The topic of whether men or women make better leaders has been long debated across generations, but let’s look at what does it mean to be a “good” leader and what leadership looks like in today’s corporate environment by the numbers.
According to a Pew Research Center report on what makes a good leader, characteristics such as honesty, intelligence, compassion and innovation rank quite high on the rating scale. When comparing these traits between men and women, women scored higher in most of these categories. From this, we can infer that the general public views women as more compassionate, innovative and honest compared to men.
Interestingly enough, studies have shown that women also tend to rank themselves lower when it comes to assessing themselves. What these studies also highlight is that with age, women become more confident and rank themselves higher, whereas men tend to rank themselves lower as they grow in seniority. For example, men under age 25 are likely to rank themselves high in their abilities compared to women under age 25, who tend to rank themselves lower. With age, those rankings flip.
According to statistics published by Leftronic:
- 29% of senior management is female globally.
- 31% of senior roles are held by women in the U.S.
- 33 Fortune 500 companies are led by female chief executive officers.
These stats are an improvement from previous years, yet a female CEO is still more likely to be fired than a male one, and the pay gap still exists between men and women’s salaries. Things are improving, but the doubt around female leadership capabilities still exists. Training and development can help by breaking down the qualities that make female leaders successful, and can help others develop them in their own roles.
Let’s Look at the Skills
A study conducted by Dr. Alice Eagly, a scholar on the topic of women’s leadership, found that women make better leaders because women tend to be more transformational leaders — meaning that they seek to develop others and listen more effectively, in addition to generally thinking more outside-the-box than their male counterparts.
We know from various reports, such as the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, that the top skills needed to be successful as a leader of tomorrow are emotional intelligence (EQ), empathy, listening skills, coaching and mentoring, and innovation/creativity. Research has also shown us that women tend to be better at using these skills (i.e., “soft skills) than men.
Let’s Look at the Science
There have been a series of studies done to compare how men and women handle stress in difficult situations. Neuroscience and neurobiology prove that women make better decisions under stress, due to the way that we are designed as females. A study by the University of Southern California found that under normal circumstances, men and women make decisions very similarly but under high stress situations, men tend to behave more riskier — often causing a negative impact and costly outcomes. Men and women experience stress differently, both physiologically and psychologically.
When both men and women experience high levels of stress, their cortisol increases. Research shows that a woman’s brain can manage cortisol levels more effectively, meaning that it does significantly impact the decision-making process.
What Men Can Learn from Female Leaders
There are some best practices that men can take away from their female counterparts when it comes to leadership In a world that often praises confidence and self-belief, make sure you are continuously practicing self-awareness and not coming off as arrogant or someone with a fixed mindset (i.e., unwilling to learn and grow). Recognizing that we don’t know what we don’t know allows us to remain humble while continuously looking for ways to connect and be better leaders.
Another aspect that men can pick up from women leaders is the ability to truly empathize and put people first: Listen to employees and elevate them. Female leaders have been known to coach and mentor others more often than their male counterparts. Female leaders understand the importance of investing their time in development of others, staying humble and always learning, and leading, with compassion.
In conclusion, when it comes to female leadership for today and the future, it seems women have an advantage over men when it comes to specific skills … and from a biological perspective as well. Nonetheless, both female and male leaders can learn from and complement each other’s skills for a thriving workplace.