While women continue on average to earn less money than men -- 80 cents on the dollar -- they are outpacing men in education by earning 57 percent of the bachelor's and master's degrees expected in 2005; and now comprise 46 percent of the workforce.
While 38 percent of working women are in management and professional positions,* women in top-level leadership positions is still a rarity.
However, for that small percentage of women who do hold leadership positions, they are forging a new style of leadership, according to new and compelling research from Caliper, a Princeton-based management consulting firm that has assessed the potential of more than two million applicants and employees for companies such as Avis, FedEx and Johnson & Johnson.
The study -- The Qualities that Distinguish Women Leaders -- revealed significant findings regarding the traits that differentiate women leaders and how those qualities compare to men in similar executive positions.
"Each Labor Day we are reminded of the great strides women have made professionally. Our study provides some explanation behind why women are succeeding and rising to new levels," Herb Greenberg, PhD., CEO of Caliper said.
"What we found is that the women we assessed had qualities traditionally thought to be common to leaders -- assertiveness, persuasiveness, and risk-taking. However, when combined with empathy, flexibility and the strong interpersonal skills we know women leaders to have, a more inclusive, open, consensus-building leader emerges. "
Sample and Methods
While much research has been published comparing the leadership styles of women and men, this study specifically focused on their defining personality qualities and motivational factors.
This study included an in-depth personality assessment via the Caliper Profile, a demographic analysis, and interviews with 60 women leaders from some of the top companies in the United Kingdom and the United States, including Accenture, Bank of America, IBM, Molson Coors and Morgan Stanley.
The women in the study came from 19 different business sectors; including Finance, Computer, Education & Consulting, Health Products & Services and Real Estate. For comparison purposes, the women leaders in this study were matched to a representative sample of male leaders drawn from Caliper's database, representing similar industries and job titles.
Leadership style that starts with questions and leads to decisions.
The difference in leadership styles between men and women starts with listening. Not just listening to form an answer, but listening, learning, reflecting, to then implement a plan that incorporates the best of everyone's ideas.
Because women leaders are more open about sharing information, they will also talk decisions through with many more people than their male counterparts.
According to Mara Swan, Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources for Manpower, "There's no question that we ask for more input. I like to think out loud. And I am very stimulated by other people's thoughts, ideas and perspectives. Then it's my job to integrate them and come to the best decision."
As Dr. Greenberg explains, "The truth of the matter is that the top-down, hierarchical approach to leadership doesn't work very well in today's economy. With information much more easily accessible, leadership depends less upon protecting information and more upon sharing what is known."
Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts.
The strong people skills possessed by women leaders enable them to read situations accurately and take in information from all sides. This willingness to see all sides of a situation enhances their persuasive ability. They can zero in on concerns or objections expressed, weigh these, then address and incorporate them into the grander scheme of things as appropriate.
These women leaders genuinely understand and care about where others are coming from, allowing them to approach a subject from another person's perspective. The people they lead feel better understood, supported and valued.
When faced with rejection, women leaders learn from adversity and carry on even stronger.
The women in this study expressed a unique approach toward dealing with disappointment, rejection or situations that don't work out their way.
Dr. Greenberg explains, "They will feel the sting of being set back. They may even dwell on it, and tend to be a little self-critical. But then because of their assertiveness, they will shake it off, and carry on with an 'I'll show you' attitude."
Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks.
Women leaders scored significantly lower than male leaders in their desire to adhere to established procedures and their levels of cautiousness. They were also significantly higher in their levels of urgency and risk taking. And they possessed very high scores in abstract reasoning.
As a result, women leaders are more likely to push back if they are overly bound by regulations and rules, as well as engage in more risk taking and come up with innovative solutions. They tend to have a greater need to get things done than male leaders and are less likely to hesitate or focus on the small details.
Learning a thing or two from men, without being like them.
Swan notes that male and female leaders express their differences through language. "I always considered myself a fairly aggressive woman, but early in my career, I would find myself asking for permission, rather than saying, 'Here is what I need and here is why I need it.' So, I started to change my language, just slightly, and I was much more successful."
Are women creating a new paradigm of leadership?
The answer may be "yes." This study provides preliminary evidence that women bring clear personality and motivational strengths to leadership.
"We're looking at a different paradigm of leadership, and it plays naturally to the strengths of women," says Regina Sacha, Vice President of Human Resources for FedEx Custom Critical. "The tide has turned. The leadership skills that come naturally to women are now absolutely necessary for companies to continue to thrive. It certainly is the reverse of how it was when I first started out in the workplace. It seems like poetic justice."
Dr. Greenberg underscores, "The nature of the information economy favors teamwork and requires a leadership style that is more inclusive and accepting, rather than autonomous and controlling. Women leaders have shown us that influence and persuasion have taken the place of giving orders and delegating tasks."
He adds, "The strong leadership profile exhibited by the women we studied points to the future. The female view that we strengthen ourselves by strengthening others is re-defining leadership. The strong profile these women leaders share shows they are assertive, persuasive, empathic, willing to take risks, and have a need to get things done."
Caliper's research continues as the company studies women leaders in other societies and cultures including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain and Singapore.
*Labor statistics taken from 2003 U.S. Census Bureau data and 2004 Department of Labor Data.
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