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The Road to Female Leadership: Expressing Themselves Without Stereotypes

Author: Ilaria Portaluri

Date: 7 March 2017

Type: Other

Topic: Human Capital

The positive results of female leadership do not seem to be sufficient to break the oppressive “glass ceiling”. Despite the increasing legislative awareness of maternity leave and female quotas, in Italy the percentage of women in senior positions is still below the European average. Today, what are the drivers for the success of female leadership?

There is an Aristophanes comedy that might look dated if it were not, instead, almost prophetic. “Le donne al Parlamento”, written in 393 BC, still keeps all its satirical and disapproving charge concerning a certain way of envisioning gender equality.
A comedy of reverse utopias, that sounds like a “provocation” for our delay, which from centuries expects a contemporary reinterpretation.
In 1946, only 21 women were elected to the Constituent Assembly after the institutional Referendum. In 2013, 198 women were elected to Parliament, about 30% of the total, registering the highest level of female representation so far in the Italian Parliament.Two young women, Virginia Raggi and Chiara Appendino, have conquered two major municipalities, respectively Rome and Turin. Yet, despite these positive signs, overcoming the “glass ceiling” remains a current challenge for women.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the US election not because she is a woman, but it is a fact that United States, one of the most open Western democracies, have not ever had a female president. In 2022, in Italy, would we be ready for a woman at Quirinale?

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2016, in the overall ranking Italy ranks 50th out of 144 countries, losing 9 positions compared to 2015, despite the greater female political participation under Renzi administration.
In the Strategy for equality between men and women after 2015, the European Commission underlines the importance of improving the economic participation of women, highlighting that gender inequalities in the labor market should be phased out progressively, reducing the risk of women social exclusion following an inclusive growth path. The European Parliament has also promoted various measures to reform the legislation on maternity leave and female quotas in public companies’ boards.
The active engagement of Action Institute for gender equality has consolidated over the years. In the article Gender gap: not just a matter of quotas, the Action Tank analyzes the effects of the Golfo-Mosca law, which establishes the obligation of female quotas (20% for the first term and 33% for the next two) in boards and audit committees for listed and state-owned companies for a period of three terms, highlighting the importance of policies against gender stereotypes. Recently, Consob has released encouraging results for Italy: in April 2015, a percentage of 25.5% of women in public companies’ boards was recorded, compared with the 22.7% and 17.8% recorded respectively at the end of 2014 and 2013. Nevertheless, the real revolution will happen if this law will become our catalyst for change in gender culture.
A joint study by the Department for Equal Opportunities and the Bocconi University has shown how the Golfo-Mosca law, not only has reduced the gender gap, increasing the number of women in top positions, but have also led to a clear improvement in the quality of governance.

These results add up to numerous empirical evidences in support of a better quality of women’s leadership also in politics and in the financial sector.
The study, conducted by Baltrunaite, Bello, Casarico and Profeta, investigates the effect of a temporary introduction of female quotas on the politicians’ quality. In fact, the benefit in terms of quality is clear. The introduction of female quotas in the lists of candidates increases the average level of education of elected politicians with a twofold impact: an increase in the number of women elected (who, on average, present higher levels of education) and a reduction of elected candidates with low levels of education.
Even in the investment sector, the positive correlation between female leadership and financial performance is significant. Daniel Ladley, Leicester University professor, confirms that, by lowering the testosterone level, there would be fewer fluctuations in the stock market. In short, female brokers allow higher stability, thanks to more prudent and less risky choices, thus giving credit to the provocation of Christine Lagarde, who says: “if instead of Lehman Brothers there had been Lehman Sisters investment bank, perhaps the 2008 financial crisis would have been less catastrophic”.

Despite the proven potential linked to the women presence in decision-making roles, their climb to the heights of power continues to find obstacles.
According to the study of the psychology faculty of University of Exeter, Michelle Ryan and Alex Haslam, a possible cause is trackable in the phenomenon of the “glass cliff”. The “glass cliff” can be seen as a “glass ceiling” 2.0. This term refers to the situation in which incur women, who, despite having succeeded in performing traditionally male roles, present a higher risk of losing their jobs and being judged less competent because of their sex. Scholars talk about a transition from the “think-manager-think-man” to “think crisis-think-female”. Therefore, it occurs that assignments with a high risk of criticism, unpopularity and failure are generally given to women, thus reinforcing gender negative biases.
Another obstacle that prevents women from reaching senior positions is represented by the distortion of the recruiting process. According to the deputy chairman of the National Cif, Maria Chiaia, women reach positions of power only if co-opted by men. Thus, women that go above the “glass ceiling” are selected only by men, according to their affinity, to belonging to their world and to sharing their values. And this is how ambition and determination turn into aggression and arrogance, when applied to women.
Oriana Fallaci wrote: “The real power does not need arrogance, long beard, deep voice barking. True power strangles you with silk ribbons, grace, intelligence”. Perhaps, then, the key to female leadership success is a proper female management method, in which a meritocratic selection, immune to gender biases, allows women to express themselves freely in the job market without having to emulate any role stereotype.


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Human Capital

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