Gender in leadership

28 Jul 2016

In the last few months, the gender gap has continued to hit the headlines with stories of women being passed over for top jobs. There has also been discussion about the pay gap between men and women in a wide variety of industries, including business, film making, and sport.

But with the appointment of Theresa May as the UK’s new Prime Minister, the possibility of Hilary Clinton becoming America’s first female President, and more women like Veronique Laury and Alison Cooper being appointed CEO’s of FTSE100 companies, I’m been wondering why that is.

Society’s views on working women have hugely progressed in the last 20-30 years. So often, however, you still hear people associating leadership success with their ability to “assert their dominance” and “take down” their opponents. We still couch ideas about leadership in very aggressive, traditionally “masculine” language.

Historically as a result of these stereotypes and language choices, women have been assumed to perform more poorly than men in the upper echelons of the business word. More recently, we have seen a shift in “traditional leadership” skills and strategies, with many realising that so-called “feminine traits,” including nurturing and compassion, are also required to deliver great management.

So is it better for a leader to have traditionally masculine or feminine traits?

Traditionally male dominated industries such as governments and the military were more effectively lead by men. Whereas businesses in the education, health and social services sectors proved women were ahead of men as more adept bosses.

So that made me want to take a look at our industry and see how women fair in the Tech industry and the results were surprising. Women eyeing top jobs fair better in the Technology sector than FTSE firms. It’s very encouraging that in 2016 20% of all UK based Tech firms are run by women.

Saying that, London is looking surprisingly behind the times playing the part of that “old boys club” with a fifth of these companies not having even a single female at board level. As an industry are we letting ourselves down and undermining upcoming talent by not fully engaging women in technology careers?

The opportunities in the digital sector can only increase as the digital age continues to surge forward, as well as inspiring and informing females is it time to reassess how tech companies, well, all companies appoint employees to management roles?

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology tried to shed some light on this debate. They carried out research on 99 different studies to measure leaders’ effectiveness between 1962 and 2011, but were unable to give a definitive answer on whether male or female leaders excelled.

What was unsurprising was that the results of the study show that the culture and ethos of organisations is what makes a difference to who manages better.

While male bosses tended to score better at evaluating performance, coaching, imparting technical expertise, and delegation, their female counterparts were rated as better motivators, communicators, planners, and goal setters. Interestingly, both sexes come out equally when it came to driving change.

It would seem that a combination of the skills traditionally associated with both sexes is what makes a strong and capable leader. This points to the need for promotion and hiring methods based solely on skills, rather than the perceived abilities of the individual’s gender.