An interesting set of arguments on women, whether they make better bosses or not, appeared in The New York Times (August 02, 2009). It is an interesting reading, if nothing else.
Do Women Make Better Bosses?
By The Editors
Credit, left to right: Barry Wetcher/Twentieth Century Fox, Andrew Schwarz/Twentieth Century Fox, United Artists Not the best role models: Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”; Sigourney Weaver in “Working Girl”; Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom.”
Do “female bosses tend to be better managers, better advisers, mentors, rational thinkers”?
That is the view of Carol Smith, the senior vice president and chief brand officer for the Elle Group, expressed in a short interview published inside The Times’s business section a week ago Sunday. Ms. Smith also said that male bosses “love to hear themselves talk” and that in some previous jobs she purposely arrived late to meetings so she could miss the men’s conversations about golf and football.
The interview, conducted by Adam Bryant, The Times’s deputy business editor, generated a lot of reaction and debate among readers last week.
What does research show about the differences between women and men as managers?
Alice Eagly, Northwestern University
Leora Tanenbaum, author of “Catfight”
Joanna Barsh, McKinsey and Company
Susan Pinker, psychologist and columnist
Gary N. Powell, University of Connecticut
Sharon Meers, former managing director at Goldman Sachs
Advantages, Yes, but Also a Double Standard
Alice Eagly is chairman of the department of social psychology at Northwestern University.
As a researcher on managerial behavior, I have read hundreds of studies that have compared women and men as managers. When we summarize all of that research, some differences do show up, although only “on the average.”
As with all averages, there are many exceptions. But here’s what we know from research:
Women are less ‘bossy,’ probably because people dislike bossy women even more than bossy men.
First, as Carol Smith illustrates, women are less “bossy,” probably because people dislike bossy women even more than bossy men. As a result, female managers are more collaborative and democratic than male managers. Second, compared with men, women use a more positive approach by encouraging and urging others rather than a negative approach of scolding and reprimanding them. Third, women attend more to the individuals they work with, by mentoring them and taking their particular situations into account.
Finally, there is the matter of getting the job done efficiently. Most managers, male and female, get their work done in a timely way, but some do not. When you find one of those barely functioning managers — that is, someone who avoids solving problems and just doesn’t get the job done, that person is more likely to be a man than a woman. Why? Perhaps because a woman would be fired or demoted more quickly for poor managing.
So, are women better managers than men? In terms of their day-to-day actions, women managers should have advantages. But the answer is really not so simple because managers do well only if people accept their authority.
In roles that have been held mainly by men, women’s competence is often questioned. In these situations, women managers can face a double standard. They have to be extra-competent to be recognized as effective. Where women managers are more common, this type of bias is less likely to prevail.
Belittling Other Women
Leora Tanenbaum is author of “Catfight: Rivalries Among Women: From Diets to Dating, From the Boardroom to the Delivery Room.”
Yes, countless female managers are great at making lists and sure, lots of men love to hear the sound of their own voices — endlessly. But none of this behavior matters if it’s accompanied with a denial of the continued existence of sexism in the workplace.
Many women who make it to senior management feel a need to prove their own superiority.
Consider: Women are routinely undervalued and assumed to lack competence. Successful men don’t have to worry about when and if to become parents; successful women do. Men earn more and are promoted more.
Troublingly, many individual women who make it to senior management refuse to acknowledge these very real conditions. They position themselves as uniquely and unusually qualified, implicitly belittling other women in a move to prove their own superiority.
Upon becoming president and C.E.O. of Hewlett-Packard in 1999, Carly Fiorina immediately distanced herself from her corporate sisters. Fiorina announced that “there is not a glass ceiling…. My gender is interesting but really not the subject of the story here.” Whether or not Fiorina was a superior CEO because she was a woman is certainly debatable — she was forced out in 2005 — and she was succeeded by another woman, Patricia Dunn, who was accused of spying on the company’s board members.
The best managers, female or male, are those who admit that the corporate structure favors men and who recognize their responsibility to help others follow in their footsteps.
More Emotional, for Better or Sometimes Worse
Joanna Barsh is a director in the New York office of McKinsey and Company and co-author of “How Remarkable Women Lead,” to be published in September.
We’ve been researching remarkable women leaders for the past five years. Indeed, we’ve now interviewed well over 100 women and a few good men. We’ve also developed a research survey that almost 2,000 men and women have responded to from around the world.
In a word, women have an edge over men in terms of what we call centered leadership. Women tend to look for meaning more than men at work (no surprise, men go for pay and status more often).
Women are natural relationship builders, but in general they take fewer risks than men.
Women also bring emotion to the workplace, and when those emotions are positive — that is quite powerful. Psychologists tell us that women experience emotions more at the extremes than men.
That’s why many women do replay negative events over and over.
But female optimists are a different story. Whereas many men rush off in any direction when adversity strikes, optimist women diagnose the situation, make a plan and then act. Are pessimists doomed to the cycle of spiraling down? Not at all. Positive psychologists teach learned optimism, and we can all take a lesson there.
Then there is connecting. Women are natural relationship-builders. But the debate rages as to whether men or women are better at networking. Our own work suggests women hold back, more reluctant to use reciprocity to build “transactional” relationships. That said, the research shows women are more inclusive and build consensus to reach decisions — something that may be increasingly important for large, complex and changing companies today.
When it comes to engaging, men are risk-takers. The women who have made their way to the top have also taken risk — it is the best way to develop at an accelerated pace. In general, we have found that many women don’t. We wait until we have all the necessary skills or the full answer.
Our model ends on energizing, because most women still do more of the household work. Energizing is critical for leaders — both to sustain one’s own path and also to infuse energy into the organization. One area where women can improve is to stop (yes) multitasking when our full attention is required. When you attempt to facilitate a phone conference while doing email, your brain switches between tasks, and you lose focus and energy.
When men and women assessed their own centered leadership practices, it turned out that women scored higher on almost all factors by a marginal amount. We haven’t got enough data to validate that finding, but there’s room for thought.
Are these the right attributes to gauge leadership? We believe they are even more important in today’s marketplace.
Women Are More Effective Mind Readers
Susan Pinker is a psychologist and columnist for the Globe and Mail in Canada. She is the author of “The Sexual Paradox,” about the roots of sex differences in the classroom and the workplace.
No doubts: Some sex differences exist, and there’s new evidence to prove it. Women are often better communicators because their brains are more networked for language. The majority of women are better at “mind-reading,” than most men; they can read the emotions written on people’s faces more quickly and easily, a talent jump-started by the vast swaths of neural real estate dedicated to processing emotions in the female brain, and boosted by jolts of oxytocin at critical moments in their lives. (Amazingly, oxytocin, a hormone circulating in greater quantities in women, squirted up a man’s nostril boosts his mind-reading skills, too.)
While women may be more empathetic than men, individual female managers who have climbed the ladder may not be.
And the thicker corpus callosum connecting women’s two hemispheres provides a swifter superhighway for processing social messages, such as reading the morale of a group, or the mood of a colleague. And there are measurable sex differences in empathy, as President Obama suggested when he nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. There are more women who are champions at imagining what other people are thinking and feeling, and more men who struggle mightily with this skill.
But is this profile true of all women, and does it mean women make better managers? The answer is no, and no.
First, all scientific evidence is based on statistical averages; an individual’s unique qualities are always blended into the group’s. So, even if men are taller than women, on average, variation means that there will always be some women who are taller than some men. And just as women are more empathic, on average, there are certainly men who are softer, and better empathizers than some women.
The readers’ complaints about difficult female managers that appear under the interview with Carol Smith make that clear: aggression is certainly more common among men, but for many reasons, the women who rise up the ranks may be on the more competitive and aggressive side — and their subordinates often feel it — especially the women who work with them.
Competition within each sex is more fierce than it is between the sexes, and one study shows that women report less stress if the boss is a man.
One reason is that competition within each sex is more fierce than it is between the sexes, and within-sex tension increases when resources are tight, as they are in this recession. One study published in 2008 by two sociologists at the University of Toronto, Scott Schieman and Taralyn McMullen, reinforces that maxim. When the scientists looked at physical and mental distress among 1,000 American employees working in a variety of jobs, they found that men worked best with gender-mixed managers: one male, one female. Women, however, worked best with one male manager — reporting fewer headaches, backaches anxiety, and difficulties concentrating than they did when they worked for a woman.
Which shows that Carol Smith is wrong about her blanket statement about women being better managers. But she’s right about something else. Whether we’re talking about mentoring, managing or office politics, the research is clear: “Men and women together are the best.”
A Transformational Style
Gary N. Powell is professor of management in the School of Business of the University of Connecticut in Storrs. He is working on the fourth edition of “Women and Men in Management” and is author of “Managing a Diverse Workforce” and editor of “Handbook of Gender and Work.”
Carol Smith sounds like an excellent manager. Further, her statement that women as a group are better managers than men as a group is supported by recent research. Female leaders tend to display a “transformational” leadership style, which has been demonstrated to contribute to leader effectiveness, more than male leaders do.
Good managers have been seen over three decades as exhibiting more masculine traits than feminine traits.
Transformational leadership includes charisma (communicating the purpose and importance of a mission and serving as a role model), inspirational motivation (exuding optimism and excitement about the mission’s attainability), intellectual stimulation (encouraging others to think out of the box), and individualized consideration (focusing on the development and mentoring of subordinates as individuals).
Ms. Smith is a good example of a transformational leader. When she sits at the middle of the conference table rather than at its head, arriving after the requisite jokes have been told, she communicates, “We are all in this together and I am part of it, but let’s not waste time,” which is the starting point of transformational leadership.
So why aren’t there more women in the corner offices of corporate America? Although more women than ever before are in the managerial ranks of businesses at all levels, women continue to face significant disadvantages in the leader role than men do not face.
First, polls suggest that about twice as many people would rather work for a male boss than a female boss, although “it doesn’t matter to me” is the slight favorite. Second, in my research with D. Anthony Butterfield, good managers have been seen over three decades as exhibiting more masculine traits associated with men, such as autonomy and independence, than feminine traits associated with women, such as warmth and sensitivity to the needs of others.
Many people still see an incongruity between the female gender role and the leader role, which makes it harder for women to attain corner office positions and puts them in an unwelcome spotlight when they do. In 2006, after PepsiCo announced that Indra Nooyi would become its new CEO, the headline of the New York Times story was, “A Woman to Be Chief at PepsiCo.” No headline has ever announced “A Man to Be Chief at Acme Corp.”
A Female Specialty: Feedback
Sharon Meers is co-author of “Getting to 50/50,” about working couples, and a former managing director at Goldman Sachs. She and her husband created the Partnership for Parity at Stanford Business School and the Dual-Career Initiative at Harvard University.
The best thing about female managers? They get you paid more. Women bosses tend to fight harder for their subordinates, according to negotiation research, getting better raises for their teams.
I’ve worked for many great men. But, in my experience, female managers are a special breed. We won’t know for decades if the differences are due more to nature or nurture but they are largely good — and stem from the fact that senior women are still outsiders.
Harvard Business School research says star women are more likely than male stars to remain persistently high performers. Why? Women don’t get the same access to mentors and networks and have to build muscle that men don’t. Star women have to innovate to outperform — building stronger client ties, finding outside advisers, seeking opportunities with results that can be measured objectively.
Women often take an alternative approach to leading teams — encouraging more open discussion, cultivating talent and sharing credit. Feedback is the place where women bosses may add the most value.
Straight talk from a boss at Goldman Sachs.
After seven years at Goldman, I got my first female manager — and more straight talk than in my entire career. She minced no words when I messed up, but she also made it clear she was on my side: my advocate. That powerful combination — candor and trust — inspired her team to accept and act on feedback in a way I hadn’t seen before.
In hundreds of interviews of workers and bosses for our book, we repeatedly heard employees complain about the feedback style of male bosses (everything from excessively harsh to evasive). Male bosses were no more satisfied: Many are now so unsure what’s O.K. in the workplace, they fear female workers’ crying or complaints to HR.
So here’s the real question: How to make the positive qualities we see in female managers more common in men — and more useful to all? A new report from Catalyst shows how companies win when we escape the idea that men and women are so different and work harder to get on the same page — so that men and women bring out the best in each other sharing the same C-suite.