Study: Women Outscore Men in Most Leadership Skills


Jul 25, 2019


According to the latest analysis of thousands of 360-degree-reviews of people in corporate leadership positions by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman — of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy– has found that women in leadership positions are perceived as equally — if not more — competent as their male counterparts. The reviews, which combined employee ratings of leaders’ effectiveness along with leaders’ self-assessments found women outscored men on the vast majority of specific leadership competencies, to a statistically significant degree. Previous analysis by Zenger/Folkman in 2012 also found the same results.

Yet, the study, published in Harvard Business Review, says, “the disturbing fact is that the percentage of women in senior leadership roles in businesses has remained relatively steady since we conducted our original research. Only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women. And those numbers are declining globally.”

This study offers compelling evidence that it is not lack of capability but of opportunity that holds women back. When given those opportunities, women are just as likely to succeed in higher-level positions as men. The study says: “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. That includes the traditional male bastions of IT, operations, and legal.”

Lack of opportunity can take many forms, from a general cultural bias against women and stereotypes that dictate what life goals women can and ought to pursue to stereotypes that pressure women into prioritizing family over their careers, to unconscious gender bias in hiring practices. And because of the risk inherent to leadership decisions, it is easier for employers to succumb to unconscious bias against women and pass them over for promotion. “If 96 out of 100 people currently serving in comparable positions are male, and you are making the decision about who to promote, and you have a highly qualified female and a highly qualified male, what are you inclined to do? It may seem safer to choose the man,” the study explains. 

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Per the study, women outperformed men in taking initiative, resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, displaying high integrity and honesty and solving problems and analyzing issues. In fact, they were thought to be more effective than men in 17 out of 19 of the competencies measured. 

Men outscored women on two capabilities: “develops strategic perspective” and “technical or professional expertise,” both of which can be attributed to more experience owing to the privileged access they have had to higher education and employment and leadership opportunities. 

The study concludes that it is imperative for employers to change the way they hire and promote in senior positions by constantly asking themselves if they are functioning on autopilot and selecting the man over an equally eligible female candidate, who according to this research, will probably do the job better. 


Written By Pallavi Prasad

Pallavi Prasad is The Swaddle’s Features Editor. When she isn’t fighting for gender justice and being righteous, you can find her dabbling in street and sports photography, reading philosophy, drowning in green tea, and procrastinating on doing the dishes.


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