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Overcoming Gender Bias

Melinda Gates on how to be a successful woman leader

So your church has never had a woman in charge of finances? If she’s the right person for the job, who cares about history?

Do you have a woman who’s passionate about connecting with kids through sports? Tap her for the children’s sports ministry, even if that role is normally filled by men.

Perhaps you have a man who is passionate about serving others through food. Why not put him in charge of the hospitality ministry at church?

It can be difficult to separate out our biases and reality, but when we do, we may be pleasantly surprised.

Our Leadership Biases

Once we are in leadership positions, we may find ourselves bowing to gendered biases we didn’t even know we had. Because we see so many male leaders, we often equate male styles of leadership with success. What does it look like to lead as a woman—or, better yet, as the person God has created you to be?

When Gates joined Microsoft in 1987, there were lots of other women working there—but they weren’t dealing with the technology side of the business. All of her tech peers were men, people she describes as “hardcore technical people.” With only male role models, she thought it was necessary to take on their brash, aggressive leadership style to succeed. She found, however, that this style didn’t fit her, and she started wondering if she’d make it past the two-year mark at Microsoft. Then one day, that all changed:

I thought, It's a great company. I want to work here. I believe in the mission. I'll just try on who I really am, my own style, and I'll see how that goes. I'll just give that six months, and if it doesn’t go well I'll leave. When I tried on my own style, however, it worked so well. I was not only happier, but I started to be able to attract people to my team because they also wanted to be able to be themselves and lead in their own style. I learned a lot about how to be myself in that environment and how not to be like everybody else, and that has ended up serving me.

I stayed nine years. I loved it. I had a great career there. But it also served me well when I came to the foundation. I realized I needed to be myself, and I needed to role model that. We have lots of different types of leaders at the foundation: male and female, brash and not brash, collaborators and people who are more solo. All of those styles are okay. There isn't one right one—it’s how they all mesh to get the best outcome.

October27, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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