Continuous Improvement and Leadership: a Matter of Gender?


Last December, Time magazine selected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as “Person of the Year”. Both were sworn in on January 20th. Harris, however, made history as the first black and Asian-American woman to become Vice-President of the United States.

Biden himself said at the inauguration ceremony, “108 years ago, thousands of protesters tried to stop brave women from marching for their right to vote. Today we celebrate the first woman Vice-President, Kamala Harris, being sworn in. Do not tell me things cannot change”.

Later this year, Angela Merkel will retire as Chancellor of Germany, a position she held for 16 years. During this period, she won the recognition of her country and international counterparts, being a clear example of breaking the glass ceiling. Her government has been characterised by its firmness, determination, and humanity.

In contrast to the glass ceiling, many sources refer to the glass cliff, describing the idea that when a company is in trouble, a female leader will manage the crisis better, assuming stereotypical values for women such as empathy and intuition.

This concept raises the question, are women better suited for crisis management?

A KAIZEN™ leader should focus on best practices aimed at transforming management teams into teams that lead by example and are 100% committed to and involved in continuous improvement. According to this definition, there is nothing to suggest that it is a matter of gender.

For years, Bill and Melinda Gates have topped global leadership rankings. Gates himself defines “leaders of the next century [as] those who empower others”. A leader is not limited to the management of a collective, company or social group, a leader will only become as great as the example they set for their team, or as great as the impetus he or she generates for them.

A good leader requires training and management skills based on understanding and empathy, yet only 42% are trained in leadership, with the female gender representing a considerably lower percentage than the male gender. According to UN Women, “women are under-represented not only as voters, but also in leadership positions, whether in elected office, public administration, the private sector or academic”. This is based primarily around two barriers: discriminatory laws and institutions, and women being less likely to have access to the necessary education, training, contacts, and resources to become leaders.

Sustainable development will not be possible without gender equality. To this end, the 2030 Agenda was created at the United Nations Summit in New York in 2015. The Sustainable Development Goals challenges inequality with a commitment that no one will be left behind.

The United Nations Global Compact (to which Kaizen Institute is a member) includes Ten Principles, including those derived from the International Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. 

At the latest World Economic Forum or Davos Forum, sustainability and inclusion took centre stage. In this first online meeting, the impact of the health and economic crisis on equality in the workplace was discussed. The current pandemic has put a major brake on the economy, leaving those job profiles with the worst conditions in a more vulnerable situation. In addition, confinement has also brought with it the issue of work-life balance, an aspect that families must deal with. This, far from being an opportunity, has meant a greater burden for women, who are still too often assigned responsibilities such as household management or childcare (and in this context, even education and training).

Discrimination in labour relations has a social and educational background. Beyond all the government support in favour of positive discrimination or economic incentives, the key lies in understanding that diversity provides companies with greater wealth. And what better time to deliver this change than a crisis where creativity is required for survival? It is not a question of financing gender equality, but of understanding that differentiation is a disadvantage for any company.

Whilst we began this article by naming women who have made history, the reality is that gender equality will not be achieved unless new achievements also make the news.

The road to equality will be faster the more it is based on continuous improvement, involving everyone, every day and everywhere. Effective communication, ensuring that everyone is involved and is aware of their impact on the company and on society, together with a training and empowerment system for all employees, and the constant search to turn deviations into opportunities, will allow for sustainable development and growth in which leaders will be recognised for their competencies and not for their gender.


The KPI’s of growth KAIZEN™ are sales, marketing/sales conversion rates, customer retention rates, customer satisfaction, time-to-market, sales of new products, innovation and all funnels related to growth (marketing, sales and retention).

The goal is to improve with KAIZEN™ and have a continuous impact on growth and profitability (together with operational excellence). Stay tuned for more articles about growth KAIZEN™.

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