Among traditional brick-and-mortar companies, the percentage of female CEOs is low, despite corporate and societal efforts to progress towards gender parity, harassment-free workplaces, and pay and promotion equality. In the U.S., this figure reaches just under 5% for the Fortune 500 list and only 6.3% for the current S&P 500 list.
In virtual-working businesses, the picture is slightly different. According to Remote.co research into the number of female leaders in 128 partially or fully remote companies that have originated in the U.S., 29% of those that are completely remote have women in leadership positions, either as CEO, founder, or president.
The percentage of female entrepreneurs in remote-based companies is growing faster than in traditional office-based companies. Is this because women see the potential of a remote business with its flexibility and more work opportunities? Or is it because they have specific qualities that help them successfully manage a remote team? Or both?
Why Female Entrepreneurs Are More Successful In Running Remote Organizations
Remote projects and teams create an ideal opportunity for female leaders to get the best of both worlds: running successful businesses internationally and achieving a healthy work-life balance, without compromising their personal needs or family wellbeing.
1. Remote Work Fosters A Values-Based Organization
According to the American Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a values-based organization (VBO) is one whose culture is shaped by a clear set of ground rules, establishing a foundation and guiding principles for decision-making, actions, and a sense of community.
The SHRM definition adds that in a VBO culture, employees find alignment between their personal values and the organization’s values, which creates a committed, motivated, and productive workforce.
One of the key benefits of running a remote business is that it has virtually no borders, which makes it possible to attract and retain the best possible talent from across the globe. Remote organizations are able to recruit highly productive industry specialists who may possess a well-honed level of professional maturity and proven organizational skills that enable them to work autonomously toward well-defined goals and objectives, and with minimal guidance.
Additionally, the healthcare events that have so far characterized and shaped 2020 have also contributed positively to important cultural changes and significant investments in building a more flexible and empathetic workplace to help employees cope in the face of adversity.
2. Female Entrepreneurs Are More Likely To Adopt A Progressive Management Mindset
In addition to the values-based framework, the remote working environment seems to attract newer, more progressive approaches to management. Within these approaches, traditional leadership styles and stereotypical gender-based roles are deemed obsolete. New approaches that prioritize soft skills and empathetic leadership qualities are gaining more acceptance in both academic and professional managerial circles.
Because the female type of management is generally characterized as a “humanistic leadership” style with a focus on soft skill qualities and behaviors such as adaptability, empathy, effective communication, and a meritocratic work environment, this style is increasingly popular within organizations and is described as a form of “transformational leadership.” This management style is redefining the traditionally accepted office-based, command-and-control corporate management leadership styles in favor of a progressive, trust-based, and values-based management style.
3. Women’s Emotional Intelligence Is A Boost To Successful Female Leadership
Historically and culturally, we’ve heard that female employees are more emotionally inclined than their male counterparts and that top-flight organizational leadership requires hard analytical, project management, and numerical skills. However, with the recent evolution of both academic and professional thinking towards the newer humanistic styles of leadership, soft skills such as empathy, compassion, and emotional intelligence have emerged as prime assets to lead employees, especially in the face of this unprecedented COVID pandemic.
Soft and humanistic skills have now been shown to enable leaders, regardless of their gender identity, to be more connected to their teams and to achieve a sense of organizational belonging and shared values and purpose. Humanistic leaders strive to help their employees develop their professional skills, encourage them to think outside the box, and create a work environment that fosters teamwork, creativity, and commitment to common goals. The importance of these qualities can’t be underlined enough in a remote working environment to foster employee engagement, commitment, and productivity.
With that being said, female leaders also tend to mix leadership styles in response to a problem, crisis, or opportunity, which reinforces their high adaptability, empathy, and flexibility to solve challenges that are global in nature. The most effective responses to the COVID global crisis came from female leaders such as Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin, and Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg. These global female leaders have earned praise at home and abroad for their successful handling of the coronavirus crisis.
4. Remote Work Provides Flexibility To Employees And Organizations Alike
How do employers benefit from remote work? Research by consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics estimates a typical employer can save an average of $11,000 per half-time telecommuter per year. The primary savings are the result of increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness.
Additional research by global analytics and advisory firm Gallup also shows that highly engaged teams and organizations gain a 17% increase in work productivity and a 24% decrease in staff turnover. This indicates that female leaders who choose a transformational and humanistic style of leadership are more likely to build better-connected teams and less likely to face high employee attrition.
As many female employees grapple with work-life balance when they become senior leaders, they have proven to use their compassion to provide flexible work opportunities for employees who seek a work-life balance. The net effect is enabling employees to seamlessly manage their professional and family obligations, make time for leisure activities, and invest the regained commuting time in continuing professional development to build career advancement.
What Does Virtual Working Mean For The Future Of Work?
Remote and flexible working practices mean that employees can stay productive by working anytime and from anywhere. Today’s collaboration technologies enable employees to remotely and securely connect to the data and resources they need, whenever they need them and on whatever devices they use.
This paradigm shift has meant that on the one hand businesses are able to reduce costs of physical office infrastructure, and on the other hand, employees feel happier and more productive, as flexible working practices give them the opportunity to achieve that elusive work-life balance.
From a talent acquisition perspective, flexible working has increasingly become a key consideration for talent attraction in the recruitment process, and enterprises are now competing to offer remote and flexible employment propositions to attract and retain top talent to stay competitive.
Critically, however, in view of the current global healthcare events, and with governments around the world taking drastic social distancing measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, remote working has passed the acid test of becoming a strategic business continuity measure, rather than a debatable perk.
Senior leaders, regardless of gender identity, should fall back on their humanistic leadership styles to address the ability of their employees to focus on their work and their emotional wellbeing during these difficult times.
Soft skills such as empathy and compassion enable leaders to help employees at all levels of the organization with support mechanisms, ensuring employees are equipped to tackle the long-term emotional toll of this pandemic, while keeping them motivated, productive, and engaged.
Organizational leaders should also be aware of signs of stress through active listening, direct conversations, and indirect observations to help employees with their challenges and concerns as they navigate the effects of the current pandemic on their emotional wellbeing.
HR and senior leadership should also work hand in hand to promote a two-way communication approach with their remote employees to maintain employee engagement and motivation, especially during these times of significant stress and uncertainty.
Finally, to help their employees succeed during and post this pandemic, senior leaders should also ensure employees are trained, confident, and comfortable with the collaboration tools they need to perform their jobs. This includes reliable remote access to organizational email to communicate with customers and suppliers, virtual meeting tools to meet internal colleagues and external stakeholders while observing social distancing rules, instant messaging services to foster team communication and collaboration, and corporate file sync and share applications to enable their teams to access corporate data remotely and securely.
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