Research Says: Women Leaders Rank Higher Than Men


Study: A Study in Leadership: Women Do it Better Than Men (Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman – Zenger/Folkman 2012)

Finding: This study of 7,280 leaders finds that women excel at 15 of 16 individual leadership characteristics, as judged by their peers, subordinates and managers. The variation between women and men increases as individuals gain seniority.

InPower Insight: Regardless of what your corporate culture tells you about how effective women are in leadership roles, the research says that women are strong leaders. If you don’t have enough in your organization, you’re letting your culture get in the way of your results. Fix it.


Even we are surprised how decisive this research is, which evaluated the judgments of 7,280 professionals about the female and male leaders they work with and ranked both genders against a standard set of leadership characteristics. Women excelled not only at the strengths commonly attributed to them (e.g., collaboration and communication) but many other measures traditionally attributed to men (e.g., initiative and establishing stretch goals).

Rather than write a lot, let’s just share the data. It’s pretty impressive.

You’ll note that the one place men excelled over women was in the area of strategic perspective, which has been identified as a critical skill to breaking through the glass ceiling and into the executive ranks. As the researchers point out, strategic perspective being an executive skill and the executive suite being largely populated by men, this is not surprising across the aggregate population. But when this variable is measured in top management alone, individuals score more similarly.

In addition to measuring how people rated the leaders they work with, the data identifies the gap between the genders, which grows from 1.2% for individual contributors to 10% in the top management ranks. This is consistent with other data in our index.

The authors of the study also provide anecdotal insights into the reasons for the dramatic results their study puts forth and concludes that women leaders are working hard and diligently to succeed and advise all leaders to apply such motivation to their work.

Career Coaching: Don’t believe anyone who tells you that women aren’t cut out for the executive ranks. Women up and down the leadership spectrum are proving them wrong. If you believe it, try changing your mind and watch how the women in your organization rise to the opportunities such change creates.

Keywords: women leaders, women in leadership, capabilities, perception, Zenger/Folkman, leadership skills

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  1. says

    Nothing wrong with what you’ve said here, but I think we need to move on from the competitive model of women are better than men or men are better than women – it’s not really helping. I think the collaborative model of gender-balanced leadership is a better conversation

    • says

      Hi Lynn. We completely agree and believe that our editorial content reflects this perspective. This particular post is part of our Research Index where we’re cataloging important studies focusing on women, business and leadership (65 studies so far and more to come). We’ve made it a policy in our research index to represent the study results as they are reported by the researchers, highlighting the actionable and inpowering aspects for women.

      I think that when we start to see research coming out of academia and consulting groups that dig into the why’s and wherefore’s of the dynamics that show women have such a positive impact on business, as a culture we will really have begun to move in the right direction. Until then, we’ll be reporting and abstracting what the research institutions produce in the index with little editorializing.

      To browse or search the index, you can go here:

      For articles we’ve written favoring partnership with men, see the following (with more to come):
      Men Are Helping Us:
      Why We Need To Support Men:

      Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate that you’re bringing this perspective and support you completely.

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