Male or female, which gender is more effective in leadership? In a nutshell, women and men seem to lead differently because they possess different innate characteristics. But before we discuss the differences in their levels of success as leaders, let us consider how people view leadership on a general scale.
To most people, leadership is synonymous to men and not women – many believe that men were born to rule! This may be the reason why more men than women occupy leadership positions like CEO, President, Governor, and so on. For instance, analysis carried out in 2012 showed that only 3.8% of women assumed the position of CEO in Fortune 500 companies, and women occupied only 90 seats of the 535 seats in United States Congress. What is not clear, even to researchers, is whether women do not attain leadership positions as much as men because they cannot handle those positions successfully, or because society at large expects them to fumble at these positions.
Success in leadership is often associated with masculinity; people believe that because of the innate traits of “hunter” and “protector” in men, they are the best fit for leadership positions. Women on the other hand, are viewed as more compassionate and kind, so people believe that these traits in women, while important, are “weak links” when it comes to leadership. Based on various analysis conducted between 1962 and 2011 measured effectiveness in leadership between men and women. Within these 49 years of research, 99 studies were carried out and their results showed that the makeup of an organization will determine which gender is best as its leader. For instance, in environments like education and social services, women tend to excel as the best leaders, and men excel in male dominated environments like government or the military.
A part of the results also showed that when men and women leaders were asked to evaluate their performances, men rated themselves higher than women. However, when third-party observers like subordinates and peers where asked to evaluate the men and women leaders, women were noted as more effective leaders than men. Why are there discrepancies in the results (that is men rating themselves as the best leaders while third–party observers said women are the best leaders)? Here are some possible explanations to the differences:
First, there is a current revolution in leadership that now puts more emphasis on collaboration and empowerment, which are traits more commonly associates with women, making women more attractive as leaders in many arenas.
Second, since it is quite difficult for women to attain the positions of leadership in our society, women who make it to the top as leaders are seen as extraordinary. Thus, they are afforded with honor and elevated proficiency.
Lastly, men often see themselves as better leaders than women by virtue of their gender and traditional role in society. Their personal assessment of themselves as leaders is greater than many of their female counterparts.
What can we conclude from these findings? Effective leadership is can be attained by both men and women. There are environments where men will be in the best position to lead, and, conversely, there are environments where leadership is best left for women. So gender should not be the yardstick for selecting leaders, rather, competency and proficiency should be the key!