When Looking at Gender Differences in Leadership, Start with Data (Not Anecdotes)

The conversation about gender and its impact in the workplace began before women even entered the workforce in significant numbers. Today – whether in fiction, in journalism, in self-help books, or in the speeches politicians and pundits – the conversation about gender dynamics in the workplace continues to expand and evolve. The pay gap, gender parity in leadership, paid parental leave, establishing inclusive environments for a broader gender spectrum, and the right to a safe, harassment-free work environment – all of these are critical topics in the conversation around gender, and they have all been discussed with rising urgency in recent years.

Yet for all of this talk, it feels like progress is slow, and consensus on these topics is elusive.

How do we begin this conversation with some common ground, and avoid relying on stereotypes and biases? How do we learn to understand, acknowledge, and ultimately leverage the power of the differences in the way we lead? And critically for coaches – how do we learn to develop leaders effectively while accounting for the impact of gender in the workplace?

The first step is to look for answers not in anecdotes, but in objective data. In a new study global study of 8,772 leaders, MRG looked at the data on leadership behaviors and competencies, from the perspective of both the leaders themselves, and of those who were observing them.

A sample of this size – also matched for management level, job function, and generation – gives us the opportunity to look more objectively at the patterns that may (or may not) exist in the way men and women behave in leadership roles.

A few things stood out:

Surprising areas of common ground. There were several behaviors where men and women did not perceive themselves as different, and their observers felt the same way. For example, there was no statistically significant difference between how men and women were rated on dominance (pushing vigorously to achieve results) by any group. So while stereotypes may still cast men as more “driven,” the data says otherwise.

Our own observations don’t always align with our colleagues’. Part of the value of 360 data is illuminating our blind spots, and helping us discover areas where we perceive our own behavior differently than our colleagues do. It’s no surprise, then, that men and women, as groups, had areas where they simply didn’t see themselves the way others did. While women rated themselves as more outgoing than men did, none of the observer groups saw any difference. As for men, they didn’t see themselves as any more conservative than their female colleagues, but all three observer groups did.

Women were scored higher on a broad range of leadership competencies. The LEA 360 captures ratings on 27 different competencies. Which of these competencies are more critical for success depends on the organization, its needs, the role, and the individual; there is no single “right” profile for leadership. Notable, though: where there was a gender difference in the data, women were far more likely to be rated higher on competencies than men. Out of 27 competencies rated by three different observer groups, men were rated higher than women only twice; women were rated more highly 32 times.

The full study is worth a read. Click here to download the study Exploring the Gap: Gender Variations in Leadership Behaviors and Competencies.

About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

Connect on LinkedIn

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments