This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC
The gender gap remains a yawning chasm. Forbes reports that just 2.4 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are women.
Those exalted few who have reached that rung in the ladder share many qualities with their male counterparts. One study, while a bit dated (as it was completed in 2012), went so far as to suggest that female executives are actually superior to men in such areas as practicality, organizational ability and sensitivity to people.
Suffice it to say, then, that there are leadership qualities that transcend gender. Here are three of the more important ones.
It is variously described as “grit” and “tenacity” in relation to female executives, but a trait by any other name is still a trait.
There is no greater example than J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Jobless, nearly penniless and a single mother to a young daughter, she wrote the first book in the series in various Scottish cafes in the mid-’90s. The manuscript — “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” — was rejected by no fewer than 12 publishers.
It was finally accepted by a small British publishing house, Bloomsbury, and published in 1997. It was an immediate hit, and over the next 19 years, seven other installments were released, and some 400 million copies sold.
She nonetheless remains a profile in perseverance — and far from the only woman who can be designated as such. There is also Michelle Breyer, who struggled to find investors for her beauty brand, NaturallyCurly, when it was in its infancy. It was much the same for Melanie Travis, founder of Andie Swimwear.
Nevertheless, they persisted. And it made all the difference.
Creativity is an often-overlooked quality, and one that can obviously be applied to Rowling’s prolific writing career.
Less obvious, perhaps, is how it impacted Spanx founder Sara Blakely. One night in 1998, she was looking to wear cream-colored pants with open-toed shoes. Wanting to smooth out the look, she elected to wear pantyhose underneath — while cutting the feet off the pantyhose.
That proved an unsatisfactory solution, as the pantyhose began riding up. She went in search of an undergarment that might alleviate the issue, but discovered there was no such item on sale anywhere.
Out of that grew the idea for her shapewear. She used all her savings — $5,000 — to found her company, and the first year it took in some $4 million in revenue. The second year her profits ballooned to $10 million, in large part because Oprah Winfrey gave the product a plug on her TV show.
By 2012 Blakely had become the world’s youngest self-made billionaire, at age 41.
“Differentiate yourself,” she once told fundable.com. “Why are you different?”
That aligns with something once said by Coco Chanel (1883–1971), the famed fashion designer: “My life did not please me, so I created a new one.”
Adaptability is especially critical in this day and age, where new ideas are coming down the pike with ever-increasing speed — especially in the tech industry.
As Ashley Cisneros Mejia, co-founder and Director of Communications at Chatter Buzz Media said in one report, adaptability and flexibility “will ensure you lead with a clear mind. In order for your company to grow, you must adapt to changes quickly and be open to take it in another direction.”
April Underwood, the vice president of product at Slack, is one example of a woman who has been able to reinvent herself. She branched out from her “day job” — her description, in a CNBC report — in March 2015, joining five female colleagues to co-found an investing group known as #Angels.
Two years in, that group had invested nearly $3 million in more than 50 startups.
Underwood told CNBC she sees nothing unusual about taking on this added responsibility, pointing out that men have been doing so for years.
“I am seeing a lot of female operators who are hungry and who have a bit of that — I don’t know how else to describe it — but, that ‘hustle,’” she said.
Not to mention that adaptability.
There are various other traits that are important — confidence and passion come to mind — but in my estimation, perseverance, creativity, and adaptability head this list.