Why feminine leadership is smart business

A conversation with leadership coach Manpreet Dhillon

It’s been nearly two years since the #MeToo movement made it easier for women to speak out about pervasive harassment and gender discrimination in many industries, including tech. As a result, many tech companies have been looking for ways to build healthier work environments that don’t tolerate or reward bias and misconduct.

One way to do that is to adopt a more feminine leadership style, says Manpreet Dhillon, CEO of Veza Community, a consultancy focused on leadership training. One reason is obvious: At many companies, leadership traits seen as masculine, such as aggressiveness and swagger, are valued above those seen as feminine, such as empathy, compassion, and authenticity.

Dhillon speaks from experience: Although she has led multiple organizations, she found that as a woman she wasn’t getting the same respect or acknowledgement as her male counterparts. So she made it her mission to help companies develop feminine leadership principles. In an interview with Workflow, Dhillon explained how these principles can improve the workplace for everyone.

What are feminine leadership principles, and why should all leaders—both men and women—embrace them?

The first thing to realize is that feminine leadership principles aren’t just for females. They are for everyone. Feminine leadership principles aren’t about being weak—they are more about the strength there is in a person.

Feminine leadership principles are about the power of connection, the power of empathy, and the power of transparency in the workplace. They’re about using intuition to collaborate strategically and create inspired action plans to hit goals.

All levels of an organization need to embody these things in order for people to lead from their most authentic self. When people aren’t authentic to themselves, they tend to burn out and productivity declines, because they aren’t able to bring all aspects of themselves to the workplace.

How can leaders put these principles into practice?

It starts with really being present and listening. People value being seen and heard. They want to feel that they belong in the workplace. It’s the leader’s job to make sure that happens.

Authenticity is about being real in the moment. In a meeting, it’s okay for an exec to say, “I’m challenged by this,” or “I don’t have all the answers. ” It’s about being okay with allowing people who are smarter than you to respond. When leaders behave authentically, they give other people permission to do the same thing.

Transparency is a key part of this. Saying “I don’t know” allows someone else to shine, and everyone wants to shine in the workplace. Everyone wants to feel they’re contributing to the end goal.

What are some of the signs that a company has an overly masculine culture?

Do managers focus more on end goals and less on people? Are they quick to assign blame when something goes wrong on a project? Metrics also play an important role. When looking at overall performance data, many companies still focus on bottom-line targets instead of other key indicators, such as number of promotions, reduction of staff turnover, or results from employee surveys.

Can leaders really change the culture on their own?

It’s not just about the leaders. Employees need to practice these principles as well. It’s so important how employees show up in meetings, how they interact with one another, how are they giving voice to other people. Culture really develops both ways. Some is top-down, but it’s mostly bottom-up.


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