Summary Report - Keynote Speech on November 30, 2015

Tomorrow's Women Leaders- Identifying and Overcoming Stumbling Block

Dr. Gwen Elprana
Helmut Schmidt Universität Hamburg

Key note speech in the context of the campaign "More women in management - let's go"

Dr. Gwen Elprana of the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg spoke on the theme of "Women bosses of tomorrow - leadership motivation for women and men" in the Ravensberger Spinnere at the invitation of WEGE mbH, Sparkasse Bielefeld and the equality body of the city of Bielefeld. Around 100 guests discussed the importance of leadership and the motivation obstacles for women with the speaker.

A look at the trends of recent years shows that between 2009 and 2015, there was a considerable increase in the number of female board members in DAX30 companies. In 2009 there was a single woman (Siemens) and in 2015 there were 16 women. Nevertheless, it is clearly noticeable that women are conspicuous by their absence from the management positions of business enterprises.

In her presentation, Dr. Elprana goes into the question of why this is so, what factors affect the situation and how to proceed in order to do something to change it. In this context, she focuses on the areas of "may", "can" and "will" as a central framework and a set of conditions for there to be more women in leadership positions.

To say "may" is to say that although, of course, there are no concrete, legal obstacles to preclude women taking on management positions, there may be mental barriers, which are more prevalent in women than men due to their socialization from early childhood.

The female character is brought up with an emphasis on passivity and receptivity, which is linked to externals: be pretty, be liked, don't upset other people (especially not those in a higher position). Boys are portrayed from an early age as being strong, pro-active, enthusiastic and technically-competent, the sort of people who can solve any problem. Both role stereotypes are reflected early in the professional aspirations of boys and girls. This runs through to the decision makers in leading companies, where women have difficulty prevailing against male competition due to conditions which have developed over the course of history.

In addition, supervisors recruit for higher positions according to the so-called similarity hypothesis which means that men tend to prefer other similar men as close associates.

Women therefore have to contend with prejudice against their professional competence, which is sharpened still further by the fact that their actual or potential family responsibilities are both presumed and assumed. In fact, women are equally represented in higher education and can demonstrate these skills just as well, if not better, than men. Professional requirements are therefore clearly met by women. The term "can", however, draws attention to a different area. Women themselves have further, internal, barriers, because many do not trust themselves with a leadership role.

It should be noted that in surveys, women often indicate a much lower level of leadership motivation, although their desire for the ability to manage their work and to take responsibility for processes actually represent central management tasks. Women then apply various mitigation strategies, which slow down their own career path, even if a leadership position is a long-term goal. They undermine themselves by letting their behaviour be influenced by the gender stereotypes instilled in childhood and therefore being afraid to be regarded as a "bitch" if they succeed.

Thus, the focus is directed at the issue of "wanting" a leadership position, that is to say intrinsic leadership motivation and the question of how this motivation can be strengthened.

According to Dr. Elprana's presentation, the following factors are conducive to the establishment of leadership motivation in women: same-sex role models, modern gender roles and the relaxing of the “tightened hand-break” in the quest for leadership positions. Strategies in this context include a high degree of networking and even "upwards" intensive "self-promotion" and the safe handling of "power games". To develop and use these strategies, certain instruments such as coaching can be helpful. Equally, however, it is also helpful to develop positive beliefs about the self and to overcome the classic "female" settings instilled through the force of habit. For example, a person can take a positive attitude towards the future even when faced with temporary set-backs by saying: "I will not say that I have failed 1,000 times, but that I've found 1000 ways which can lead to failure".

Other strategies can help to build positive self-perception, for example, keeping a success diary and making body language and expressions more powerful.

In this context, it is interesting to look at the "career formula", according to which job performance only has 10% relevance with regards achieving a leadership position in the world of work,"self-promotion" accounts for 20% and networking ("jobs for the boys") for 60%. According to Dr. Elprana, when navigating the workplace jungle, it is also important to act confidently and to seek out opportunities, to identify with the leadership role and to learn about the success- and power-structure in the company.

In this way, the awareness of the fact that the "may", "can" and "will" can work to influence each other, can be harnessed over the long term.