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‹ View all articles 21st June 2017

Women make the most inspiring communicators… so why aren’t we leading more?

Women’s Leadership

We’re facing a crisis in global leadership and I’m going to propose to you that it’s women who need to step up to solve it.  
 
Seven years ago my leadership journey started with a slightly crazy question: is it possible to teach people to be more inspiring communicators? 
 
It’s a question that led me to start up Ginger’s Inspiring Speakers Programme, a revolutionary training for would-be public speakers that encourages them to find a personal passion to speak from, challenges them to step up the stepladder at Speakers Corner (yes, as scary as it sounds) and perform a live, inspiring talk to an audience. 
 
Seven years on, we’ve had more than 150 graduates put through their paces – all of whom have come out more inspiring and many of whom have had truly life-changing experiences that have led them to write books, deliver TEDx talks, change career and so on. 
 
Now, the most surprising finding along the way is just who has the capacity to inspire.  
 
Whilst I firmly believe that all of us have the qualities inside us to inspire, captivate and bring change to others, we find time and again is that it’s the women who are most willing to access their inspirational qualities. 
 
Women, it seems, are intuitively the best communicators; they’re great at telling stories, they’re more willing to be vulnerable, they’re the best listeners. And studies (like Edelman’s Trust Barometer) show that these characteristics – storytelling, vulnerability, listening; are the characteristics of the leaders we trust most in times when trust & confidence in leaders (and that’s all leaders) is slipping. 
 
Back to that global leadership crisis. Refugees, ISIS, social cohesion, corporate ethics – couldn’t we do with a few more leaders whom we trust?  
 
Of course, there are plenty of inspiring, vulnerable, listening, storytelling male leaders out there, I get that and admire them greatly. However, our society has a vast untapped pool of inspiring women leaders whose voices need to be heard. 

It’s a leadership issue. 

Sharing our voices, daring to create change through speaking up, is an act of leadership. It’s the willingness to stick your neck out and be seen, even if people throw their judgements or their criticism at you. 

To lead is to speak. To speak is to lead. 

When women step up to lead, when women step up to speak, it really does tend to benefit the world; their communities, the environment, families and so on. And where women are senior leaders within business, the company tends to perform better than all-male leadership teams. 
 
So that’s my role as a leader right now – to help women to speak and to lead. I want more women to use their beautiful, inspiring voices to rally others around their vision for positive change. 

Why do women struggle to lead? 

Nobody promised that it’s easy to lead. And women seem to face more barriers than their male counterparts. 
 
It’s vulnerable to lead. Sheryl Sandberg in her brilliant book Lean In says that when women dare to stick out they are judged differently to their male counterparts. Ambitious, visible, successful men are treated as heroes, whereas a female with the same achievements are seen as difficult, hard-nosed, robo-bitches. 
 
(Ironically I’ve only just read Lean In for precisely this reason. I was judging Sheryl Sandberg as a difficult, hard-nosed, robo-bitch. When I bothered to actually listen to her I realised she’s probably the most inspiring business leader out there.) 
 
A lot of women feel like they’d rather help out from the side, collaborate or share leadership responsibilities, rather than take the full weight of being the leader.

Where are all the female leaders? 

Women comprise just: 

  • 32% of UK MPs 
  • 25% of our board members 
  • 20% of professional speakers 
  • 20% of small business owners 
  • Just 11% of after dinner speakers 
  • 7% of FTSE CEOs 

Women are not nearly as visible as we need to be. We have incredible inspirational qualities, but the fact is we’re not pulling our weight for a world that needs our leadership. 

It would be easy to turn this into a men-bashing article. ‘Women should be given more opportunities,’ and so on. Be that as it may, that’s not a solution I’m willing to buy into. Let’s not use lack of opportunities as an excuse to stay de-voiced, let’s make those opportunities. 

Let’s not waiting for some guy, or some institution run by a guy, to give us permission. 

It’s time to step forwards. 

Let’s give the opportunity to lead to ourselves. And let’s give it to other brilliant women around us. 

It’s time for women to get visionary. 

Where do we start? In my opinion, leadership starts right at the centre of your being. It starts at articulating what you stand.  

If we’re going to get in the game as leaders, we need to have a vision. Anything else and we’re just talented, emotionally intelligent managers. 

Vision is the fire in a leader’s belly that helps her to rally change, even when she faces criticism or resistance. 

Now here’s the rub. In this study by INSEAD, a group of senior male and female leaders rated male and female leaders on their performance in a variety of different leadership characteristics, like emotional intelligence, designing systems, focusing on the customer, taking risks, vision etc. 

Women outperformed men in ALL characteristics, apart from one – their ability to communicate a compelling vision.  

Male leaders, it seems, are more willing to think and speak ‘big picture’, whereas female leaders rely heavily on credibility, facts, data to legitimize their ideas. 

Take Hillary Clinton. Competent, experienced, credible, with the data on her side; she has now lost two elections (candidacy vs Obama and presidential vs Trump) because her male counterpart, for better or worse, was able to articulate a vision that resonated with their public.  

Women must now dare to have a vision. 

Yes, there are self-doubts and challenges along the way. I’m going to be talking about these in the coming months. If you’re interested, pop your name in the box below and I’ll keep you in the loop. 

In the meantime we must step up, step forwards and speak. 

Ladies – you are gifted with the qualities that make you emotionally intelligent, brave, powerful and inspiring communicators. 

It’s time to use your gifts to benefit our world. 

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

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