No "soft" skills: How women in leadership crush it every day

As a woman-owned Ottawa ad agency, we notice, think and talk about how our current environment differs from our old normal: the masculine workplace. Men have had a several-decades-long headstart in shaping culture, and women are still underrepresented in positions that drive organizational strategy today.

Women's leadership styles are less prominent in corporate culture, but that doesn't imply they don't exist or don't add value, and it certainly does not mean that disregarding women's perspectives is without consequences to businesses.

This month, in honour of International Women's Day 2024, we're going to give women's leadership styles, their perspectives, values, and ways of working some of the acknowledgement they deserve.

What do we mean by the "masculine workplace"?

Almost every workplace. Even if you're not an in-house creative at Axe body spray, or working in the mojo dojo casa house of corporate cannabis like our founders, most workplaces are implicitly masculine. Meaning, they value and prioritize traditionally masculine traits like competition, individualism, and hierarchy. Obviously, #notallmen, but it is fair to ask what is possible when work is geared toward women's values, talents and motivations. So, we're asking.

Women as leaders

You're already familiar with men's leadership styles, AKA "leadership styles", but what about women's? Rather than the traditional "command and control" leadership style in most workplaces, women are more likely to embody a "transformative leadership style", where power is viewed as an opportunity to impact the organization and the people in it positively, through collaboration, empathy, and relationship-building. Without further ado, here are some of the transformative ways women lead.

Women lead from the centre

Pyramids are cool, but way cooler for pharaohs than the people who built them. Most workplaces' hierarchical pyramid structure privileges the perspectives of a select few at the top, often disconnected from ground-level experiences. This rigid, one-way model for power works well when you're making people move big rocks in the hot sun all day . However, innovation and adaptability are more valuable than obedience in most of today's dynamic industries. A more horizontal or flat leadership structure where everyone's voice is heard can lead to more effective decision-making and collaboration. Women, who we've established value inclusivity and collaboration over competition, may naturally excel in these types of leadership styles.

Web of Inclusion model

Helgenson's "Web of Inclusion" model places leadership at the center, radiating one-on-one relationships outward. This way of leading is all about fostering good communication and building innovative teams that work well together across different areas. In this model, women can leverage their relationship-building skills to strengthen collaboration and efficiency throughout the organization.

This inclusive web helps with sharing ideas and resources, which makes it easier to interact with the market quickly and come up with new and better services and products. By spreading out authority and focusing on diverse relationships, this model can easily adjust to different business needs. It also ensures that people with specific skills can take the lead when their expertise is required, which helps with being flexible and strong in the face of challenges.

Holocratic leadership structure

The holocratic leadership model swaps the pyramid for self-organizing teams called circles. Introduced in 2007 by Brian Robertson, it distributes decision-making power, focusing on dynamic roles, swift iterations, and clear rules. Holacracy encourages open communication, transcending departmental barriers to fuel innovative solutions. Women thrive in this setup, leveraging their collaborative nature and adaptability, empowering them to take leadership roles without the constraints and biases that come with vertical progress in the traditional hierarchy. Plus, the autonomous governance of the circles boosts flexibility in workflows, making work more accessible to women taking on the majority of the domestic and emotional labour at home.

Women lead with diverse perspectives that drive innovation

Just having women in a company, especially in leadership, brings in fresh perspectives. Women drive innovation by embracing a diversity of ideas, backgrounds, and experiences. This not only improves profits but also boosts creativity and problem-solving. Practically, this looks like:

Diversity in hiring

While unconscious biases often lead to homogeneity in recruiting (right down to implicitly biased job postings), women are more likely to seek out diverse talent. They're more likely to hire other women, and research indicates that companies with more women in senior leadership prioritize diversity, leading to more equitable representation across demographics like age, ethnicity and language.

Sponsorship of women

Women who have made it to leadership positions play an important role in the advancement of other women within an organization. Acting as sponsors to more junior women, they offer guidance, support, and opportunities for career advancement. This creates a ripple effect as these mentored women go on to become leaders themselves, diversifying the pool of talent in higher positions and bringing new perspectives into the decision-making process. This cycle of mentorship and sponsorship leads to increased innovation and success for organizations as a whole.

Women lead with less, and make more

In a phenomenon called "the great break-up", women in leadership are leaving leadership positions to start their own businesses. Women-led start-ups generate more revenue with less start-up capital, yet, bias in the funding process means women-led businesses are often passed over by predominantly male venture capital firms. Some of the characteristics of woman-founded businesses that shouldn't be underestimated include:

Conservative projections

Women entrepreneurs are more likely to show caution when projecting revenue and scaling their businesses. This is seen as less attractive by some venture capitalists who prefer high-risk, high-reward investments. However, this cautious approach leads to fewer failures and better long-term sustainability.

Sustainable growth

Women-led businesses, especially in the tech industry, have been found to grow at a more moderate and sustainable rate compared to male-led businesses. This approach leads to long-term success rather than short-term gains, creating a more stable and resilient economy. Women's leadership tendencies towards relationship-building and collaboration also foster strong company cultures with lower turnover rates and higher employee satisfaction.

Untapped markets

Women leaders often bring a fresh perspective to entrepreneurship, identifying untapped markets and developing products or services that cater specifically to the needs of women. This not only opens up new revenue streams but also addresses gaps in existing industries. Additionally, research has shown that companies with diverse leadership teams are more innovative and have higher financial performance compared to homogenous teams.

As much as we'd like to believe that workplace sexism is relegated to the 50's, the truth is that gender bias still exists, albeit in more subtle and insidious ways. We hope that in highlighting the contributions of women as leaders, and their business value, amplifies the value of our contributions, and encourages our allies to step up, or step aside.

Follow us on social for more BOLD insights like the ones you've just read. Or, reach out to us at to get the woman-led business experience firsthand.