Women and Soft Power in Business
The leadership of women in politics, business, and society is becoming evident across the globe. Growing numbers of women are becoming political leaders, the most recent being Dilma Rouseff, who took over as Brazil’s first woman president. She follows in the footsteps of other female politicians such as Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, and Germany’s Angela Merkel. Last year, India even reserved a third of the seats in its legislature for women.
Women are also rising to the forefront in other parts of government. In November 2010, for instance, several women played key roles during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to India. The ones in the spotlight were of course Michelle Obama and Sonia Gandhi. In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped shape Indo-U.S. ties, as did a troika of Indian women bureaucrats: Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao; India’s U.S. Ambassador Meera Shankar; and Joint Secretary (Americas) Gaitri Kumar.
This trend represents the growing need for soft power in today’s world. As defined by Joseph S. Nye Jr., the former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, soft power is the ability to influence or lead through persuasion or attraction, by co-opting people rather than coercing them. Soft power isn’t the exclusive preserve of women; U.S. President Obama, for instance, effectively uses soft power.
However, women are more inclined than are men to use soft power through tools such as dialogue and engagement rather than using the threat of arms or exclusion. Research has shown that women are excellent mediators, great networkers, and they place more value on building relationships than do men. They also keep cool during crises.
Few would disagree that corporate leaders need to display a healing touch in today’s horribly bruised business environment. Could women provide the much-needed soft power that will help rebuild confidence in business?
Many companies are recognizing the value of women leaders. As Sylvia Hewlett recently pointed out, interest in gender diversity is rising in post-recession Europe. Some Canadian companies have adopted non-binding targets for appointing women to leadership positions. This is leading to a slow increase in the number of women in senior positions, reports The Globe and Mail.
Despite these pockets of change, however, gender diversity is seriously lacking in the corporate world, with just 5% of corporate leaders being women.
At the risk of being trapped in the crossfire, I’d like to cast a vote in favour of women. The current environment makes it imperative to recognise the unique characteristics female executives possess, and CEOs must encourage women so as to bring about a much-needed transformation in business.
Do you agree?
Originally posted on Vineet Nayar’s Blog site on Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2011/01/women-and-soft-power-in-business.html