In the spring of 2012, Harvard Business Review wrote an article titled ‘Are Women Better Leaders then Men?‘ bringing into review research data from Zenger Folkman, Inc. This research data negated the traditional view that women’s leadership strength lies in the nurturing aspect of managing people such as building relationships and nurturing others. In fact, the data shows that females edge slightly over males in 14 of the 16 competencies that were measured in all leadership positions.
So, naturally, there was backlash when in 2005, Harvard president and former Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers hosted a discussion at the Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce. He insinuated that the reason women were largely underrepresented in tenured positions at top universities and research institutions was due to difference in aptitude.
Summers’ direct quote:
So my best guess, to provoke you, of what’s behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people’s legitimate family desires and employers’ current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.
It has been 13 years since Summers has said that and women have been proving him wrong, diligently moving not only tech, but also into leadership positions.
The new wave of women-focused initiatives have helped with the influx of women onto quantitative fields and leadership positions.
And yet, majority of the leadership is male (64%). So, it serves us to revisit this historical data, to reminds us that investing in women’s leadership pathways is beneficial to the organization itself, and people morale.
Leadership Effectiveness by Gender
In this chart, at every level of leadership, women are rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — with the biggest gap at the highest level.
And yet, we have an inverse where currently the majority of the leaders at the highest level are male. So, with a renewed understanding and research data available, we can make a strong case for helping more women stay on the leadership track.
As we open up more work-style options and reinstate new diversity metrics, we can proactively help women not only have access, but stay in these leadership positions. This will make the path to leadership smoother for future generations, especially for our daughters.