Blog entry by Pip Clarke, Commercial Director at a&dc.

When it comes to leadership, arguably one of the most important attributes to have is resilience. We know that top roles can be highly stressful, but if an individual is resilient, they are able to thrive in these conditions. It is also equally important to have diverse leaders in order to avoid ‘group think’ at senior levels – the mindset that they are experts and don’t need to take account of external factors – and bring fresh ideas into your business. With both resilient and diverse individuals in your organisation, it will stand you in good stead to compete in a difficult market.

Research has shown, for example, that boards perform better when there’s female presence. In a study earlier this year, the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that, over the past six years, companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price performance.

However, as the recent EU proposals have shown, many businesses are still struggling to recruit women in top positions. This suggests that new approaches are needed to encourage women to apply for more senior roles. They need to feel that they are able to be themselves and use their value-added skills, rather than succumb to male peer pressure and become ‘surrogate men.’ In order to resist this pressure, developing resilience is key.

According to research by Canada’s Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Do Women Choose Different Jobs from Men, some females are simply taking themselves out of the running for certain jobs, partly due to a perceived assumption that they may be unsuccessful. In order to move away from this, women need to be encouraged to believe in themselves much more. Self-belief is one of a&dc’s key characteristics of resilience and, in order to achieve a high score on this scale, an individual would need to have confidence in their ability to address obstacles that they encounter in their work environment. With greater self-belief, women will be more willing to tackle problems head on and remain persistent with difficulties. In turn, they will become less reluctant to put themselves forward for positions, which will be of benefit to them and your organisation.

There’s also a confidence issue for women when it comes to applying for a senior role. They will undoubtedly come across problems that they haven’t encountered before, and it’s important for them not to be phased by this. If females can develop their ingenuity – another of our components of resilience – they will be able to perceive that they are capable of finding solutions. If they are confident in their ability to find a way around a problem and look at different approaches, they’ll be in a much stronger position.

As well as being more confident, for a female to want to have a key role on the board, they should enjoy experiences that push them. They will be faced with great challenges, and you need to encourage them to perceive stretching situations as opportunities to learn and develop. This is challenge orientation and is fundamental when it comes to encouraging more women into senior positions.

Often, women may be put off of applying for a senior role because of home life commitments. There’s perhaps a worry that they will end up bringing their work home with them, particularly with the added responsibility of a high position in a company. In order to find the balance between the two, emotion regulation is another component of resilience that is important for an individual to develop. It’s fundamental to remain balanced and not become too overwhelmed – signs of panic or unease can make the situation worse. If women can remain calm and in control of their emotions in stressful situations, it will be easier to separate their work and home life, and retain a separate identity.

If women are able to increase their resilience, it puts them in a much greater position to be able to compete with men at the top. And, if we are to encourage more women to take on leadership roles, this needs to be addressed both by women themselves, but also by employers.

We need to ensure that women are encouraged to bring their own range of competencies to the table, and not try to emulate their male counterparts.  It’s this diversity of skills, behaviours and opinions which will be fundamental for the future success of your organisation.

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