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It's Official—Women Trump Men on Leadership

Vivia Chen

April 4, 2012

© Maridav - Fotolia.comTo 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.


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Women proves many times they are capable of leadership better than men.

Maybe now we can stop all this nonsense talk about "glass ceiling" for women etc. when the overwhelming evidence clearly suggests that this is no longer the case today. Let's live in the present, and not in the past!

Women are now capable of leadership way better than other male leaders that are present today.

Dorothy Dinnerstein, author of the groundbreaking, "The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise" held up mothers as the best models for both peace and leadership. She acknowledged that most mothers want to kill their children at least once in each child's life and that almost none of us do. Instead we nurture and teach and stay involved. That was her suggested leadership role model.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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