Female leadership

March 11th, 2016

Roselle van den Brink

Last Tuesday, the 8th of March, International Women’s Day took place: a nice reason to talk about women in organizations.

Even though I dislike the fact that we need a day to remind ourselves that women have rights too, apparently it is needed. Being a female student, of course I say that women should be equal to men in the workplace. Since 2000, around half of the vacancies in the European Union are filled by women and also a lot of multinational companies set targets for themselves, for instance to have 1/3rd of top management vacancies filled by women. It is a nice start.

Gender inequality has always been present at the work floor. Even in the 21st century, after a lot of feminists in the previous century, the gender gap is present. For instance, 46% of organizational staff is female, while less than 25% of the board members in the EU is female, but they do have a higher educational degree (60% of university graduates is feminine). When looking at female CEO’s in the United States, only around 3% of them are women. Another percentage to illustrate the gender gap considering salary for instance, shows us that in 2014 women in the EU earned on average around 16,4% less than their male co-workers in the same position (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-4552_nl.htm). In the Netherlands though, the political party PvdA designed a legislative proposal to make these differences in salary more visible and thus easy to fight.

I think the point is made. One reason that could explain the number of men in board positions is that men like to have power. Power equals success for them and the status that comes with it makes men feel successful (http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/oct/28/what-does-success-look-like-for-you). Women’s sense of success is about ‘having the freedom to live to your own values’, and thus every women will have different measures of success, which not necessarily imply top-positions. 

It is unfortunate that women are not in top-positions that regularly. It has been proved that women are more effective leaders than men. Remarkable is that when you type ‘female leadership’ in Google, the first things that pop up are several programs for women to develop their inner leader and other female leadership communities.

Significant proof has been found (I will not disturb you with quantitative research, this is just to show that this research is not based on coincidences) for women to be more effective leaders than men. Indeed, when starting the career, men seem to be slightly more effective, but when passing the age of 35, women get more and more effective, while men get less effective leaders (http://www.businessinsider.com/study-women-are-better-leaders-2014-1?IR=T). The higher women come in the organization, the more effective they will become. A possible explanation for women being more effective when getting older is that men feel like they have enough experience built up after these years, and it will hard their status if they ask for feedback. Women do ask this feedback, which makes them able to learn more.

Okay, being fair to say: men are better on technical expertise and in developing strategic perspectives. But skills where women excel in are nurturing competencies such as developing others, inspiring and motivating others, relationship building, collaboration and teamwork: meaning that female leaders get things done more easily and are better role models.  Other skills where women showed higher effectiveness than men were taking initiative, displaying integrity and honesty, and striving for results. Apparently not only our motherly skills work out well.

Clearly, no worries are needed about women performing poorly in higher positions. I hope organizations will recognize this in time for me and other female co-students to climb the organizational ladder.