Leading With Empathy – Do Women Do It Better?
“Leading with empathy” in a time of crisis is an essential part of navigating the current economic situation. In this time of crisis, we ask the question, “do women lead with empathy better than men?”
It’s often said that true colours are revealed in a crisis; you learn if you can depend on people during these periods, you learn what kind of leaders are out there, when unique situations present and the status quo is no longer sufficient.
These last six months or so have been filled with such revelations. Every day I am internally tied-up witnessing responses to this crisis. On the one hand, I am overwhelmed with the compassion displayed by some organisations in the way they treat their staff; stepping up, and going above and beyond for the wellbeing of their employees. On the other hand, I feel sick to my stomach learning of the unreasonable treatment some employers are placing on their teams.
It makes one wonder, could these organisations who are lacking compassion, also be lacking diversity?
On Q&A recently, former PM, Julia Gillard made an interesting comment about the benefit of female leadership during this time. She stated that men and women are not inherently different, but the way they are received is, and this puts women in a better position to lead with balance:
“A female leader, to succeed, has to manage a balance between strength and empathy. If she’s too strong, people will go, ‘Ugh, she’s not very likeable.’
“If she’s too nurturing and caring, people will say, ‘She hasn’t got the backbone to lead,’ so, women leaders are already very highly skilled in this balance of strength and empathy.”
The same could be said for people of colour. With every move scrutinised in ways that traditional (white male) leadership is not, people from different backgrounds — backgrounds which make up minorities in business — have been socialised in a way that has forced them to learn this balance. And these are the styles that employees need in a crisis.
Those Getting it Wrong
It’s not essential to have female leadership to demonstrate empathy. You should, and it is proven to help, but it is well within the capabilities of anyone to learn and demonstrate these qualities.
Those currently getting it terribly wrong, are leaving their staff high and dry, offering no empathy or emotional support during this period. People are struggling and being put under immense pressure. Some people have been rolled back to 80% salary and expected to do 100% of their work.
This kind of leadership is disgusting and will (rightly so) kill a business’s reputation when this pandemic is over.
Getting it Right
Launch is a proud female-led recruitment agency that has long understood the flexible, unique needs of staff members. When the pandemic came around, our existing foundations allowed us to respond quickly. All staff — employed and contractors — received monitors, ergonomic setups, face masks and hand sanitiser to ensure their home office was comfortable and they had PPE to feel safe outside.
If I needed to come into the office, my Uber fares were covered. Email communication on new hot spots and ways to stay safe was sent daily. I received a care package including an Upright Go, access to a fitness app, access to a mental health app, as well as counselling services, and new ways to socialise together like virtual cocktails and virtual events.
For my colleagues with children at home, working hours became flexible, and we quickly ensured our office was made COVID-safe for anyone who wanted to use this space to work for various reasons.
Leading with our core values has been front of mind throughout this situation. We care — about our staff, our clients and our candidates — and we openly demonstrate this at every opportunity. We understand that everyone is facing different experiences, and we respond differently to each person. We listen, and we hear, and we take every opportunity to learn to lead better and care better for those that we work with.
If you’re hiring, now is the time to prioritise diversity. If you’re firing, now is the time to practice compassion and empathy. And if you’re bidding your time, now is the moment that you invest everything you have into building strong relationships with your team.
Those who fail to lead with compassion in this crisis will have no one left to lead when the tide turns.