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why you should hire more female leaders (science-backed)

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

The following study suggest that women are better leaders than men in all aspects of the business. This backed by science statement is an open invitation for every company to start embrace more women in leadership positions.

Zenger and Folkman monitored the gender-disparity in management-positions for years. And the results are stunning.

“Taking initiative”, “resilience”, “practicing self-development” or “a drive for results” are only some of the criteria that make excellent leaders. And guess what? -Women score better than men at nearly all of those aspects.

woman in a leadership position holding a mug with an empowering message
Source: Brooke Lark - unsplash

a proven fact

To offer some context – for the study mentioned, Zenger and Folkman surveyed the leadership skills of 4.779 women and 3.876 men between 2016 and 2019. What they found is that women outscored men in 17 of the 19 categories that differentiate an excellent leader from an average one.

It is understandable that one study mightn't be enough for a scientific prove. That's the main reason why Zenger and Folkman already conducted the same study among another couple of thousand people back in 2012 – with the same result.

graphic chart of the reasons why women are better overall leaders

Considering this outcome, it is still unclear how can it be that women are so immensely underrepresented in leadership positions? The proportion of female board members in Austria just barely hit 26 % – and that’s mostly just because of a recently issued quota of 30 %. Internationally, the situation is even worse: Only 6,6% of Fortune-500-CEOs are women. And within the companies listed on the S&P-index, the proportion of female CEOs is 5,4 %. Let that sink... it’s the 21st Century and only 5,4% of the leading companies in the US have female decision-makers.

women underestimate their qualification

One reason why the disparity is so large might be that women often underestimate themselves while men are generally overconfident, Zenger and Folkman write. Everyone who has worked at a few companies probably has experienced this first-hand.

Looking at the evidence, while women are just as – if not more – effective than their male counterparts in leadership positions, they tend to lack opportunities. On one hand this can, of course, be traced back to the difference in confidence, but for the most part, it’s the fault of bad promotion politics.  

graphic chart on the disparities between women's confidence levels compared to men's

Interestingly, the findings regarding confidence apply to the whole professional life of a person – not just for leadership but also in terms of applying and job-hunting. For example, Zenger and Folkmann argue that women might only apply for a job when they fit the requirements while men are more overconfident about their skills and apply – even when they don’t fit the criteria. 

the unfortunate hardship women face

As Zenger and Folkman put it in in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review: “If 96 out of 100 people currently serving in comparable positions are male, and you are making the decision about who to promote, and you have a highly qualified female and a highly qualified male, what are you inclined to do? It may seem safer to choose the man?”

Decision-makers are influenced by an unconscious bias.

In cases like these, decision-makers are influenced by an unconscious bias. They perceive women as not-so-good decisions because of certain stereotypes. And they don't even notice. Luckily, managers and consultants are increasingly becoming aware of the problem now. But still, it’s a long way to go – and the best thing we all can do to battle this kind of bias is to raise awareness and demonstrate women deserve their place at the table.

the first steps towards a more equal business world

If you're asking yourself now how you can successfully elevate the number of women in leadership in your own company, we are here to help. Diversity & inclusion is not a one-time shot but a process that needs goals on a strategic level (like every other business aspect which should deliver results!). Read more about how to implement a diversity & inclusion strategy in our white paper here. We also wrote a piece to help you to attract and retain female talents, which you ultimately need to get more women in leadership positions. You can read more about it here.

If you feel like you could use some guidance in this process feel free to reach to us. We are more than happy to support you and your company's future initiatives.


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