Recent research provides eye-popping results about the leadership effectiveness of women in business. As measured by a 360-degree evaluation by 7,280 leaders, women are perceived as more skilled than men on 15 of 16 leadership characteristics. The 16th skill, strategic perspective, when isolated to the executive suite — where that skill is more present and more important — is similar between women and men.
As an advocate for women in leadership, this finding surprised even me. But it does underscore what research is telling us about “The Woman Effect” — that women in leadership can dramatically improve an organization’s performance.
In addition to this study, I found evidence for other reasons women are having such a positive impact on business, innate and cultural.
- Women and men working together produces smarter results.
- Women can be good investors and shrewd risk takers.
- Demographics are shifting to help couples find work-life balance as men and women establish a partnership at home.
It’s interesting that this research-based view of women’s business and leadership acumen hasn’t penetrated many executive suites yet. Many clients and colleagues tell me they struggle to get women’s leadership initiatives high on the company agenda. Though it’s an extreme example, one colleague told me that when the human resources department showed the CEO the paltry female demographics in the company, the CEO — while appropriately desiring to bring more women into leadership — suggested giving all of the women in the company an IQ test to prove they are as smart as men.
In an odd way, this response is reasonable — if we want women to bring their skills to our business in equal numbers, we should be able to see proof of their equality and impact, not only on a corollary basis but also on an individual level. On the other hand, of course, an IQ test as the instrument of proof is ludicrous.
What the plethora of research on this topic (and on leadership in general) demonstrates on women, men and leadership is that corporate leadership isn’t a bunch of psychological indicators; it’s a rich interaction of capable and qualified individuals who represent diverse thoughts, experiences and insight. Bring the best women and men have to offer into your leadership class and, in the mix, you have a powerful resource for company growth and performance.
To underscore this point, studies show that when women make up 30% or more of leadership — i.e., beyond a “token” representation — a company is likely to see The Woman Effect “leadership bump” in performance, innovation and profitability. The bottom line is that this discussion is no longer about whether women deserve to be leading at your company but how you’re going to make sure they are there in representative numbers so your business results reflect the improved performance they bring.
If you’re a female leader or leading a company with many female leaders, know that women’s presence on the leadership team is contributing to the company’s leadership bump, and make sure female colleagues know the good news. If your leadership culture is not at least 30% female, what are you waiting for? If you’re not sure how to start, contact me.