Women as leaders
Greater  skills, more profit but less opportunities

Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published a report from the management consulting firm, Zenger Folkman. This 360 Review of managers (2019) reported on the survey where participants were asked how they perceived women in leadership roles.  

Survey Results

This 360 review measured 19 common attributes and examples of these include such things as - Takes initiative, Resilience, Bold Leadership, Collaboration and Teamwork, Solves problems and analyzes issues, Innovates, Develops others, Drives for results and Displays high integrity and honesty (see below for full list).

Women in leadership positions were perceived as being as effective as men and these women actually scored at a statistically significantly higher level than men on the vast majority of the leadership competencies.

Of these attributes, women scored higher on 17 of the 19 attributes. Men only scored higher in the following attributes - Technical or professional expertise and Develops strategic perspective.

In other words, women were perceived to be more competent than men in regard to leadership skills. These findings are part of a continuing trend of evidence suggesting women possess greater leadership skills than men and can be far more effective in leadership roles.

Self Confidence

The Zenger Folkman report also touched on the issue of self-confidence in women. When the analysts broke down the numbers, they found that women were much harsher on women when asked to evaluate them.

This is interpreted as a lack of self-confidence as women tend to consistently underscore their own or other women’s leadership skills. However the data suggests that women are more competent than they realize. On the flip side, men tend to display higher levels of confidence to the point of being overconfident and tend to assume they are more competent than they actually are.

This issue of confidence can lead to some very different results in the recruiting process especially when considering a promotion to a higher position. A woman with the necessary qualifications but lacking the experience will tend to be more circumspect and cautious about applying for a promotion. On the other hand, the man’s elevated level of confidence would give him the attitude of being “close enough” to the necessary qualifications and experience required by the job and therefore apply for the promotion.

The data also suggests another interesting feature – the lack of confidence / over confidence dynamics shift as per the individual age. Women under 25 years of age have the lowest levels of confidence, however by the mid-40s, the confidence between men and women converges and by the time men and women reach the 60s, women’s confidence increases while the men’s confidence decreases.

This data suggests that the overall level of career success for women is not related to skills or talent but by the lack of opportunities afforded to and taken by women.  

Still Under represented

This lack of opportunity manifests itself in the fact that women are still grossly underrepresented in the business world. Although the number of women in leadership roles are increasing, there is still a long way to go.

This year Fortune 500 reported that a record number of 33 of the top 500 US companies are now being managed my women CEOs. Whilst this progress is an achievement, it is only a mere 6.6% of CEO positions.

If you widen your focus from gender diversity to ethnic diversity (women CEOs of color), the numbers are very low and declining. Only 2 CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies are women of color (August 2018).

Credit Suisse released figures (2016) that show businesses with at least 15% of senior management positions filled by women return higher profits (18% increase) than businesses with less gender diversity.

In a similar trend, McKinsey & Co (2018) reported that those businesses whose senior management teams had the greatest ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to be more profitable that their peers. 

Where to from here

So if the evidence suggests that women possess greater leadership skills than men, and are able to operate companies at a more profitable level, the question is as to why are there not more women in leadership roles?

Perhaps this lack of gender diversity in the senior ranks of corporations can be explained by mere statistics – more men apply for the senior positions, so statistically more men are appointed to these senior roles.

For many years there has been a great deal of discussion about women in the corporate world, glass ceilings quota for the appointment of women to both senior management roles and for board positions.

The notion of a quota to create more opportunity for women still appears condescending and paternalistic. Perhaps what is needed is greater trust in the abilities and the potential of all women and focus on creating a suitable environment for women to build their self-confidence.

With this self-confidence, women will create all the opportunities for advancement they need.