To be frank, I don't buy a lot of the folklore out there about how women—particularly, working moms—make better leaders. You've heard the pitch: Women have more empathy, more emotional intelligence, a wider array of life experiences. And if they're mothers, they're also supposed to be more patient, more versed in handling tantrums, and more resilient to competing demands—all which come in handy when you're in the messy business of leading the troops.
I think those are overblown stereotypes, but women—for whatever reason—are getting respect as leaders. According to the Harvard Business Review blog, women are beating out men on the leadership front—often by a very healthy margin.
According to a study of over 7,000 leaders in an array of occupations, women outperform men across the board, from forepersons to senior managers. In the category of top management (including executive and senior members), for example, women got a 67.7 percent rating for being effective leaders versus 57.7 percent for men.
This is a nice surprise—especially since so much chatter tends to be focused on how female bosses are dreaded. (Remember how legal secretaries preferred male bosses?)
Indeed, female bosses seem to be gaining traction. Here's how the authors of the study (Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy) describe the unexpected findings in the HBR blog:
The women's advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women's strengths. In fact, 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.
The authors elaborate:
At all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree—taking initiative and driving for results—have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey—the ability to develop a strategic perspective.
And what about women in the legal profession? In a follow-up post in the HBR, women outperformed men as leaders in law too—59.4 percent and 54.7 percent, respectively. (Interestingly, men beat out women in the category of administrative/clerical work. Go figure.)
With all the stellar reviews that women get, why aren't there more female leaders across the board? The reason is simple: They're not getting picked by those in power, who are, of course, men. Saythe authors: "Clearly, chauvinism or discrimination is an enigma that organizations (and the business culture) should work hard to prevent."
So the secret to getting more women in leadership positions is to fix those subtle forms of sexism. Easy, right?
But back to my original point: I'm still not convinced that women naturally make better leaders. I do think, however, that if given the chance to lead, women will work their buns off. Believe me, they will.
Get the latest from The Careerist—free! Sign up today--see box on upper right corner.
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.