Female leadership systematically underestimated

by Human Capital08 May 2012

Contrary to popular belief and even previous studies, researchers have discovered women may actually outperform in areas traditionally considered to be the domain of men.

The findings were arrived at by leadership consultancy firm Zenger Folkman after surveying more than 7,000 business leaders. It was found that across 16 core competencies, the leaders who were consistently found to come out on top were all women. The skills included:

  • Inspirational leadership
  • Motivating and developing others
  • Building relationships
  • Collaboration and teamwork

The researchers found that whilst stereotypes have assumed that men are stronger in driving for results, championing change, taking initiative, and problem solving, women actually received higher scores on all those than did their male counterparts.

While the survey delivered findings which indicate a shift in perspectives, it also reinforced some alarming statistics which show that women continue to be overlooked for high level leadership positions. Men comprise:

  • 67% of senior management roles
  • 78% of top management positions

Is the imbalance improving?

Jillian Broadbent, one of Australia's most successful directors and board member of the Reserve Bank, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the state of business leadership has changed markedly since she began her career. From a time when women faced systematic assumptions that they either wouldn’t want senior roles, or weren’t competent, government policy and supportive female mentors has led to a slow cultural shift. It’s not just women who win in shifting mindsets, but the workplace as a whole, Broadbent said. “I think there's a greater awareness of the personal and individual elements of people in your team and people respond ... to that. I think there can be quite warmer relationships building at work when you've got a mix of genders,” she added.

As an individual who walks the talk of female leadership advancement, Broadbent believes it will be possible to achieve genuine equality in Australian workplaces. “I think it's just gradually building up the evidence of successful women staying there and keeping on,” she said. “That just takes a long time to do, I don’t think there's any magic wand.”


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