My husband and I are currently enjoying a short Netflix Series: The Law According to Lidia Poet. It is based on a true story of a female lawyer in Italy, in the 1860’s. Her father and brother are lawyers, and although she has also passed all her schooling, she is unable to become accredited because of her gender. Still, Lidia is smart, persistent, and helps those around her solve cases. As I watch how she is treated, I get so frustrated. There is such injustice and juxtaposition of her skills against those around her.
And so I think – whew, we have come a long way! Or have we?
While perhaps not quite so dramatic, my work with women who are leaders in policing, has some of the same themes: skepticism, having to work twice as hard as some of their male counterparts, insecurity, choices about whether to have family or get a promotion, or at minimum how to time having a family so it won’t impact promotion possibilities, and the list goes on. I am inspired by the insights and courage these women leaders display.
And the skills – let’s not forget the incredible skills!
Research supports the idea that women bring a unique skill set to the table, one that is useful and important particularly in research (see some key research ideas below). It also reminds us that women often wrestle with the confidence to put themselves forward, needing to be sure they have all the skills and qualities.
Even once they are in a leadership role, women continue to face more headwind, according to this recent CNBC article, Why You Tube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Other Powerful Women Keep Quitting. This after New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden, stated in January that she ‘has no more in the tank’ and is stepping down from her role as Prime Minister.
Women are such a valuable resource. As teams, leaders, and organizations, we need to work consistently to engage, and leverage the gifts they bring, without making it so challenging that they ultimately need to leave the table. Afterall, the richest work teams are a blend of men and women who can see and leverage the strengths of each other.
I think we have come a long way, and still there are significant roads to travel.
In My Work
Peel Regional Police has really focussed in on the women within their organization. Women leaders who have worked for 20 plus years have joined together to create options for learning and growth to support other women in the organization.
One path that we have developed together is the Women in Leadership program. In this program, all women are seen to be leaders using Brene Brown’s definition of leadership: “a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and in processes and has the courage to develop that potential.” Through two half-day workshops, skills to become a more coach-like leader are taught. These new skills are then practiced on real-time challenges over the next 3 months in smaller coaching circles.
What we are seeing is incredible connections, increases in confidence, strengthened communication, and culture-changing conversations that bridge the sworn and civilian members.
I am proud and honoured to share these reflections from some of the participants on the last day of the program. Just another example of the power of women leaders in a workplace.
Specific Benefits of Having More Female Officers in a Police Agency
There is a growing body of research demonstrating the benefits to having more female officers in a police agency in general and in certain service areas:
- Female officers generally use less force than male officers when dealing with the public (Lonsway et al., 2003; Rabe-Hemp, 2008a). As a result, women generally experience fewer complaints of abuse of authority and fewer complaints of excessive or unnecessary use of force that can serve to improve the relationship between police and the public and can also save the police and the community millions of dollars in legal costs (Alley, Waugh, & Ede, 1998; Lonsway et al., 2003).
- When women act as a point of contact for female victims of domestic violence or sexual offences, this contributes to more women reporting their victimization to the police and an increased satisfaction with the police in response to their victimization (Natarajan, 2008; National Center for Women in Policing, 2002). Having female officers investigate incidents of domestic or interpersonal violence increases victim cooperation, and the greater empathy and compassion shown by the female officer reflects well on the police agency (Grant, 2000; Lonsway et al., 2003; Miller & Segal, 2019).
Women are Better Leaders During a Crisis
Between March and June of 2020, 454 men and 366 women were assessed on their leadership effectiveness using Zenger-Folkman’s 360-degree assessment. Consistent with their pre-pandemic analysis, they found that women were rated significantly more positively than men. Comparing the overall leadership effectiveness ratings of men versus women, once again women were rated as more effective leaders. The gap between men and women in the pandemic is even larger than previously measured, possibly indicating that women tend to perform better in a crisis.
Women were rated more positively on 13 of the 19 competencies in our assessment that comprise overall leadership effectiveness, and comparable/even on the remaining competencies.
The interesting question is: why women leaders are seen as more effective?
Zenger-Folkman looked at the competencies that direct reports ranked as most important during the crisis. Notably, respondents put greater importance on interpersonal skills, such as “inspires and motivates,” “communicates powerfully,” “collaboration/teamwork,” and “relationship building,” all of which women were rated higher on.
Perhaps the most valuable part of this analysis is hearing from direct reports about what they value and need from leaders now. Based on the data, they want leaders who:
- are able to pivot and learn new skills;
- who emphasize employee development even when times are tough;
- who display honesty and integrity; and
- who are sensitive and understanding of the stress, anxiety, and frustration that people are feeling.
Zenger-Folkman’s analysis shows that these are traits that are more often being displayed by women. But as the crisis continues, and intensifies in many places, all leaders, regardless of gender, should strive to meet those needs.
Source: Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. 2020. Research: Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/12/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis or https://zengerfolkman.com/articles/research-women-are-better-leaders-during-a-crisis/
Women play an enormous role in every aspect of our lives. Here are two women authors whom I’m currently enjoying.
Susan Cain — best known for writing Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking caught something so powerful – that we all show up differently, and that for some, it’s trickier, because what er prefer or how we are wired, doesn’t always align with the context we are in, or the expectations of the culture. She has a great way of considering things that seem ‘everyday’ and constructing some learning and new insights that are both challenging and freeing. Watch her TedTak here.
Louise Penny — A Canadian Mystery writer who is full of rich characters and incredible stories. I just finished A World of Curiosities and I couldn’t put it down. I love how she weaves together characters, plot and creates surprises and connections that I never anticipate. When I read Louise Penny, I am immersed in the world that she creates.
This month, I invite you to celebrate the women in your life; your colleagues, your family, your friends, and yourself. Here are a few ways to offer this celebration.
- say thank-you (and mean it) to a woman in your life
- donate to a women’s non-profit
- support a woman owned business
- research the history of woman’s rights
- volunteer your time mentoring a girl or woman
- implement an action plan to protect women in your workplace
Til next time,