What Does A Female Leader Look Like?
On Michelle Obama’s recent visit to Asia to promote the “Let Girls Learn” educational campaign, the first lady was criticized in the press for her clothing, which had a distinctively 1950’s style and association. One Fashion writer for the New York Times wrote, “As a woman, and one who spends a lot of time thinking about the messages women’s clothes send about their identify, I found the apparent clothes/context disjunction to be jarring.“
Look past the obvious double standard that we, as a society, are choosing to focus on the first lady’s dress instead of her political stance, and you will find a more subtle intersection of conflicting generational norms and values about what it means and takes to be a female leader in the 21st Century. This same fashion writer went on to speculate that the first lady’s clothes were a deliberate confrontation of stereotypes. “Mrs. Obama was implying: You can dress like a girl and dream about getting a PhD.”
When I speak on the topic of female leadership to cross generational audiences of women, dress is often a topic of conversation. It is a visual manifestation of how we view power. For example, Baby Boomer parameters for women’s attire in the workplace favor the pant suit. Some even go so far to say that the strategy is to “bore them into talking about the issues.” In contrast, Millennial women proudly tell me they refuse to emulate male power norms and prefer clothing that expresses their femininity.
So ask yourself -- What does a successful, powerful, well-educated woman looks like?
Set A Course For Substantial & Authentic Female Leadership
Dress is just one of many indicators that we are on the cusp of a new era of gender definitions and issues. The impact to the workforce should not be overlooked. Human capital professionals play a decisive role in successfully Recruiting, Developing, and Keeping 21st Century Female Leaders, but they must take a critical look at their company’s generational and gender biases, recruitment tactics and talent management practices. Specifically they will need to develop targeted strategies that set a course for substantial and authentic female leadership, including:
- Engaging a multigenerational female workforce
- Attracting and onboarding women for long-term retention
- Building and promoting a strong pipeline of women leaders
- Providing workplace flexibility that adds real value to working parents
- Addressing financial security and equal pay for women
The demand for women friendly workplace practices and cultures will gather steam due to changing generational and societal shifts. What will you do to ensure your company’s standing with the 21st Century Female Leader?
Amy Hirsh Robinson, MBA, (www.interchange-group.com) is a leading expert on the changing workforce and the impact of generational shifts on organizations. She consults to Fortune 500 companies, privately held businesses and not-for-profits to prepare and retool leaders and their workforces to excel and compete in the New Economy. Her strategies and programs focus on onboarding new employees to ensure the retention and engagement of top talent, managing and motivating a multigenerational workforce, and building competitive talent pipelines through effective succession planning practices. Amy speaks and publishes widely on workforce strategies for the New Economy and has been cited and quoted in publications such as Forbes, The Los Angeles Times, and The Huffington Post.