Female leaders are rated higher than their male counterparts in the logistics industry, according to a survey of over 1800 supply chain professionals recently conducted by organizational development company Novosensus. Does this mean the logistics industry is embracing gender equality more than others?
To answer this very question, we spoke to Novosensus cofounder Henrik Kofod-Hansen, who also shared his thoughts on what gender balance can bring to a company.
Hi Henrik, thanks for taking the time to speak to us at Trans.INFO today.
To begin with, let’s talk about your white paper, which has captured the attention of major media outlets across the logistics sector. Do you consider gender balance to be a burning problem today?
It’s the topic of our time, yes. International Women’s Day was back in March when everything around gender equality and gender balance fell flat because of the coronavirus, but the topic is getting more attention again.
Since the publishing of the article, people are contacting me to share their views on the topic, and what I can see is that most people think gender inequality is unfair. People want a change and they want to do it quickly.
Photo credit @ Henrik Kofod-Hansen
The research was made within the logistics sector, therefore, the results are also about the logistics sector. Do you think that the logistics industry is worse than any other?
No. We made this research for the logistics industry because we are very close to many people and organizations in this industry. But I would not expect it to be very different in other industries. However, there’s no research we can benchmark it with – we cannot say if logistics people are worse or better than the other.
When someone carries out research, they need to have a hypothesis. Your data shows that your hypothesis, that gender balance makes businesses better, was proven. But were there any big surprises for you when you saw the results of the survey?
What surprised me was the fact that female leaders were rated so much higher in their leadership skills than men, but they reported their employee experience as being lower than men’s. So there’s an unhealthy imbalance here.
It is very important that this is changed. Women are reporting that they do not feel as connected or cared for or motivated by their leaders, as they need! For me, it means that their leaders are neither inclusive nor sensitive enough.
You used the word “sensitive”. Women and being sensitive or overly sensitive is always an issue on many levels. When it comes to business and leadership, the value traditionally appreciated is toughness, while women are often considered soft – which is not desirable. How could gender balance, so more female leaders, do any good to a business?
Well, first of all, I do not agree that a leader needs to be tough, but I do think a leader does need to be sensitive and clear. Of course, it is not always so. But there needs to be some sensitivity in a leader because that’s also the empathy they need to connect with their people. How can you lead without empathy? I think it is impossible.
The second thing is empathy in female leaders. We can see that female leaders have a higher level of empathy. But that’s only a part of why they are rated higher, they are higher on many other leadership competencies as well, like, for instance, giving clear directions. We always say that giving clear directions is really important. And people believe men are better at that than women. Well, our research shows that actually, it is women who are better at it. They have the empathy and the clarity and the way they are interacting, they end up having teams that are collaborating better. And this is the point.
When we are talking about the need to have more female talent advancing, we need to have the right reasons. Not only empathy. We need more female leaders because of all their leadership competencies which we have shown in the research.
The only skill where we saw that men were better – but only marginally – was that men give more autonomy than a woman. But what does it help to give autonomy, if you don’t check in with your colleagues afterwards and if you’re not connected? Then this autonomy becomes abandonment.
Along with gender balance, equality is also mentioned in the white paper. What do you mean by equal treatment?
When I’m talking about equality I mean people should have the same opportunities, not the tasks or same requirements. People need different goals. Maybe you will have a woman who is raising a child as a single mum. She will need something different from a man married to a woman who is at home.
The treatment should be different. Equality is about the equal opportunities and possibilities that you can work with.
It’s nice to speak about gender balance, empathy and female leaders, but we are speaking about business and businesses are about making money. Leaders will say: give me numbers. How much money will gender balance bring to me?
There’s actually no research available proving that gender balance automatically leads to better business.
It’s all indirect. What McKinsey, for instance, have done is analyse companies and look for a correlation between the presence of women at board and top-management level and a companies’ organizational and financial performance. And you can very clearly see there is a correlation. But in a scientific sense, it does not mean that diversity inclusion is the cause or the higher performance. The important thing is what it’s indicating. And that is very clear: the more diversity and the more inclusion on an organisational level, the better business results the company has.
One of the things we saw was that female teams led by female leaders were performing a better level of collaboration than teams led by male leaders. It is not proven that this team will make more money but it is proven that this team can collaborate more efficiently.
What can be done to improve gender balance at a business? Can quotas be an answer?
What should be done for gender equality is really in the focus of recent discussions and I can understand why people are saying we need quotas. Because that is the easiest way to ensure that you will have more as leaders. But my personal view is that this is not how it should be, because you may end up having someone hired in a responsible position just because she’s a woman and not because she is the best.
In my opinion, it’s the culture of the company that should be changed, so that the culture of all becomes more inclusive for everyone. This is like levelling the playing field.
And then, we need to invest in how we’re developing female leaders by simply giving more opportunities for them to develop. And that can be through development programmes or through mentoring.
And then a third point is the current leaders: they need to be trained in being more inclusive, to utilise strengths, connect with people in a better way and foster collaboration. And that will make the organisations better for all. For all genders, all races, not only for women. I think it’s a much bigger approach than only doing quotas.
The research showed that women have a lower rate of optimism and lower self-confidence than men. Can it be that not only the business culture needs to be changed but women also need to be educated in a way?
As you say, women surveyed for our research were reporting a lower level of self-confidence and a lower level of optimism than men. So, yes, women definitely need support to find ways to tap more into their self-confidence: what are some of their resources they could use in a different way? And what are some of the behaviours, like assertive communication for instance, what they may need?
At the same time, there’s also development work needed for a lot of men. I mean, if men are so much more optimistic, is that realistic? Or are they simply not really aware of themselves enough, and their optimism is hubris?
Organizations need to work on both mindsets, I think, so I don’t necessarily suggest to work separately. Female-only developing programmes might not be the ultimate solution. Men and women need to be trained together in a way they all learn something from it.
What do you consider as the most important take-away of this research?
What I really think it is important to remember here is that when companies and organisations try to make the business better, they do a lot of process optimization, but they often forget about one of the biggest potentials that they have right in front of their nose. Women. Female leaders who are talented should be utilised better. If companies really want to do something with an impact quickly, I think this is something that they should look more into.
You speak about utilising the talent of women and female leaders better. At the same time, some say women can be easily exploited when they are trying to prove they are good enough to be a leader. Have you experienced similar cases?
Yes, I experience this over and over again. It is closely connected to what I just mentioned before, the psychological point. Women report that they have a lower level of self-confidence, so, of course, they are often unlikely to speak out and claim what they should receive. A man who probably is used to speaking up and formulating his expectations is more likely to do so and therefore more likely to get a promotion.
Personally, I hope that some women will use our research and say “this guy states that it is proper to speak up. It is proper to formulate our expectations more to claim something we deserve”. I do know the white paper has helped some people to change their mind to be determined to speak out for themselves. Probably, this is the most important thing I would like people to take away.
You can find the white paper, How Gender Balance Makes Business Better HERE.