Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills

Given that today was the ticker-tape parade to celebrate the U.S. Women’s Soccer team winning the World Cup, this seemed like an appropriate time to share this research I recently came across.

Using their database of 360-degree reviews in which they asked individuals to rate each leaders’ effectiveness overall and to judge how strong they are on specific competencies, Jack Zener, CEO and Joseph Folkman, CEO and President, respectively, of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consulting firm, found that women in leadership positions are perceived just as — if not more — competent as their male counterparts.

The data shows that women are perceived by their managers — particularly their male managers — to be slightly more effective than men at every hierarchical level and in virtually every functional area of the organization.

According to the analysis, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. Here are the results:

Capability Women’s percentile Men’s percentile
Takes initiative 55.6 48.2
Resilience 54.7 49.3
Practices self-development 54.8 49.6
Drives for results 53.9 48.8
Displays high integrity and honesty 54.0 49.1
Develops others 54.1 49.8
Inspires and motivates others 53.9 49.7
Bold leadership 53.2 49.8
Builds relationships 53.2 49.9
Champions change 53.1 49.8
Establishes stretch goals 52.6 49.7
Collaboration and teamwork 52.6 50.2
Connects to the outside world 51.6 50.3
Communicates powerfully and prolifically 51.8 50.7
Solves problems and analyzes issues 51.5 50.4
Leadership speed 51.5 50.5
Innovates 51.4 51
Technical or professional expertise 50.1 51.1
Develops strategic perspective 50.1 51.4

The authors found it interesting that when women are asked to assess themselves, they are not as generous in their ratings., perhaps a sign of a lack of confidence. They gathered data to look at confidence and found that there was a large difference between men and women under 25. The authors note that it’s highly probable that those women are far more competent than they think they are, while the male leaders are overconfident and assuming they are more competent than they are. At age 40, the confidence ratings merge. As people age their confidence generally increases; surprisingly, over the age of 60 we see male confidence decline, while female confidence increases.

Here is a chart that reflects such results:

The researchers also looked at the trend in women’s perceptions of their overall leadership effectiveness, with their rating rising as they get older. Again, women at younger ages rate themselves significantly lower than men but their ratings climb — and eventually supersede those of men — as they get older.

Zener and Folkman conclude that women make highly competent leaders, according to those who work most closely with them — and what’s holding them back is not lack of capability but a dearth of opportunity and unconscious bias.

Hopefully, the U.S. Women’s soccer team will serve to inspire women of all ages to excel in any endeavor they pursue – sports, business, arts, sciences – it’s clear they are fully capable of doing so.

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