What It Takes for Women to Lead in the Workplace– and What This Means for Artists

by Isabel Lamont

Even in the wake of the twenty-first century, with women nearing equality more so than ever before, we still face much discrimination in our daily lives. One place where this inequity is still clearly apparent is in the workplace. In the grander scheme of the professional world, women experience a significant wage gap: on average, women only make 78 cents to the man’s dollar, though they represent 47% of the workforce. Further, in the United States, Asian women only make 87 cents to the dollar, Black women make 62 cents, Native women make 57 cents, and Latina women make 54 cents. Women also do not get exposure to career-making jobs as much as men, lack female role models in the workplace, and experience double-standards that inform how their male coworkers perceive their competence and likability. Women of color and LGBT+ women experience further biases in the workplace due to their race and sexual orientation. With so many hurdles stacked against women in their professional life, becoming leaders in their place of work may seem like an exhausting and frustrating task. And truthfully, it is an extremely difficult task that requires extensive mental and emotional energy.

However, for professional women, especially artists, becoming the leader of your own career is crucial for establishing your professional success. For the modern artist and creative, adopting an entrepreneurial mindset and taking agency over the direction of your career is what the modern art market demands. For many artists, this may be somewhat out of their comfort zone– many creatives pursue a professional path in art to avoid the pressures and cutthroat tendencies of the business world. We are constantly being divided into leaders and followers– the term “natural born leader” is one that is constantly tossed around in the professional sphere. However, this term is more often than not attributed to charismatic and extroverted men. What does it mean to be a leader for quieter, more compassionate, and more feminine personalities– especially since these traits are often attributed to women? I advise that you discard whatever notion you have of what a leader looks like, and especially the idea that leaders are born, not made.

Women possess many strong, but more subdued, skills that make them powerful leaders. One skill to note is that of self-awareness. Self-awareness is knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and has been cited as one of the most important qualities in successful leaders. It is also a skill that is found significantly more in female leaders than their male counterparts. Women are also able to adapt more to different environments, situations, and colleagues, which allows them a clear mind in making decisions. Women clearly possess the expertise and emotional intelligence to become outstanding leaders. However, finding a way to employ these skills in a male-dominated workplace is still a considerable hurdle. The key to establishing an effective leadership style as a woman involves both the self-awareness and emotional intelligence that women already tend to have.  

As women, we cannot simply imitate the leadership styles of men– the gender-based biases and double-standards prevent us from being able to do this, as we would be labelled as “too aggressive” or “too bossy,” though unfairly so. Instead, women must create their own unique and different approach to leadership. This will vary with different personalities, but each style will incorporate elements that are characteristic of typical leaders while accentuating the more feminine qualities– which are so powerful in and of themselves.

To give a better idea of what this hybrid leadership looks like for women, I will outline several examples of how leadership differs from woman to woman. One type of leadership style is the “Female Pioneer,” a term coined by Steve Tappin and Ana Marinovic. These women tend to be older and have paved the way for younger female leaders. Because of this, their leadership type is the most similar to that of the traditional male leadership style: no-nonsense and down to business. In contrast to this leadership type, there are the women who will place more emphasis on the feminine qualities in their leadership. These types of leaders will work more towards open communication, listening to all parties involved, and offering care and support to their employees. Another type of female leader is somewhere in between the previous two examples: they use their own ambition and drive to succeed, but adopt their own unique philosophies on leadership that they have developed throughout their own life. Lastly, there are women who lead through inspiration and a greater global purpose. These are the women who want to change the world for the better– they use their inspiring lives, stories, and personalities to lead the next generation.

While these are some examples of how women have created their own path in leadership, they are in no way confines to how all women should lead. The beauty, but also the challenge, in women finding their leadership style is that 

there is no template for them to go off of– we must carve out our own space in the professional world as leaders. How does this apply to artists and creatives? Since many artists need to start adopting an entrepreneurial mindset, and since both artists and entrepreneurs share many of the same qualities, they are going to also have to become leaders– leaders of their own business, leaders of creativity and innovation, and leaders of their own career. For many artists, conforming to the typical extroverted and masculine leader would be unnatural to their personality and ultimately futile. For female artists especially, developing your own distinguished type of leadership will not only make it easier to work with colleagues and clients, it will be crucial in succeeding in your career while staying true to who you are.



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