Women May Be Better Leaders Than Men, So Why Aren’t There More?

This is first of two parts on gender diversity in leadership positions. Today’s article discusses the current lack of women leaders, the reasons why, as well as describing the benefits women leaders bring to an organization. Part two, offering solutions, will post tomorrow.

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The most recent allegations of sexual harassment by management and subsequent apathy by HR at hot tech startup Uber have once again brought to the fore the lack of progress we’ve made in gender equality. What Susan Fowler’s story highlights is that not only do women face direct discrimination from managers and peers, when they speak out they often feel the backlash in their opportunities for advancement.

The lack of female leaders in general, and especially in the tech world, is one of the most highly discussed challenges. All the industry giants have been criticized for continuing to have such low numbers of women on the board, in management positions or even in the workforce in general. This has caused many, such as Facebook, Google and Apple to publicly release reports on their diversity statistics and commit to developing more female leaders. The numbers of women of color in leadership positions is even lower. A study by the AAUW found that out of Standard & Poor’s 500 only 4% of executive officials and managers were women of color.

Bottom line impacts

Not only is this an issue about equality, it also greatly impacts a company’s bottom line. Studies show that companies which are more gender diverse are 15% more likely to outperform and those which are more ethnically diverse are 35% more likely to outperform. Companies with more female leaders are also proven to be more profitable. In fact, studies have shown that women are typically rated as being more effective leaders overall than men by their reports, peers and managers. So why are there so few female leaders?

How bias works in the workplace

Even if your company has a clear policy against inequality in promotions and pay, why does it still happen? To find out you have to look at the root causes.

Similarity bias: Similarity bias is the tendency for people to want to help and mentor people who remind them of themselves when they were coming up in the company. As the majority of managers are still men, it’s not uncommon for them to see themselves in a male report who may have the same personality and interests as them when they began working. Even if unconscious, this can lead managers to favor certain reports with extra mentoring and, thereby, opportunities for development.

In feedback: Feedback and performance reviews are essential to helping employees develop professionally and for companies to identify top performers for new positions. When unconscious bias finds its way into these important tools for advancement, it can cause women to be held back under the radar.

A joint 2016 study by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org found that, while both genders ask for feedback equally, women are 20% less likely to receive difficult feedback. The most common answer given is that managers don’t want to seem “mean” or “hurtful.” Most managers already find it difficult to give constructive feedback, even when their employees ask for it. If male managers hold on to an unconscious fear that women will be more likely to react emotionally to feedback, their female reports will not receive the same coaching opportunities as their male peers.

 

Adding another layer, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that ⅔ of men in senior positions pulled back from 1-on-1 contact with junior female employees for fear that they might be suspected of having an affair.

What’s more, when women do receive feedback, studies show it is often vague and not tied to business outcomes. This means that, whether it’s positive or constructive, women are less likely to be told what specific actions contributed to the team/company objectives or how they can improve. Meanwhile, their male colleagues are more likely to receive a clear picture of how they’re doing and what they can do to improve.

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People also have a tendency to see certain behaviors as primarily male or female. For example, assertiveness, independence and authority are often stereotyped as “male,” while supportive, collaborative and helpful are perceived as typically “female.” Therefore, studies show that when women demonstrate qualities typically associated with men, it is often criticized. For example, two studies cited in The Wall Street Journal in particular have shown that while men are often described as “confident and assertive,” for the same behavior, women are described as “abrasive and off-putting. “

Are men more effective leaders?

However, a study by Zenger and Folkman sought to evaluate the effectiveness of male versus female leaders in 16 leadership qualities. Overall women were perceived as more effective and surpassed men in 12 categories, even those typically perceived as “male” such as taking initiative and driving for results.

Perhaps most convincing of all, a meta-analysis of 99 data sets from 95 studies conducted between 1962-2011 published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, similarly found that female leaders were rated by their reports, peers and managers as being just as or even more effective than male leaders.

The interesting question is why women continue to be overlooked for leadership positions? These studies may reveal some answers. For one, the meta-analysis showed that, while they’re rated highly by others, many have a tendency to underrate themselves in their self-assessments. Another, as mentioned previously, is the tendency to perceive the desired leadership skills as those regularly stereotyped as “male”.

Stereotyping women leaders

The problem is not just how men and women are being stereotyped but also how roles are being stereotyped. The qualities most often looked for in a leader, such as assertiveness, authority and taking initiative are also those typically misidentified as typically “male traits.”

These traits represent an outdated perception we have of the typical authoritarian manager who oversees, pushes for results and relays information from the executive level. Continuing to rely on this standard view of the typical manager is not only blocking women from being chosen for leadership positions, but also harming many organizations. A study by Gallup found that companies chose the wrong person for management positions 82% of the time.

In today’s flattening, collaborative, autonomous work atmosphere companies are beginning to realize they want coaches, not managers. Some of the top qualities needed are instead: emotional intelligence, coaching/mentoring, ability to motivate and engage through purpose, empowering through autonomy and ownership. In effect, not only are our perceptions of female vs male leaders incorrect, our perceptions of what makes a great leader are also based on outdated stereotypes.

Part two of this article will post tomorrow. It lists 6 steps your company can take to develop female leaders and increase the number of women in management positions.

Steffen Maier is the co-founder of Impraise , the People Enablement Platform. Impraise’s belief is simple: Grow your people, grow your business. They help unleash people’s potential, doing more than just performance reviews, which means accelerating performance, fostering career development, and seizing all the moments that happen in between.

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2 Comments on “Women May Be Better Leaders Than Men, So Why Aren’t There More?

  1. when studies use surveys involving men the study should be taken with a grain or two of salt. Why? Because men will always say women are better than they are .Have you ever heard a wife introduce her husband as her better half? No you haven’t but one often hears husbands introduce their wives as their better half. Do you really believe the men are sincere?Men say it because they think its the acceptable thing to say and makes them appear to be humble.

    Take the above study “However, a study by Zenger and Folkman sought to evaluate the effectiveness of male versus female leaders in 16 leadership qualities. Overall women were perceived as more effective and surpassed men in 12 categories, even those typically perceived as “male” such as taking initiative and driving for results.” Now you know especially when men claim they think women are better in those areas typically thought as “Male.”

    Perhaps most convincing of all, a meta-analysis of 99 data sets from 95 studies conducted between 1962-2011 published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, similarly found that female leaders were rated by their reports, peers and managers as being just as or even more effective than male leaders.

    The reason that there are not more female leaders is obviously the studies touting female superiority are flawed. They are flawed because the men in the surveys can not be counted on to tell the truth. What’s flawed here is that surveys are not the best way to conduct a study.
    Also I don’t see why we have to be comparing men to women in every conceivable thing? The results will always be that women are better. This is because if a study is done that shows men are better it wouldn’t be published. These studies results are hurtful and unnecessary. Let these truths be self evident

  2. Lets Make America A Parity Nation
    If all these studies and I haven’t found one yet that doesn’t report women make better leaders than men were to be believed and went main stream it would mean that no company or business would dare hire a man for a leadership position because to do so would give the impression the business doesn’t care about having the most talented leaders and everybody would know women are the best leaders. So naturally everyone should want every business to have the best leadership possible and that would mean all business leaders should be females.Even if true this truth should best be left unsaid. If it is true that women are the best leaders it would be self-evident so there is no need to say it, and saying it has been counter productive so far.

    The problem with saying it is that it is mostly men who are in position right now to promote leaders. You don’t go to the one in charge of promotions and tell that person your a better leader than he/she is. Why? Because that promoter would be fearful of loosing his/her leadership position to the very one he/she promoted. Its called self preservation. Therefor we are not going to get more females promoted by telling male promoters that studies show that women are better leaders. For proof consider that these studies showing females make better leaders have been being published for a decade or two and women still lag far behind men in leadership position. It isn’t working!

    Time for a change in tactics. Lets set as our goal for America to become like Iceland a parity nation. A parity nation is one in which the Nation sets as a goal expressed by law that its not female superiority in leadership that women and men bring to the leadership table but rather the diversity that each gender creates that leads to greater productivity. Said this way male leadership promoters won’t be intimidated by promoting female leaders. He might even get promoted for having the wisdom to promote female leaders! And even though society don’t want Christians to quote scripture in the public arena I am going to pull a Donald Trump and do it any ways. So here goes “For this cause shall a man leave his family and Cleve unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh Ephesians 5:31 KJV

    Because the creator made men strong where women are weak and women strong where men are weak so that they would need each other. This is the answer to millennial women asking the question “Why do we need men anymore? The answer according to God is that neither the man not the woman are complete without the other. So we need each other. In a parity nation where leadership is shared equally the strengths of each gender would compensate for the weaknesses of the other.

    Let us set as our goal for America to become a Parity Nation.

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