This study challenges a stereotype about women business leaders

Technology Eye | May. 10, 2016

When it comes to leadership, women are bolder than men. This surprising finding by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEO and president respectively of leadership consultancy Zenger/Folkman , appears to challenge conventional thinking that women leaders tend to be more risk averse than their male colleagues.

Zenger and Folkman compiled a “boldness” index from their database of 360-degree assessments from 75,000 leaders around the world, and found that on average women were bolder than men.

Their index is based on seven behaviours they routinely measure in leadership assessments:

- Challenges standard approaches

- Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement

- Does everything possible to achieve goals

- Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible

- Energizes others to take on challenging goals

- Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed

- Has the courage to make needed changes

In an article for Harvard Business Review , they explain their findings: that, on average, women rank in the 52nd percentile on the boldness scale, just higher than men who are in the 49th percentile. (They point out that there are nearly twice as many men in their data set because of the gender imbalance at senior levels)

This doesn’t seem like a big difference, but Zenger and Folkman say it’s significant “because ‘men take more risks’ is so ingrained in social science.”

Where are the boldest women in business?

Women in sales showed the highest boldness score, while female leaders in engineering and safety had the lowest. But in every business function, women had higher boldness ratings on average than male leaders.

As this chart shows, in female-dominated functions such as HR, women’s average boldness was not that different from men’s. Conversely, in male-dominated functions such as R&D, facilities, IT, and manufacturing, women leaders were bolder.

Zenger and Folkman then analyzed the top eight male-dominated functions and the two female-dominated functions by gender and age to find out whether women become bolder over time, or whether they were bolder from the outset of their careers.

Their data showed that women aged 30 or under in male-dominated professions were rated in the 62nd percentile, while women in the same age group in the female-dominated professions were in the 42nd percentile.

They believe that being a younger woman in a male-dominated function “requires a fairly bold personality — a willingness to challenge the status quo, push harder for results, and do something out of the ordinary”.

So are women bolder than men? Zenger and Folkman conclude: “Probably not in the general population. But the ones who succeed in business, especially men-dominated fields, may have to be.”

Have you read? Which countries have the boldest business leaders? Christine Lagarde: Women need ‘skin as thick as a crocodile’ to make it to top

SOURCE: World Economic Forum

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