For those familiar with Insigniam’s position that transformational leadership is a critical means for Catalyzing Breakthrough ResultsTM, the impact of chief executives such as General Motors’ Mary Barra is seemingly undeniable, and further reinforces how disruptive leaders — and women, in particular — can influence an organization’s ability to unlock competitive edge.

However, if women are still vastly unrepresented in C-level positions — just 5 percent of Fortune 500 chief executives are female1, and only four women currently serve as chief executives of FTSE 350 companies2 — then how are female leaders who wield influence outside the C-suite, from middle managers to directors, perceived within their organizations?

In a piece titled, “In the Workplace, Leaders Who Aren’t Always Followed,” The New York Times cites a joint-study conducted by researchers from the London Business School and University College London, on the role of “friendship networks” inside organizations — peer groups with whom personal connections are shared — and the brokers who exercise influence within these networks, questioning if “women face bias in the social realm in which they are purported to excel.”

The study referenced by The Times, “Just Like a Woman? Effects of Gender-Biased Perceptions of Friendship Network Brokerage on Attributions and Performance,” explores, “two different studies (one organizational and one comprising MBA teams), examining whether the friendship networks around women tend to be systematically misperceived and the effects of these misperceptions on the women themselves and their teammates.”

The findings of the report indicate several instances of gender-inequality. The Times notes that researchers found that “people tended to ignore the activities of female brokers, and exaggerate how … men served as brokers. Second, if women were recognized as brokers, they were perceived more negatively than their male counterparts.”

Quoting one of the report’s researchers, Professor Raina Brands of the London Business School, The Times writes that the double standard could be a result of, “women who take on informal leadership roles are going against the gender-based grain by behaving assertively and decisively — qualities more traditionally associated with men.”

“Normally, women are thought to excel in the social realm — so you would think that they would be seen as good work brokers,” says the report. “Despite the widespread notion of women as social specialists, perceptions of the network position of women will be distorted because of the expectation that brokerage is man’s work.”

While Brands believes much of the predisposition is, “below the level of conscious awareness,” she advocates that teams discuss the issues openly to quell the bias that presently exists.

However, simply talking about the issue does not constitute a solution. For true enterprise transformation to take hold — one in which women are perceived as equal brokers to their male counterparts — executive boards must not only rely on the innate advantages of women by promoting more female leaders into chief executive roles, but must also cultivate environments conducive to the advancement, promotion, and recognition of women across all levels of the corporate strata.

Sources:

1. “Women CEOs of the Fortune 1000.” Catalyst, January 2014

2. “Girl power on the ‘female FTSE 350’ led companies run by women to excel in 2013.” DailyMail, January 2014

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