Command-and-control, the top-down management approach characterized by an authoritarian, lean-and-mean culture epitomized by famed former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, may have delivered results and boosted profits. But it failed to capitalize on women’s talents. Corseted by corporate cultures formed in the male military model, 1990s women reported that they developed styles to make men comfortable in order to succeed; two decades later, women have yet to reach 15 percent of executive officers. Even in 2005, Catalyst documented the stereotype among top executives that “women take care, men take charge.” This shows that many still believe men’s skills—like influencing and delegating—make them more suited to the corner office.
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NAFE Top 50 Companies Women Leaders: In Pictures
2010 NAFE Top Companies
Pictured: WellPoint's CEO Angela Braly
But the culture is finally changing. Now women are taking charge by taking care. “We still need to deliver results, but how you motivate and engage employees has changed,” says Monica Luechtefeld, EVP, E-commerce and Direct Marketing at Office Depot. “People want to be engaged, so now leading is about communicating a vision and enrolling them in it, then motivating them to deliver those results. Having more women in the workplace has spurred this transition.”
In this year’s NAFE Top 50, we find organizations that recognize the profits to be reaped by capitalizing on what women bring to the table: strong leadership through building teams, finding consensus and considering the big picture. “The ‘soft’ skills were once considered women’s tools—those warm-and-fuzzy people skills that were nice to have but unnecessary in the hard-charging, results-driven business world,” says Peggy Klaus, author of The Hard Truth About Soft Skills. “Not so anymore. Soft skills are as important, if not more so, as the hard ones, and they will make or break you as a leader.”
The winning companies are advancing women whose personal brands combine acute business acumen with collaboration, listening and people development. Not coincidentally, we find growing numbers of women in top positions at these companies: Women hold 23 percent of board seats (versus 16 percent at the Fortune 500) and represent 14 percent of CEOs (versus 2 percent).