Peggy Shell, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Colorado, is founder and CEO of Creative Alignments, a time-based recruiting agency providing a cost-effective alternative to traditional recruiting with a unique, client-centric approach. We asked Peggy about the changing face of female leadership. Here's what she shared. 

When I first started in the business world, female leaders wore pantsuits and assumed a tough demeanor. Looking back, women felt they needed to adopt a masculine style to fit into a male-dominated environment where leadership looked strong, domineering, and authoritative.

Today, modern ideals of transformative leadership value skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, and inclusiveness -- nurturing qualities I've found women tend to possess. Organizations benefit from women leading as women, not women feeling obligated to lead like men.

What does this changing face of leadership look like, and how do we manifest it?

Female Leadership Flourishes When Women See Themselves as Leaders

While men and women can make equally great leaders, it's widely documented that men generally show greater confidence in business and therefore put themselves in the mix more often. For instance, if a job description has a checklist of requirements, a man may apply when only meeting a couple of them, while a woman is more likely to feel she needs to meet them all.

As women recognize that they are just as smart and capable in business as men (and not the only ones who can take care of things at home), they take on more leadership roles and find greater success.

Carole Buyers, managing partner at BIGR Ventures, notes that six of their eight portfolio companies are led by women.

"With early-stage companies, we are investing in people," said Buyers. "We didn't pick our portfolio companies because they were run by women, but because the leaders stood out as incredibly bright, humble, gritty, and able to work through difficulties with poise."

Buyers' decades-long career in finance gives her a long-range view of how women have developed as leaders: "I grew up with four brothers, so I didn't even think about the fact that my industry was 90 percent men. Now, I look back and see how much things have changed, in part because of a shifting mindset among women, knowing they can take on any role they want."

Buyers believes in the power of mentorship. "We often mentor leaders before we invest in them. Leadership does not come naturally to everyone -- some people need coaching."

Cross-Gender Mentorships Foster Sharing of Experiences, Perspectives, and Skills

"To truly diversify the workforce, we can't have individual segments pushing their way forward simultaneously. We need to all move forward together," said Jessica Fialkovich, co-owner and president of Transworld Business Advisors and president of EO's Colorado chapter.

Looking at her own career development, mentorships that cross gender lines have been critical. "Most of my mentors have been men advanced in their careers. They've already been down the path I'm on and have the tactical skills, wisdom, and connections I'm developing."

For instance, one of her goals is to make an impact by sitting on the board of a publicly traded company. Because few women have this experience and skill set, a male mentor who has "been there, done that" will help her reach her goal.

She's seen women gravitate to female mentors because it's comfortable or because of a we-need-to-stick-together mentality. This can be less than ideal:

  • First, because there are generally fewer female leaders, who end up carrying a heavier mentee load than men.
  • Second, just because a mentor is your same gender doesn't mean they have the most relevant experience.
  • Third, cross-gender mentorships can provide diversity of thought and sharing of perspectives.

"The best mentorship pairings develop organically over time," said Fialkovich. "Rather than asking someone to be your mentor, offer them information or ideas you think would be helpful, and ask for their advice and guidance when you need it."

An Authentic Circle of Diverse People Empowers Success

Mentorships are even more powerful when part of a diverse sphere of influence. Professional relationships must be curated with purpose. Who is doing things that you find interesting, inspiring, and even a little uncomfortable? Surround yourself with these people.

"If everyone around the table looks, sounds and thinks like me, how are my perspectives and inherent blind spots going to be challenged so that I can learn and grow?" asked Valerie Hope, leadership coach, speaker, author, and assistant professor at UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business. "Look for people who've dealt with a situation similar to yours, yet found an empowering path through. When we hear from all sides, we can leverage the strength from each."

The wisdom, skills, and perspectives we learn from others, combined with our own style, story, and values all go into developing us as great leaders and help us guide others to become leaders. In this light, success is not about women fitting into the paradigm of male-modeled leadership. It is about women -- who are innately different from men -- making an impact on executive leadership by leading authentically as themselves.

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