Women in Business – Are female leaders any different from male leaders?

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Despite growing evidence showing that gender diversity at Executive level leads to improved organisational performance, a large number of women in business continue to be underrepresented in upper management. So why is this the case?

A recent white paper by https://www.thomas.co was written following interviews with 137 senior female leaders from the UK, Netherlands and Australia who were assessed for the study, all in senior leadership positions, ranging from Director to CEO/President of their organisation. The study also looked specifically for leaders in small-medium sized enterprises (100+ people) and larger. Once the data was collected, a randomised but demographically, hierarchically, and organisationally matched male senior leadership sample was generated from existing Thomas International data.

Women in Business - Are female leaders any different from male leaders? Summary

Women are still largely underrepresented at senior level. Only 29% of senior positions in the UK being held by women. There appear to be pervasive unconscious biases against women that are holding them back from succeeding.

However, the results of this study provide clear evidence that male and female senior leaders are no different. With near identical levels of the personality and emotional traits that predict success, but the way that these traits are interpreted, recognised and rewarded shows that when female employees display similar behaviours to men, they are perceived negatively due to conscious and unconscious biases held by others.

Organisations that want to build greater diversity, both in terms of their talent pipeline and senior leaders, should build psychometrics into their evaluation and recruitment process. This will assist to reduce any unconscious bias.


ARE FEMALE AND MALE LEADERS DIFFERENT? – NO. There were no meaningful differences found between women and men in personality and in Emotional Intelligence. Women were as likely as men to display optimal levels of personality linked to leadership success.
DO FEMALE LEADERS NEED TO BE EMPATHETIC TO BE SUCCESSFUL? – NO. Evidence showed no differences in empathy between female and male senior leaders. Despite stereotypes that female leaders need to adopt more caring, compassionate or emotional approaches to leadership, these stereotypes do not match reality.
DO MALE LEADERS NEED TO BE ASSERTIVE AND ALOOF? – NO. There is no evidence to support the stereotype that male leaders need to be aloof, ruthless, and ‘cold’. Female and male senior leaders were found to be as empathetic, competitive, assertive and valuing of relationships as each other.
ARE BEHAVIOURS RECOGNISED AND REWARDED EQUALLY? – NO. There is evidence to suggest that some traits are seen as good if a man expresses them, but they are perceived as a hinderance if a woman expresses them. Additionally, 25% of why men are promoted to senior leadership positions is explained by their age and education. For female leaders, personality and Emotional Intelligence explains the same amount, showing the different standards for how male and female employees are judged.
CAN PSYCHOMETRICS PROVIDE A NON-BIASED INSIGHT TO IDENTIFYING LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL? – YES. The evidence shows that men and women are as likely to have the personality and Emotional Intelligence associated with leadership potential. Using psychometrics provides an objective, grounded method for evaluating a candidate that is free of potential bias.

To find out more about some of the women in our business, visit our meet the team page.


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