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Ladies First: Studies Show Women Are Better Leaders. So Why Aren't There More of Us Leading?

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When, over the span of a little over a week, two huge studies find that women are viewed as better leaders than men -- and that, the higher the professional level, the wider the gap between the woman and her male counterpart (i.e., if you'll pardon the grammar, the higher we are on the ladder, the, ahem, more better we are than the guy occupying the same rung) -- but women are more underrepresented the higher up the ranks you climb, doncha start to wonder where the tipping point is? When those numbers will pick up some speed on the way to 50/50? Given these studies' results, you'd think it should happen any day now.

In "Are Women Better Leaders Than Men?" Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and president, respectively, of leadership development consultancy firm Zenger/Folkman, write in the Harvard Business Review what they found in a survey they conducted of 7,280 leaders. These leaders were judged based on 360 evaluations (which take into account the opinions of those who work for these leaders, those who work with these leaders, and those who are the bosses of these leaders) rating each leader's overall effectiveness and on "the 16 competencies that our 30 years of research shows are most important to overall leadership effectiveness."

They note that some stereotypes were confirmed: one, that there are more men in leadership positions than women. And:

Similarly, most stereotypes would have us believe that female leaders excel at "nurturing" competencies such as developing others and building relationships, and many might put exhibiting integrity and engaging in self-development in that category as well. And in all four cases our data concurred -- women did score higher than men.



But 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 yet, we seem stalled. As Barnard College President Debora Spar said at a White House Conference on urban economic development recently, "We have fallen into the 16 percent ghetto, which is that if you look at any sector -- be it aerospace engineering, Hollywood films, higher education, or Fortune 500 leading positions, women max out at roughly 16 percent... That is a crime, and is a waste of incredible talent." While women have made incredible progress over a pretty short amount of time, our speed ain't what it used to be. It's as though while we've kept one foot on the gas, another has taken up residence on the brake.




The foot that's on the brake looks suspiciously like this: the fact that, as we are wont to say, the workplace is still built for the 50s stereotype -- the guy who has a full-time wife at home to take care of, you know, life. Despite the fact that near no one lives like that anymore, by and large, the workplace hasn't changed. In fact, one could argue that it's gotten worse: thanks to the advent of things like cell phones and email, we're supposed to be on call, even when we're done for the day, scrambling to make it to the pharmacy before it closes, or running to meet the plumber, or even when going to the bloody grocery store -- you know, the things that phantom 50s housewife would have taken care of for us. The workplace is not set up for anyone lacking that friendly, wifely ghost; man or woman, married or not. The logistical wizardry that's required to manage both work and a life is daunting and the more intense our job, the more insane the juggling act. The more insane the juggling act, the more likely we become, at one point or another, to lean out, as Sheryl Sandberg might say. Throw kids -- and a comparably employed partner -- into the mix, and something's (someone's) often gotta give. Often the decision as to whose career will downshift is financial -- and, as women often make less money than men, you know what that means -- and whose career will move to the slow lane. Two words: Mommy track.




So, back to my original question: when will things change? We've shown we can play their game -- and we're beginning to show just how well we can play it. But it's time to redefine the game itself, to make it ours. Imagine, for a second: What would your company, your country, your world look like if there were as many women in charge as there are men? Really think about it.

Last week, I came across Do Women Make Better Bosses Than Men?, a piece referencing yet another study. Here's the lede:

The survey found that women bosses were more democratic and easier to communicate with, allowing their employees to participate in decision-making and encouraging feedback on management policies.

And one would have to assume that management policies adjusted to reflect employee feedback would reflect our current realities: that employers need to take into account that all of their employees have a life -- and if they support their employees' ability to have a life outside of work, those employees are going to be that much more productive and engaged when they're at work. Just exactly the sorts of changes that'll likely make it more realistic for more women to stay in the game.

The whole situation can sound suspiciously like a Catch-22: it'll take more women at the top to make the changes that are needed for more women to get to the top. But look at how far we've come: surely, if anyone is up to the challenge, it's us.