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Female leadership: changing business for the better

Workplaces today use more direct communication and less hierarchy. Women helped effect this change.

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Until a few months ago, Zoe Cruz and Sallie Krawcheck were the most powerful women on Wall Street. It was speculated that both would become CEOs of their Wall St. powerhouses – Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. Instead, in recent months, Ms. Cruz was ousted and Ms. Krawcheck demoted, leading to hand-wringing about how women seem be losing ground as leaders.

Perhaps because I've been studying female leadership for the last two decades, this narrative had a familiar ring for me – some variation of the "women are floundering" theme crops up every few years.

But while the progress women have made as leaders may not have been as rapid or smooth as some of us had hoped or expected, the impact women have had on what we perceive to be desirable in our leaders continues to grow.

The real story, it seems, is about influence rather than numbers. Women have brought to the workplace a comfort with direct communication, relationship-building, diversity, and more – and these are the skills best suited for leaders in today's workplace.

Women: Talk football, play golf

When I published "The Female Advantage: Women's Ways of Leadership" in 1990, it was the first book to focus on what women had to contribute to organizations rather than how they needed to change or adapt.

At the time, women were being urged by a phalanx of experts to conform to a mainstream leadership style that was considered a fundamental requirement for anyone who hoped to exert authority in public life. Gurus of every variety advised women to start using football metaphors in meetings, take up golf even if they disliked it, and pull rank on subordinates in order to show their skill at keeping people in line.

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