27 Mar 2012

Are Women Better Leaders?

Posted by Katherine Dallal

Our grandmothers were raised to believe that women belonged in the home; they supported their husbands, reared their children and managed the household. Some of them never worked a day in their lives and fulfilled their roles exceptionally. Two generations later and some feminist groups would be up in arms if you even thought like this. In fact we’ve made so much progress that to most women in their 20s and 30s that world is an alien concept. We’re all so familiar with the adage of women ‘having it all’, juggling the pressure of raising a family and having a high powered career.

In the 1960s about 35% of women worked – we’re a far cry from that today. Fifty years on and the game has changed. So much so, that according to recent research carried out by Zenger and Folkman, women make better leaders. This research led Erika Andersen to entitle her article on the Forbes website: ‘The Results Are In: Women Are Better Leaders’

Zenger and Folkman’s research in 2011 surveyed 7,280 leaders and judged their leadership success based on 16 competencies; these focused on the judgment of their peers, bosses and direct reports of how good a leader they are.  They concluded that, ‘at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows.’

Erika Andersen’s article agreed saying that in her experience women: ‘build better teams; they’re more liked and respected as managers; they tend to be able to combine intuitive and logical thinking more seamlessly; they’re more aware of the implications of the their own and others’ actions;  and they think more accurately about the resources needed to accomplish a given outcome.’

The two categories in which women far outscored men were in ‘ taking the initiative’ and ‘driving results’, which is different from the stereotype of women being better at the more ‘nurturing’ competencies such as ‘developing others’ and ‘building relationships’.  However, the area where men outscored women was on their ‘ability to develop strategic perspective.’ Although there are still areas where women could improve, the results are very encouraging for ambitious women hoping to rise to top positions and challenge the dominance of men in this area - at the highest level, 78% of the mangers surveyed were men.

In the age of celebrating women as leaders – which has seen a range of films from the comedy; I Don’t Know How She Does It, centred on the life of a women coping with having it all, to the portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady – have we changed the tide?

Watching shows like Mad Men, you wonder, have we shed the image of women occupying professions such as teaching, secretarial or librarianship? Are more women aspiring to board room positions and is it any easier to get there? And if we as a gender outshine men at the top, why aren’t there more of us there?

Andersen suggests that this attitude of traditionally female jobs being secretarial has not dispelled and that men tend to hire other men – what do you think?

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