Skillsoft Blog

Gender-specific Courses: Are They Really the Best Way of Encouraging Female Leadership?

By Kevin Young

After the upheaval both the U.S. and Europe has faced in recent months, it’s no wonder the topic of leadership is in the news again. Good leaders are essential for making any business tick, and the social unrest in various countries is a timely reminder of this.

It’s a commonly held misconception that leaders are born not made, when in fact a well-structured leadership program can deliver fantastic results. But news that schools such as Harvard Business School, IMD in Switzerland and Ceibs in Shanghai are now advocating female-only leadership courses seems an odd approach.


These gender-specific courses do sound like an excellent way to elevate women to the higher echelons of a business, but a similar strategy across the board would deliver even more impressive results. More to the point, should tomorrow’s leaders still be defined by their gender?

Admittedly, more does need to be done to provide women with the opportunities and tools to take on leadership roles. If you ask a person to name male leaders you’ll quickly hear a list across a spectrum of business, politics and education – Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela – their names have become synonymous with great leadership.

But flip the question around, and the names do not come quite so quickly. The recent history of memorable female leaders isn’t quite so apparent.

Nonetheless, a gender-specific strategy is not the best resolution to this problem. In order to have a successful business, as well as a harmonious society, companies should be cultivating a cultural fabric of equality, including training the right person for the job, regardless of gender.

The good news is the skills needed to become an excellent leader are entirely teachable irrespective of gender. With the right training program there is nothing to stop the women in your business from smashing those glass ceilings – without resorting to a gender specific approach.

There is no doubt that the intentions behind these specifically-tailored courses are entirely well founded, but if the world persists in underlining the fundamental differences between men and women, those same differences will continue to act as a roadblock to a cohesive and balanced work environment.

Training should be gender neutral and accessible to everyone, just as opportunities within business should be. For those who would naturally classify themselves as followers not leaders, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking leadership simply isn’t for you, and it is true that certain personalities take to leadership more naturally than others.

However, this is not to say that the leader within everyone cannot be found and developed. Most people can turn their hand to anything in an academic sense, but a leadership training program must also focus on teaching the soft skills which are so essential for the successful management of people.

Essentially, having a number of good leaders within your company is fantastically good for business. Staff members who are led by managers with excellent communication skills, a sense of authority and a knack for delegation are more engaged and productive. The bottom line is the better trained your staff, the better your output.

In this current climate, leadership development is more important than ever before. Economic and global pressures force organizations to do more at a faster pace, often with fewer resources. But make sure you are choosing the right training program. Segregation, no matter how well intended, does not always offer the best results. If your eventual aim is to train your female leaders to be at the top of their game, they need to be trained using the same system and respect as their peers.

Choosing the right method of staff development is a fundamentally important decision – so make sure you do your talent justice by putting in place a development culture which is fair and effective for everyone.

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