In researching The Woman Effect, I kept thinking, it’s great that professional women in leadership have such a positive and measurable effect on business performance, but what are high-achieving women doing so right? How can we do it even more intentionally? These questions lead me to this blog post series where I scratch the surface on all the research that says women leaders measurably help their companies survive and thrive.
Reason Number 2: We’re just that good!
Women Deal Well with Humans
Even though it’s tempting to be cynical and believe that today’s economy is run by machines, I don’t go there. There is actually plenty of evidence that human skills and motivation are key to success in the new economy. And if you want to get human skills and motivation moving in the direction your business wants to go, doesn’t it make sense that you’d want those businesses run by people that get along well with humans? Right. The logic trail is sound.
And women are really good at people stuff. Here are a few studies that specially call out our strengths at managing the humans who run the machines:
- Women leaders were found to be more empathetic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills… These qualities combine to create a leadership style that is inclusive, open, consensus building, collaborative and collegial.” (Caliper, 2005)
- Women who are effective at mastering variety of leadership styles, including masculine and feminine, and using them appropriately in different circumstances, rise more quickly. (Stanford, 2011)
- Women’s presence in a group raises the group’s intelligence. (Harvard Business Review, 2011)
Women are Good to Work for
Stats can lie – or at least lead to false conclusions – so I always look for real world corroboration as well. Here’s what I found: female bosses are great to work for! “Female managers – as rated by their bosses, themselves and the people who work for them – were rated significantly better than their male counterparts. This difference extends beyond the ‘softer’ skills such as communication, feedback and empowerment to such areas as decisiveness, planning and setting standards” (Pfaff & Associates, 2009)
Women are Results-Focused
This finding is slightly squishy from the research point of view in that I didn’t find a single study that looked solely at this question (yet! tell me if you know about one!) but I found plenty of corollary research and anecdotal evidence declaring it to be true, and I find it true in my own experience. Here are the corollary studies that said women have a higher standard of personal performance:
- “We know that women are not likely to put themselves forward for new roles unless they feel 95% capable, whereas men will happily do so at 65%, so what happens is that when women are promoted, they are very familiar with the tasks their people are doing.” (Management Today, 2010). This finding is consistent with results-focused attitude, as is the finding that women are less likely to exaggerate their accomplishments. (Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 2011)
- A study of women and philanthropic giving found that 81% of the women surveyed were motivated by how a gift could bring about change, which is definitely a meaningful measure of a results-focus.
- “Women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” says Debbie Walsh, director for the Center of American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Women introduce more bills, participate more in legislative debates, and give more speeches that open each session, according to Kathryn Pearson of the University of Minnesota.
I find it interesting that many of these conclusions about why women’s capabilities are so good for business – especially the interpersonal and human skills – are things I learned early in my career – as weaknesses! (I’ll never forget the shock and confusion on a Texan SVP’s face in 1991 when he came back from a leadership retreat and told us that “feminine traits would help companies” – he had no idea what to do with this information – and neither did his professional staff!)
Maybe the world and economy now demand different things of its leaders; maybe more working women have demonstrated the strengths of these abilities by doing the hard work and succeeding; maybe attitudes are shifting as the generations move along – and maybe it’s all of the above. All I know is that I’m thrilled to be on the cresting of the wave of global appreciation for what women bring to leadership and the workplace.
How ’bout you? Do you see these capabilities helping you in your work? Do you see them as strengths or weaknesses? Do you observe women’s competence contributing measurably to your organization’s success? Leave your thoughts and inputs in comments below.
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