What’s The Difference? Leadership Ability–Male Vs. Female

By April 8, 2013January 25th, 2021Women Leadership in Business

“A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”

~ Rosalynn Carter

Client Melanie Asks:

I’m having a real challenge understanding what’s next for me at my company. I’ve been a department manager for five years. I get impeccable performance reviews and consistent kudos from my boss, my peers and my subordinates. I know I’m a good leader. But every manager above me is male. I feel I’ve gone as far as I can go here. Is the glass ceiling for real? Is male leadership ability really superior to female?

Coach Joel Answers:

Your question is certainly a legitimate one. Dozens of leading business publications, including Forbes, Psychology Today, and The Harvard Business Review have done recent studies and articles on male vs. female leadership ability. Here’s what they’ve all concluded: in the top 16 leadership competencies, women outscore men in all but one. In two of the top characteristics (takes initiative, and drives for results), women outrank men by the highest degree of any factor tested—and these particular characteristics have long been thought of as male strengths.

According to the HBR study, a major reason women aren’t moving up as far and as fast as they should is that they don’t self-promote. So here’s a three-point action plan that I would recommend you put in place immediately.

  1. Establish your brand.

    You may think you’re well known in the company and that your skills and accomplishments are recognized. But you need more than that. You need to be memorable. This may mean taking on a cause or a project that is languishing and turning it into a winner. It could mean coming up with a high-impact promotional campaign or a can’t-lose money saving strategy.

  2. Increase your visibility.

    You can do this in a number of ways. Start by speaking up in meetings, not only to discuss your own projects and ideas but also to acknowledge your team’s efforts or ideas presented by your peers. Volunteer to make presentations or speak at company meetings where top executives will be present. Take on high-visibility projects, assuming the responsibilities of the job you want to have. Network at business events, both inside and outside the company, as often as you can.

  3. Develop advocates.

    You need people who will speak on your behalf. Look for unexpected sources rather than relying on your immediate boss to do this. Speak to clients, customers, and vendors about your work. Look for allies in other departments or business units. If a client or customer compliments your work, say “Would you mind dropping my CEO an email about that?”

Will you get the promotion you feel you deserve? Will you break through into top management? Will you find the work/life balance you need and deserve? Another factor revealed in the HBR study is that men in senior management positions still tend to hire other men. While that may be true, choose to focus instead on the fact, supported by scientific data, that when it comes to male vs. female leadership ability, women are the true leaders. Your leadership skills may be rewarded in your current company and they may not. But they will be rewarded—count on it!

If your head is bumping up against a glass ceiling in your company, contact Joel for some glass-shattering ideas.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Terry says:

    Your right, there are a number of studies that are saying that the glass ceiling is as a reuslt of women not promoting themselves. However, I think this is a too simplistic view of the evidence. There is also other research that consistently finds the glass ceiling to be systemic problem fuelled by well-intentioned or unconscious gender bias:

    1. There are a number of unintended selection biases that disadvantage women on their pathways to top leadership. For example an advert for an executive position may ask for a ‘charismatic’ leader. The term ‘charismatic’ has a gender bias.

    2. Women in leadership face a higher burden of performing well due to their minority status. Aware of the importance of performing well, women take fewer risks than men and are less likely to put themselves forward for challenging, developmental and high profile assignments. The result is that women appear to lack ambition.

    3. Wary of putting women in situations where poor performance could hurt not only their own career chances but those of other women, well-meaning superiors are less likely to give them critical developmental assignments.

    4. Superiors also often decline to offer international assignments to women, assuming that their family demands would make the role impossible.

    Clearly the glass ceiling is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed by everyone in organisations and not just women engaging in more self promotion.

    • Gender bias certainly does exist, Terry. However, given the documented facts of women’s leadership skills as cited by Forbes, HBR and others, we are simply choosing here to accentuate the positive. For women managers who wish to advance their careers and rise to the top, we are suggesting that there are tools at their disposal that can help them get there. It’s important that women be proactive rather than letting the bias that does exist become a self-fulfilling prophecy.