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Do women make better leaders?



woman and man facing one another

Can you believe another article on sex differences in leadership? Well yeah. I asked Bard for the number of citations on the topic…a search on Google Scholar for the query "sex differences in leadership" returns over 100,000 results.


As a leadership coach and business executive, one of the first questions I ask my clients is, “Is your team balanced?” My clients look at me quizically as if I’m asking about inner ear problems. I’m talking about the physical makeup of teams - the number of women and men, age clustering, and other demographics that can affect decision-making.


It's been my experience that diverse group decision-making styles lead to better decisions and that teams that are skewed by age, sex, race, gender, and religion - pick your flavor of political correctness tend to make decisions that are skewed.


What’s been gnawing at my frontal cortex though is why the vast majority of my clients are women.


And is there a relationship between this fact and decision-making prowess?


And if there is, then is this indicative of women being better leaders than men?


So do women make better leaders? Here are some categories of thought.

  1. The “there ain't no stinkin’ gender differences” view: Women and men are not significantly different and should therefore be treated the same.

  2. The "it's the gender stupid" view: Forget about women being from Venus and men being from Mars. Try, women are from the Andromeda Galaxy, and men are from the Large Magellanic Cloud. Women and men leaders are significantly different and should be treated as such.

  3. Perception is reality: There is little difference between female and male leadership effectiveness. However, people believe that they are different (stereotyping), and these stereotypes create barriers to a womens advancement.

Let's look at some of the qualities of great leaders.


Empathy

According to a study conducted by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, women are more likely than men to feel and express empathy for others. The study also found that women are more likely to be concerned with the well-being of others and to

2 faces merged with one another

take steps to help them. Other studies have found that men and women are equally empathetic, or that men may even be more empathetic than women. No equivocation here!



Decisiveness

A study by the Pew Research Center found that women are just as likely as men to make decisions, but women are more likely to seek input from others before making a decision. This suggests that women are more deliberative than men, but not more decisive.


Adaptability

writing on white board

A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that women are more adaptable and more likely to change their behavior to fit different situations than men. The study also found that women are more open to new ideas and more willing to take risks.

The study's findings are corroborated by other research on gender differences in adaptability. For example, a study by the University of Michigan discovered that women are more likely than men to have a mindset that is adaptable and growth-oriented in terms of competence. This mindset is linked to greater adaptability, as it allows people to see change as an opportunity for growth rather than a threat.

Ethics

There is little evidence to suggest that there is a significant difference in ethicality between men and women. However, a study reported in the Women in Management Review found that women were more likely than men to make ethical decisions in the workplace.


Is any of this true?

Have you ever seen more equivocation on a subject? Probably not and there’s an awful lot to question here.


In trying to answer whether men or women make better leaders, gender stereotypes, have been studied to search for the ‘‘real’’ differences between their leadership styles and ways of working. Yet this research has been inconclusive and no clear picture emerges.

Researchers have claimed that the research is inconclusive because of 2 reasons. One, the “nonlinear combination and interaction of causes.” What BS! Simply because an issue is inherent in a nonlinear system doesn’t mean an experimental design can’t be created to tease apart the nuances of cause or correlation.


If we can’t understand non-linear systems then we’d know nothing about the human body, economics, geopolitics, or well, just about anything (perhaps these social scientists have weak math skills :). In other words, these researchers are claiming that there are limitations in experimental design which make it difficult to find evidence to refute/confirm sex-based differences in leadership. Bah, Humbug!


The second reason and I quote:


“There is not a ‘‘best way’’ to manage diversity, as we struggle with fundamental assumptions and perceptions, alongside what often can be described as pseudo-global applicability (O  zbilgin, 2008). There exists a tensionbetween cost-effective coordination and sensitivity to local cultures, which makes it difficult to transit from typical localized and universal approaches to more transversal approaches (see O   zbilgin, 2008).”

I’ve read the above a number of times and I still have no idea what it means.


But here is my impersonation of what the researchers were thinking when they concluded this meta-analysis (citation):


“We hoped to see differences in sex-based leadership styles and effectiveness, but the whole field is such a morass of conflicting data and conclusions that we didn’t find any, and we're not sure what to say that makes the last six months of research a worthwhile and endeavor to submit to a journal, so we better come up with something that sounds smart and convoluted enough so we don’t look like idiots.

Final thoughts...


Women make better leaders than men. Men make better leaders than women. Yes, there are sex-based personality and processing differences but so what? Each person who is “good enough” to rise to the level of leadership has to adapt to their situation to be the best leader they can be, in the circumstances they face.


Leaders are born in the crucible of challenge. We work with what we have, not what’s missing.


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