered career takes devoted partnerships between couples – spouses that are supportive and involved. Without that partnership, you'll continue to see women forced to make choices between career and a life outside of work.

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is a perfect example of a woman who's both powerful and pregnant – but the controversy she faced earlier this year highlights the underlying tensions. She banned working from home for her employees, to an extremely poor reception. Yet when a male CEO made a similar decision a month later, nobody said a thing. These double standards create imprinted biases against female leaders – but those women who have the courage to assert their 'feminine' values are thriving.

Take Orna Barbivai from the Israeli Defence Force. When she considers military strategy, mothering ties into it – because, as it turns out, mothers are very protective (she actually told us that the last person you want to provoke is a mother). She created programmes designed to de-escalate conflict at check points, and it's been very successful. She created measures to reward soldiers who keep the peace – things like accommodation. She even stations her own daughters on checkpoints. By adopting her 'feminine' qualities, she went about strategy in a completely fresh way.

A secret society: three billion and rising

Women are very conscious of their role in inspiring other women. Anne-Marie Slaughter, a writer and editor at The Atlantic are rallying women to power. "Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers,” she writes, “will we create a society that genuinely works for all women.” Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democratic senator from New York, and she's really pushing her campaign to be more inclusive of female politicians and to promote more women in corporations and on boards.

Regardless of the dynamics that exist between some women in powerful contexts, women who are generous with their time – nurturing young talent and sharing with their ideas – are going to thrive. Our research shows that 77% say collaboration is essential to success, and when I speak with executive women, they talk about needing to be forceful and fighting to be heard – but also being generous with their ideas and time, and sharing credit.

Compare two cultural icons, thirty years apart – Madonna and Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga has this huge anti-bullying campaign; she's expected to give back to the people who put her where she is. This the modern price of stardom, and power – to be generous or selfless. And this isn't just about pop music; around the world, many women are using their careers to try and make things better.

There are some tremendous organisations connecting and empowering young women around the world. Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, is working towards closing the gender gap by encouraging young girls to work in technology. Likewise, the UN Foundation's Girl Up programme – where all proceeds from The Athena Doctrine go – is helping build esteem in young girls, and encouraging self-belief. These girls are raising money in their schools to help girls around the world, forming a kind of sisterhood in challenged countries and developing skills that will make them the leaders of the future.

Many of these women stay motivated by looking to each other, but also by looking for companies who support their needs. Companies are realising that they need to be more flexible, collaborative and nurturing to be relevant to the next generation of talent – and all our research shows that younger generations aren't into gender labels.

The rise of authenticity; the decline of shoulder pads

A few decades ago, when Duran Duran were really big, women were wearing huge shoulder pads as business attire; it was a bid to play into 'masculine' approach to power. A lot has changed in since then. Our research shows that modern leaders thrive when they have the courage and conviction to be themselves – and to put their whole selves into a problem, being genuine and authentic. It's not about conforming and losing your own identity, nor is it about being more 'feminine' or 'masculine'; it's about an increased authenticity. Maintaining identity is the key for effective leaders – people who are open and honest about who they are.

We met these amazing women and men that just threw their personalities and values into a problem and wouldn't accept the status quo. Ultimately, a balance of 'feminine' and 'masculine' values is essential to leadership – so it's a great time to be a man as well. Some of the best reactions for the book have been from men – young guys who've said "I can be more myself at work".

Consider Berlin-based scientist Dr Ijad Madisch, who created ResearchGate – a social network for scientists. It all started when he went to some colleagues at Harvard and admitted he was stuck in his research. People thought he was ridiculous for admitting he didn't know something, but soon, he discovered plenty of other people with the same problem. Together they formed a social network to share their ideas and collaborate, which now has more than three million members. These kinds of ideas prove that projecting 'feminine' values into traditionally 'masculine' industries can really drive innovation.

Insights and opportunities

Soft drinks like Dr Pepper Ten whose latest campaign is specifically for men, under the caption "It's not for women," feel ridiculous to me. Advertising campaigns depicting women in submissive states or in contexts that are outdated need to be avoided. Great brands are brands that anyone could buy into because of great attitudes or mindsets – whether Apple, Nike or Virgin Atlantic. It's a brand you buy into because you believe in it, because of who you are – not because you're a man or a woman.

It pays to be inclusive when it comes to gender, but that's not to say there aren't exceptions. We laughed for hours at Old Spice, who marketed to men through women, with "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," but there are certain boundaries that marketers need to understand are not to be crossed.

Yet men still form a large part of the innovation to attempt to appeal to women. Despite the fact something like 80% of all products are purchased or influenced by women, still only around 16-18% of corporate boards are female, and the gap between female consumers and women as product designers and innovators is huge.

But things are changing. For The Athena Doctrine, we interviewed Eriko Yamaguchi, the founder of a Japanese clothing line called Motherhouse, which specialises in high quality handbags. The entire brand ethic focuses on helping factory workers in Bangladesh, whom she taught to make these expensive, high quality handbags – and she pays them twice the average rate. Eriko's approach is about building values into her business model. We see that here in the US with Toms Shoes, where every time someone buys a pair of their shoes, they donate a pair to someone in an impoverished country.

Our book came out at roughly the same time as Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, and to paraphrase her book, business, politics and society need to lean in to the ways of women, because 'feminine' traits are essential qualities that all of us can share: they're largely absent from these fields. That's what our story's about.