“Balancing men and women in leadership roles provides checks and balances and a wider lens to see through. The male and female brains think very differently, and different thoughts create different information. Men can support women in leadership roles by opening their minds to the possibilities and advantages of a truly balanced leadership team.” — Hillary Hobson, Highest Cash Offer
A 2016 survey conducted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins. With 21,980 firms from 91 countries participating in the survey, it was found that a profitable firm at which 30% of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared to an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders.
Still, according to a 2019 article published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the percentage of working women in senior leadership roles in businesses has remained relatively steady since 2012 with only 4.9 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs being women, but why?
Women Rate Higher on Key Leadership Capabilities Than Men
According to the HBR’s analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. These skills included: taking initiative, inspiring and motivating others, bold leadership skills, integrity and honesty, self-development and more. According to their data, men were rated as being better on only two capabilities, developing strategic perspective and technical or professional expertise.
A study by global consulting firm Hay Group also found that women also outperformed men in the category referred to as emotional intelligence. Sometimes called “soft skills,” these key leadership attributes refer to one’s ability to approach others or handle their professional life and include: professionalism (self-motivation, work ethic, resilience), the ability to network, collaboration and communication (both oral and written) and critical thinking.
Interestingly, when they compared confidence ratings of men and women, they saw a large difference in those less than 25 years of age, with women leaders feeling under-confident in their abilities and male leaders feeling overconfident. However, these confidence ratings seem to merge by age 40.
Unconscious Bias and Masculine Anxiety Disorder
Whether men realize it or not, many of them may be responsible for the lack of male-female leadership balance in the workplace. When asked, most would answer that they are not at all threatened by women in leadership. Yet, according to an article published by vice.com, this may not be the case. The article sites a series of three experiments in which Dr. Leah Sheppard from Washington State University, Dr. Maryam Kouchaki from Northwestern University and Dr. Ekaterina Netchaeva from Bocconi University discovered many men in subordinate positions do indeed feel threatened by their female superiors.
As part of this research, the team asked participants to take a test in which they had to guess words that were shown on a screen—a format commonly used to assess if bias is present. The researchers found men who were faced with female bosses were more likely to see words such as “fear” and “risk”—indicators that the men did feel threatened even if they themselves did not admit or recognize it.
When one does not recognize their bias, this is referred to as “unconscious bias.” According to diversity.ucsf.edu, unconscious bias is defined as: social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups. These biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values.
Another explanation could be more “conscious.”In an article published by psychologytoday.com, Elle magazine’s Laurie Abraham discussed the negative reactions caused by WNBA star Brittney Griner’s ability to perform the typically male-dominated skill of dunking. Abraham labels this backlash as caused by MAD – Masculine Anxiety Disorder – the notion that males seem somehow threatened by a high-achieving woman, particularly in a typically male environment.
Abraham also states that although she admits that MAD is in no way a clinical diagnosis or category, she had been searching for a term to explain why she had repeatedly encountered negative reactions from men when discussing her research findings that women have higher leadership potential than men.
With evidence proving that women make excellent leaders, it is clear that not having these qualified individuals on your team is not only a detriment to your business, but to the global economy as a whole. It is also clear that companies need to make high-level decisions to promote women’s advancements within their organizations. Unless women are treated equally and assessed not on the basis of gender but on the basis of their talents and skills, they will never have access to key leadership positions. But where do you start?
A female inclusive and collaborative culture calls for a meaningful equality plan. In an article published by tutorialspoint.com training, performance appraisal and other key factors were crucial for disbanding the old, outdated ways of hiring and promoting to create a better, more balanced leadership team.
Training: Gender equality training is a transformative process that provides the knowledge, techniques and tools to promote positive changes in the attitudes and behaviors of both women and men in the workplace.
Recruitment: Gender should not be the sole criterion in selecting or rejecting a person while making an appointment to decision-making positions. Emphasis should be placed on the skills and abilities the person possesses and if such skills and abilities are in tune with the requirements of the position.
Career Mapping: Organizations should have an effective career-mapping plan in place for female employees. Being aware of higher-level opportunities within the organization and the path required to achieve them helps women to set out clearer plans for attaining these roles.
Provisions for Family Support: the right to request time off for prenatal care and paid maternity leave for new mothers.
With more women entering the workforce, changes need to be put in place to ensure that equal opportunities are provided at every level. In my book “Lean On”, I explore gender inequality, women in leadership roles and society’s attitude toward stay-at-home-fathers.