Women’s Leadership in Organizations: a Call from History

An organization with a robust female presence is almost infallibly an organization that is heathier, more meritocratic and more inclusive

Archaeology and business, history and senior management, are two seemingly strange combinations. Why ever is an executive education institute like EGADE Business School, Tec de Monterrey, studying them?

At EGADE, we analyze and teach what makes organizations successful and the characteristics of their strategies, culture, technology and leadership. This means that we look not only at the organizations of the present, but also those of the past.

The majority of archaeologists and anthropologists agree that the early hunter-gatherer societies were probably quite egalitarian regarding gender roles. They believe that women participated in the hunting and gathering, and some of them even think that many of the cave paintings that are preserved to this day –and perhaps played an important ceremonial role– might have been done by women. Most of the hands painted inside caves in Spain and France, back in the Neolithic Period, are the size of a woman’s hand. Evidence has been found to suggest that women in that era also participated in making tools. 

The hunter-gatherer communities that have astonishingly survived to this day –a fact that would be the envy of many corporations—, such as the Aboriginal Australians, the Awá in the Amazon rainforest or the !Kung in Africa, coincide in this point: in these societies, women share most of the activities with men and the allocation of social functions is relatively dynamic between the sexes.

In the rest of the world, these arrangements changed with the emergence of the agricultural economy, which implied brutally hard work and, therefore, was more appropriate for the physical strength of men. But, with the industrial economy of the 19th and 20th centuries and its thirst for labor, women rejoined the job market.

We have now reached the 21st century, which is different from any other period in our history with its emphasis on knowledge, ideas, talent and entrepreneurship. Nowadays, organizations that seek to keep up with the times –not just to prosper, but to survive— cannot afford to exclude half the population from their ranks. It’s not simply a matter of fairness, but of attracting the best and most diverse talent.

Numerous studies agree that only 1 in 4 of all the senior management positions in the world are currently held by women. Just 15% of public company board seats are filled by women. In Mexico, this figure is even more dismal: barely 7%, with no women at all serving on half of the boards of directors. 

For organizations today, this is practically suicide. It is like running out of fuel for innovation: with one foot outside the social reality and a self-imposed restriction on ideas, perspectives and human capital. An organization with a robust female presence is almost infallibly an organization that is heathier, more meritocratic and more inclusive, not just regarding women, but all kinds of talent, in whatever form.

As the leading school of business in Latin America, EGADE Business School takes this matter very seriously. We offer scholarships for women leaders in our part-time MBA and Master in Finance programs, as well as a marvelous program called Women For Boards, where we prepare women with executive experience to rise to the top and sit on boards of directors. In Women For Boards, we have taken the best of our six-month Executive Education Program for Board Members and encapsulated it into four intensive days exclusively for women: November 11, 12, 27 and 28 in Mexico City (there are still a few places left).

Studying the history of organizations also means learning lessons from the past. And, as has happened before, the businesses, corporations and companies that do not respond rapidly to the call of this era, which is that of inclusive leadership and talent, will indeed end up in a museum display case.

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