Women, better leaders for the modern workplace?

Written by
Changeboard Team

22 Feb 2010

22 Feb 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Research headlines - boardroom leadership

Financial crisis could slow progress of workplace equality, warns Hudson.

Major European study of 65,000 people reveals why there are comparatively few female business leaders.

Dominant coalition of boards favours male personalities.

Women sacrificing instinctive traits to mimic male leaders need to be themselves and push themselves to the fore.

Leadership traits - male vs female

The study, which involved data drawn from assessments and psychometric testing of more than 65,000 people around the world over several years, reveals the different working and leadership styles of men and women of various ages and positions. It found that womens natural characteristics and working style hampers their route to the top, and that they break into senior leadership positions by adopting or mimicking a male leadership style. Hudson warned that many organisations may focus on promoting male traits of decisiveness, persuasiveness and leadership in order to survive the downturn, hampering the progress of women.

Karen Scott, director, Hudson UK, said: We are concerned that companies might adopt a short-term view that reinforces the hierarchy of men over women in their efforts to succeed during a recession. Not only will this reverse the recent progress of gender equality in business, it might be to the detriment of the organisation. Our study suggests that women could actually make better leaders than men, when not forced to adopt a traditionally male style, sacrificing their own natural instincts in the process.

Demographic evolution of the boardroom

The study: 'Could the right man for the job be a woman?', asks whether women are forced to mimic male behaviour because those are seen as the qualities that are inherently required to lead an organisation, or whether organisations themselves are still failing to support or recognise the value in female characteristics.

Etienne Van Keer, executive director, Hudson R&D, who oversaw the study and authored the report added: Currently, the dominant coalition inside the boards of organisations still favours male clones of the current leadership. We found that women tend not to push themselves to the fore of an organisations thinking: old habits die hard, and women still like to be asked. But the demographic evolution of the population and the changing nature of business will force organisations to pay more attention to what women have to offer. At the same time, the specific requirements of new generations of employees might also teach them that women can offer extra added-value as leaders, potentially enhancing an organisations leadership style.

Stereotypical leadership styles

The study found that:

C-level women show personality traits that are almost the opposite of women in general. Like C-level men, C-level women score very high on extraversion, decisiveness, strategic thinking, Results-focus and autonomy.

C-level women, contrary to their male colleagues, also pay attention to more typically female characteristics around altruism and openness.

Younger female leaders appear to focus rather on altruism, people orientation and cooperation, experienced female leaders on their end concentrate on openness and thought leadership.

Scott concluded: Women in leadership positions find themselves with an identity dilemma: if they act like a typical male leader, they are perceived as hard or cold, because their behaviour jars with that of the stereotypical woman. If they act like typical women, they are perceived as less effective, because the typically male personality traits are still perceived to be more effective.

One could nevertheless argue that women leaders could benefit from developing their more typically feminine personality traits. We urge organisations to look at which business attitudes are more critical for their current and future leaders in relation to their business context and strategy, before deciding which men or women are best suited for the roles. Structured assessment and development programmes can help organisations identify the right leaders.

In the UK, men are still paid, on average, 17.2% more than women in the same position, according to the TUC1.

See the full report: