Thursday, December 2, 2010

Women have superior leadership traits

One of the lectures I gave toward the end of my career as a basic-course director had to do with leadership in which I provided some of the latest findings regarding gender differences and leadership styles.  At that time — more than fifteen years ago now — the research regarding gender differences was in its infancy; thus, it was more difficult to make the case that Dee Dee Myers makes in her book, Why women should rule the world  (HarperCollins, 2008).  Although her conclusion resides in the title of the book, in this essay I am more interested in the research that supports her conclusion.   

Look at some of the research Myers offers in her book, then you can make up your own mind regarding the strength of female leadership.  Scientists have found structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal, and functional differences in male and female brains, but it is the way these differences affect the way they process language, solve problems, and remember emotional events that, in the end, affect the way they lead. (p. 63) 

From her own experience, Myers commented on the sixteen women in the Senate.  From her observation she states, “Women do seem more interested in consensus.  They do seem less consumed by the constant who’s-up-and-who’s-down score-keeping aspect of the political game.  They do seem more willing to listen to other people’s opinions” (p. 8).  Myers offers one caveat, however, when she says, “That’s not to say that all women fit this model; they don’t” (p. 8). 

“According to studies,” Myers writes later in her book, “men’s self-esteem derives more from their ability to maintain independence from others while women’s self-esteem is maintained, in part, by the ability to sustain intimate relationships” (p. 76). 

The problem that women have — despite the limited amount of progress they are making — is the double standard.  “Male attitudes, ideas, interests, views, values, and voices are the norm.  And since females don’t necessarily share them, it’s still too often seen as proof positive that they don’t quite get it” (p. 41).  Why does this double standard exist?  Because for several millennia women were responsible for raising children and managing domestic matters.  “Public life,” says Myers, “was the province of men, created by and for men.  When women started moving into this traditionally male bastion, they had to take that world as they found it” (p. 41). 

Visit the Catalyst Press Room web site, to read the essay, “Damned or Doomed — Catalyst Study on Gender Stereotyping at Work Uncovers Doublebind Dillemmas for Women.”  The Catalyst research reports that women are viewed by both men and women as better at team building and encouraging others while men are perceived better at influencing superiors, solving problems, and making decisions. 

In another Catalyst study, researchers looked at Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards.  When compared with companies with the fewest women in the board room, these companies performed better financially, had a higher return on equity, a higher return on sales, and a higher return on invested capital as well.   

Myers delineates some of the specific differences researchers have found.  “Research shows there is no gender difference in general intelligence. [but]...Men are better at mathematical problem solving; women are better at mathematical calculation,” Myers writes.  “Men are better at mentally rotating shapes; women are better at visual and women are exactly the same in terms of average intelligence, and most cluster around the middle of the curve. show more variation; there are more men at both extremes of the curve; there are more boneheads and more geniuses,” Myers writes on pages 68-69. 

Citing research from Dr. Louann Brizendine’s book, The Female Brain, (Broadway, 2006) Myers notes that at eight weeks following conception, the dose of testosterone that male babies receive “kills off cells in the communication, observation and emotion processing centers of the brain — and growing cells in the sex and aggression centers” (pp. 70-71).  “The areas of men’s brains that control action and aggression are predictably devote two and a half times the brain space to their sex drives!” (p. 74) 

“According to Brizendine,” Myers writes, “women have ‘outstanding verbal agility, the ability to connect deeply in friendship, a nearly psychic capacity to read faces and tone of voice for emotions and states of mind, the ability to defuse conflict.  All of this is hardwired into the brains of women’” (p. 81). 

With respect to the number of neurons men and women have in their brains, they are the same, however, in the areas important to leadership qualities — those in the areas that control language and hearing — “women have on average 11 percent more neurons than men” (p. 71). 

The way these differences reveal themselves make an important difference.  As noted in a wide variety of research studies, men are more competitive and “according to one study, an astonishing fifty times more competitive,” and women are more cooperative.  Women, Myers notes, are “much more likely to seek consensus and be more concerned with fairness, rather than competition.  Studies show,” Myers writes, “that they take turns twenty times more often than boys.  The relationship — not winning — is the goal” (pp. 71-71). 

An important study at UCLA by Dr. Laura Cousino Klein and Dr. Shelley Taylor on the way men and women manage stress revealed that, “When men are stressed, they get in someone’s face — or retreat into their proverbial caves....Women were more likely to respond to stress in their own way: by hanging out with their kids or talking things over with a friend or family member” (pp. 86-87).  It is a “fight-or-flight” versus a “tend and befriend” set of responses. 

Later in her book, Myers cites studies that show women are better at creating and keeping the peace by “ratcheting down the violence, creating opportunities for reconciliation, and beginning the process of rebuilding” (pp. 110-111).  With respect to violence, men are the primary perpetrators of murder, forcible rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, fraud, theft, vandalization, arson, and drug use. (p. 120). 

Whether liked or not, stereotypical males are “aggressive, ambitious, assertive, forceful, [and] self-confident” whereas stereotypical females are “helpful, kind, friendly, sympathetic, and affectionate” (p. 149).  Perhaps the key now is to redefine leadership and redefine power.  In the information age in which we are living, fortunately, that is already happening. 


At the Deccan Herald website, the essay is entitled, “Women paving way for superior leadership roles: KPMG study.”  The opening says: “Organizations are increasingly recognizing that women do bring substantive diversity to company boards in terms of their composition, skill sets and experiences.”  It is an excellent essay reporting important survey results.  Here is one comment from the essay: “KPMG Executive Director Human Resource in India, Sangeeta Singh, said, “Our research evidence reveals that women leaders are self-critical of their own strengths and weaknesses and tend to rebound gracefully from setbacks. They tend to be intuitive crisis managers enabling fair and sound judgment. Further, they drive a democratic and inclusive approach by building an ecosystem and nurturing talent.” 

“As leaders, women rule,” is an essay published at the website,  Rochelle Sharpe in Boston reports, in this excellent essay, that, ''Women are scoring higher on almost everything we look at,'' says Shirley Ross, an industrial psychologist who helped oversee a study performed by Hagberg Consulting Group in Foster City, Calif. Hagberg conducts in-depth performance evaluations of senior managers for its diverse clients, including technology, health care, financial-service, and consumer-goods companies. Of the 425 high-level executives evaluated, each by about 25 people, women execs won higher ratings on 42 of the 52 skills measured.”  This essay is valuable, specific, and definitely worth a read. 


Copyright December, 2010, by And Then Some Publishing, LLC.


  1. After reading this, I'm pissed off and I just want to have sex.

  2. HA! Jimmylee, Jimmylee, Jimmylee, you have outdone yourself this time! Remember the point of the essay, "Women make better leaders than men." Should be no problem; just let her lead the way, calm your angry attitude, and, from now on, have her read my essays to you.


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