To close the executive gender gap, should women act more like men at work?


Women make up more than half of the workforce, yet just five percent of CEOs are women. These stark facts drive a question: To get ahead at work, should women act more like men?

The answer is no, according to two new studies from Development Dimensions International — with one exception.

In their studies DDI, a global leadership consultancy, along with The Conference Board, identified "confidence" as one of the few but significant leadership differences between male and female leaders.

When it comes to confidence, "women need to do a better job of declaring themselves and becoming their own advocates — speaking and acting confidently and mentally promoting themselves to a future-focused role," said Tacy Byham, PhD, CEO of DDI. "With this mindset, our own behaviors change. And, a woman's impact is strengthened and improves her ability to get that seat at the table."

DDI and The Conference Board's study, "Ready-Now Leaders: Cultivating Women in Leadership to Meet Tomorrow's Business Challenges," and DDI's High-Resolution Leadership study, which assessed data from 10,000 business leaders from around the world, found men and women are equally qualified in the hard and soft skills required to lead a business, with neither gender scoring higher than the other. However, the studies did identify three personality differences between the sexes: inquisitiveness, sensitivity and impulsiveness.

Here are five findings from the studies.

1. Women are typically less confident and less likely to rate themselves as highly effective leaders compared with men. Just 30 percent of women rate themselves in the top 10 percent of leaders, compared with 37 percent of men, according to the studies. At the senior level, 63 percent of men rate themselves as highly-effective leaders compared to 49 percent of women.

2. The disparity between men and women at the executive level is not a result of differences in skill sets. Men and women were found to be equally effective at a variety of business drivers, including building high-performance cultures, engaging employees, cultivating a consumer-focused culture, creating alignment and accountability, enhancing organizational talent, building strategic partnerships and relationships, driving process innovation and driving efficiency.

"The reality is we tend to focus too much on differences, which are actually few and far between," said Richard S. Wellins, PhD, senior vice president of DDI and study co-author. "The disparity in gender diversity has little to do with competence levels."

3. Differences in certain personality traits between men and women leaders exist. The research found men are 16 percent more inquisitive than women, which could be due to their tendency to gravitate toward science, technology, engineering and math careers that reinforce inquiry. Men are also 11 percent more impulsive than women. Women demonstrate greater interpersonal sensitivity than men (13 percent more), which could be advantageous in cultures where leaders are valued for their demeanor and interactions with others.

4. Organizations with a greater proportion of women in leadership yield better financial performance. The research found 37 percent of leaders are women in organizations in the top 20 percent of financial performers. Organizations with women in at least 30 percent of leadership roles are 12 times more likely to be in the top 20 percent of financial performers, according to the studies. Organizations in the bottom 20 percent have 19 percent or fewer of their leaders as women. 

5. The U.S. ranks fourth globally in the percentage of women leaders. The Philippines placed first, with 51 percent of its leaders being women, followed by Thailand at 39 percent. Canada came in third place with 37 percent, and the U.S. had 36 percent.

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