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It’s time to have a conversation that includes both the female and male qualities in business, by Danielle Afriat, Trackmatic Solutions.

It’s time to have a conversation that includes both the female and male qualities in business, by Danielle Afriat, Trackmatic Solutions.

Research is showing that the dialogue around workplace equality is becoming less about gender and more about attitude and the blend of female and male qualities needed to create thriving business environments.

The list of research that espouses the value of female qualities in creating powerful business cultures is growing, and the number of well-known CEOs of even more well-known organisations who have adopted these qualities, is growing alongside it. Companies such as Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, TMF Poland and Google, among others, have consciously adopted strategies and tools that have previously been considered “weak” or “too feminine” to build engaging communities and employees. Google has some of the most dedicated employees thanks to nurturing environments and human resources practices.

The Centre for Creative Leadership found that effective leaders are those who are capable of showing empathy. It also found that empathy significantly improves performance [1]. Further research undertaken by Catalyst shows that those Fortune 500 companies with the greatest number of women on their boards are more likely to have higher financial performance [2]. The study assessed the results across the three critical areas of return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital.

The idea that business environments managed by dominant male characteristics are best for business is slowly dying. Forward thinking organisations are paying attention to the research as they increasingly show how diversity – a mix of the male and the female – is best. A final nail in the coffin comes from a report released by McKinsey & Co early in 2018 which finds that companies with gender-diverse employees are 15% more likely to outperform their peers [3].

Equality in the workplace does not mean one gender surpasses the other. It means embracing the tangible dualities between men and women.

As an executive coach, I often encounter women who are fixated with, and fall victim to gender inequality, often creating self-imposed limitations and obstacles. They have a defeatist attitude instead of empowering themselves by capitalising on their innate qualities and skills. In my experience, the women that have successfully overcome the obstacles of gender biases are women who have made a conscious choice to work on their self-belief, confidence and stand firmly by their contribution and claim their voice.

This does not mean that gender bias does not exist. For women in certain industries and women starting out in business there is still a very real pressure to perform by suppressing “feminine” qualities in favour of qualities that are considered “masculine”. There can often be a subliminal pressure on women to choose work over family balance and commitments to keep up with their male counterparts. These qualities are perceived as essential to being taken seriously or achieving a modicum of respect in the workplace.

Numerous women have shared that they are more recognised and rewarded when they display masculine traits. That said, as women move up the ladder there is more freedom for them to embrace the qualities that they may have previously suppressed, such as their ability to be interpersonally astute, collaborative, empathic, vulnerable and compassionate. In fact, these very qualities are essential for growth, diversity, transformation, performance and, most importantly, effective change management.

Now is the time for women to unapologetically own these qualities regardless of where they are in their careers, the industry they work in or who they deal with.

Sectors like supply chain and logistics are still very male dominated and draconian in their way. Deals are made in bars, on the golf course and around the braai, with women still fighting hard for a place at the boys’ table. While there are strong, dynamic and powerful women calling the shots, this number is not high enough and the journey is still pursued with unnecessary patriarchal obstacles and challenges.

At every supply chain conference that I have attended, the number of men far outnumber the presence of women and that is an indication that there is still a need to create greater participation.

What’s needed going forward is less judgement around what’s male or female and more interest in how these qualities can work together to create partnerships that drive business and transform potential.


[1] WA Gentry, TJ Weber, and G Sadri, “A Tool for Effective Leadership”, Centre for Creative Leadership, Apr. 2007.
[2] “Companies With More Women Board Directors Experience Higher Financial Performance, According to Latest Catalyst Bottom Line Report”, Catalyst.
[3] V Hunt, D Layton, and S Prince, “Why diversity matters”, McKinsey & Company.