Letters & Opinion

Caribbean Female Leadership Needed

Senator Debra Tobiere was among business leaders attending
Image of Bud Slabbaert
By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

WOULD female leadership change the Caribbean? Most likely, it will! It is all about the characteristics of how the members of the male and female genders have a different way of approaching a task, a challenge, or stress. Women leaders take care, whereas men leaders take charge.

Researchers suggest that the vital difference might all come down to one gene that only men have, called the SRY gene. According to scientists, it is demonstrated in the men’s response to stress with “fight-or-flight”, while women “tend-and-befriend”. While men favour punching or running away, women are more likely to try to diffuse a situation and seek out social support.

Transformational leadership is a prerequisite for Caribbean development. Instead of giving you a definition of “transformational leadership”, I’ll present to you a role model of a transformation leader who just so happens to be a woman. After reading it, tell me whether I need to say more of what I believe the Caribbean needs in regard to leadership.

Oprah Winfrey is one of a handful of black billionaires across the globe and her net worth is estimated at US$2.5 billion. She defied the odds stacked against her in life. Born to unmarried parents, a miner father and a mother who worked as a maid, Oprah’s early years were filled with abuse, loneliness, and heartache. What she was forced to overcome became a driving force for making her an incredible entrepreneur and mentor to women and men around the world. Her unprecedented success may serve as the undisputed blueprint for many minority entrepreneurs.

Winfrey’s leadership has broken down barriers; her business instinct is stuff of legend; and her innovation is unprecedented. She has spent her entire career beating the odds – and has inspired millions of business-minded minorities in the process. Her entrepreneurial mindset and willingness to take risks has paid off by propelling her forward throughout her career. Oprah’s leadership style demands that nothing should be taken for granted.

She said: “I don’t yell at people, I don’t mistreat people, I don’t talk down to people. Treating people with respect is the most important thing to me. It’s not just talk.”

She has proven that it doesn’t matter from where you come; what matters is where you want to go, how you get yourself there, and how you treat people along the way. She has shown that to be a successful leader it takes courage and the ability to try new things, even in the face of uncertainty.

Studies are suggesting that women are better leaders. Performing twice as well in order to be thought of as half as good as male counterparts is the most prevalent reason why women are perceived to be better leaders. Often, the double standard demands that women work harder than men. Therefore, they get more things done, deliver results, and are seen as better role models to peers and subordinates.

Compassion and being more organized are strengths to be added to their leadership competence. Women are also more likely to be trusted and respected and they show greater concern for individual needs. Women tend to be more nurturing, caring and sensitive than men. These characteristics are more aligned with transformational leadership.

“Caribbean democratic development requires transformational leadership that values equality, equity, non-violence, caring, cooperation, service, transparency and accountability, and zero tolerance for corruption in political and public life.” That was one of the conclusions of the “Caribbean Regional Colloquium on Women Leaders as Agents of Change”.

There is a typical Caribbean problem with this colloquium just like many high-level summits; lots of high-level talk, conclusions, but no action. It’s like letting the pressure out of the kettle and letting the boiling water cool off again. So, whether this was in last weeks’ news or a date farther in the past, it doesn’t matter when nothing is done. It was actually an event of 2011, which may show the amount of progress made in six years.

Another conclusion was: “Women with a vision of social justice, individually and collectively transform themselves to use their power, resources and skills in non-oppressive, inclusive structures and processes, to mobilize others around a shared agenda of social, cultural, economic and political transformation for equality and the realization of human rights for all.”

However, at the most senior levels of leadership in the Caribbean, men still dominate. Few men in leadership positions may be realizing that the old way of leading — taking charge (command and control) — may not be as effective in today’s world and in the future.

Some of you readers may still be puzzled by the SRY-gene, exclusive to men, that was mentioned in the beginning of this essay. Women’s responses to stress are regulated by other genes than the SRY. “Tend-and-Befriend” is a behaviour typically exhibited by females in response to threat. It refers to protection of offspring (tending) and seeking out the social group for mutual defense (befriending). In evolutionary psychology, it is theorized as having evolved as the typical female response to stress, just as the primary male response was “Fight-or-Flight”.

There are many physiological gender differences, where men differ on average from women, but there is overlap in the distribution of the trait. Men have, on average, much more testosterone in their body than women, yet there are women whose testosterone is as high as, or even higher than, men’s testosterone. Recent studies conducted in Australia have shown that when these high-testosterone women respond to stress, particularly stress caused by men, such as being held at gunpoint by a guy in a dark alley, they show the unique and highly effective “kick-the-man-in-the-groin” response.

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