Women in Business: Closing the Leadership Gap

By: Tim Sosbe

OK, I’m going to ask a question, but you have to promise me you won’t answer. This direct question is the first thing I’ve asked you that I don’t want any input on. Feel free to comment on any other aspect of this blog, except this direct question:

Who makes the better business leader: Men or Women?

Now you see why I really, really want you to keep your opinion to yourself. I don’t want to start any sort of gender war, and of course the question is unanswerable as posed. The better leader, naturally, is the person who does the better job in whatever situation requires a leader.

Have something to say yet? Jump ahead to the bottom of this page and comment away.

Not ready to speak up? This should get roughly half of you closer to the conversation: A recent Zenger Folkman study of 7,280 leaders showed that 64% of leaders are men. The higher you climb on the corporate ladder, the more men you’re going to see. Even at the manager level, your boss about 60% of the time is going to be male.

The comment form is right down there, at the bottom of this page.

Need more to crystallize your thoughts? That same Zenger Folkman study showed that women rated higher in 12 out of 16 competencies that define outstanding leadership, including in two traits once considered male strengths: taking initiative and driving for results. The only strength where men decisively outscored women was in the ability to develop strategic perspectives.

Come on … comment now.

Study author Jack Zenger was recently on CBS Morning News to discuss the results, but his limelight was stolen just a bit by Jenna Goudreau, a reporter for Forbeswoman who had plenty to say on the subject.

“One of the things that we see is that there are equal numbers of men and women in middle management, but men are more likely to be promoted on potential and women are more likely to be promoted on performance,” Goudreau said. “So they already have to work a little harder and be a little better and have it show in the results.”

Seriously, you have to want to comment now. If not, I’ll say it again: Women in business have to work harder to get ahead, while companies are willing to take a man’s ability on faith. Comment now.

OK, there’s one more arrow in this quiver: Another great quote from Jenna Goudreau:

“The higher you move up the rungs of leadership, the fewer women you see,” Goudreau said. “I think that’s partly why we’re seeing them score higher here. The women who do make it are the exceptional women.”

It’s hard to argue with that … with the deck stacked against them, women often will have to be exceptional to get ordinary advancement. Anyone who thinks that’s fair should remain absolutely quiet on the subject. For the rest you, the comment window is below (or did you already know that?).

So we’re down to the “what’s next” portion of this story. In a blog for Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman offered some thoughts on how to address the imbalance/injustice/shocking gap. There are certainly more solutions out there, but these two are definitely a place where HR and training can add significant value to an issue that really needs to go away eventually:

As organizations look for talent, make sure that search includes talent of any gender. Look beyond that, though, for results, potential and leadership … in all its forms.

Look at your company’s culture and make sure the talented women in your organization aren’t dealing with chauvinism or discrimination. Not only is that actionable, it’s just plain silly.

So here we go again … comment away. What’s your concern level on this issue? Ask yourself this: Are women in my company/my industry treated the way I’d like my daughter, sister or mother treated? If you’re not satisfied with that answer, then ask yourself what you’re going to do about it.

I’m done now. What do you have to say?

Tim Sosbe is editorial director & blogger for TrainingIndustry.com and Training Industry Quarterly magazine. Email Tim or follow him on LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: Steward Morris

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