Women in Leadership: Self-Awareness and Empathy

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From corporate C-suites to nonprofits, government offices, courtrooms and more, leadership roles in the U.S. are filled by men because society still focuses on an outdated male model of leadership that shuts out women. Because men have dominated for so long, society thinks that a good leader demonstrates male traits, but women who display these same behaviors are not looked upon favorably. Normally, women have not focused on networking to gain connections. Of course, sexual harassment, hostile work environments and subtle biases are still obstacles.

The World Economic Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. In 2016, the organization gathered findings collected from 38 million people on the leadership capabilities needed for the future. An item that moved to the top was emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize, manage and understand personal emotions and those of others. Inside this are several skills: motivation, social skills, self-regulation, self-awareness and empathy. In general, women tend to score higher in many of these areas than men.

“When you look at emotional intelligence skills, the most critical is the skill of self-awareness. It’s the gateway competency. If you don’t have self-awareness, if you can’t say, ‘I feel angry. I feel sad,’ and allow yourself to feel the feeling, name it and understand it, how can you manage yourself and others?” said Angela Scalpello, a highly sought-after business performance coach based in New York City. “In addition, if I can’t feel that feeling then how can I recognize it in you? Self-awareness enables empathy. Self-awareness and empathy are key emotional competencies. Both help you understand when you need to be an inspirational leader or when you need to be a coach and mentor, and women score very high on empathy. I have coached many men on how to build emotional self-awareness, but I don’t have to do that with women.”

While women test higher in social and emotional intelligence, business has been somewhat slow to embrace these changes; therefore, leadership models have been slow to adapt. The current systems for many are more autocratic with intense control, which is based on models from decades ago. However, the pandemic forced our world to morph into a new way of doing business that demands new organizational changes, agility and innovation. Uncertain times require new ways of doing business.

Society is also seeing changes and more acceptance with the younger generation just beginning their movement up the career ladder. Pew Research Center recently released data showing that women on average receive 83 cents for every dollar paid to a man. This gender pay gap, between median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers, has remained stagnant in the United States over the last two decades. However, the gap has narrowed for women ages 25 to 34. They earned 92 cents for every dollar netted by a man in the same age group. Angela points to a big change in how employees communicate about their earnings. In the past, salaries were taboo to discuss. Now, not so much so.

“In that younger generation, people are more open about talking about what they’re being paid. In the past you did not do this,” explained Angela. “Younger people are demanding more transparency, and they’re sharing information themselves. It makes it hard for a company to claim they pay equally on responsibilities. Now, they’re calling them out.”

Interestingly, many women start with salaries below a man’s earnings and that makes it more difficult to catch up. Angela reports that it begins with asking for your full compensation rather than the employer telling you what the position will pay. “I can’t tell you how many women are not negotiating for their salaries. The numbers are shocking,” Angela revealed. “Women see it as negative. Men associate negotiating as winning or playing a game. It’s a whole different framing. Your mindset is really key.”

As the work environment changes, women who want advancement should be proactive in shaping their careers and sharpening their leadership skillset. Now is the time to access your abilities, review areas that could be improved and ask for the resources to make this happen so you are ready when the time comes for a new or improved leadership role.
“How do you stay relevant, how do you have an impact and what are the skills that are needed today and will be needed tomorrow? Sometimes companies say, ‘Let’s fix the women’ when they really should be thinking, ‘Let’s fix the system and our organizational structure.’ How we hire. How we promote. How we develop. Don’t think about fixing your women,” she said. “Help people by providing opportunities, mentoring and coaching, career development and look at your system.”