Leadership study: women have more leadership skills than men

According to a recent study, women have statistically significantly higher scores in leadership skills than men. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, CEOs of the consulting firm Zenger / Folkman, used 360-degree measurements to examine how people rate the effectiveness of leaders in terms of leadership competencies: Women in leadership positions are more competent than their male counterparts, they found. Why are there still so few women in TOP management positions such as executive board, supervisory board or advisory board??

There is a shortage of women at higher levels of management. There have been many cultural biases against women for centuries, and those biases are slow to change. A woman on the supervisory board, management board or advisory board is still exotic. Men are more likely to be trusted with these TOP leadership roles. It pays to have women in top management positions because it improves company results.

It has long been believed that many women self-select not to aspire to the highest positions in the organization, though recent research disputes this. Many studies show that unconscious bias plays an important role in hiring and promotion decisions, which also contributes to fewer women in key positions.

The current study provides convincing evidence that this tendency is wrong. Women are perceived by their managers (especially male managers) to be more effective than men at every level of the hierarchy and in all functional areas of the organization. This includes traditional male fields such as IT, management and law.

Women are rated higher than men in leadership

As you can see in the table below, women were rated as excelling at taking initiative, acting resiliently, developing themselves and others, striving for results, and demonstrating high integrity and honesty.

Women are more effective in 84% of leadership skills. Men are better than women at two skills: "developing strategic perspectives" and "technical or professional expertise". According to analysis of thousands of 360-degree assessments, women have surpassed men in 17 of the 19 skills in the search for excellent leaders.

Comparison of women and men regarding leadership skills

Ability Percentile of women Percentile of men
Taking initiative 55.6 48.2
Elasticity 54.7 49.3
Self-development 54.8 49.6
Result orientation 53.9 48.8
High integrity and honesty 54.0 49.1
Develops others 54.1 49.8
Inspires and motivates others 53.9 49.7
Courageous leadership 53.2 49.8
Relationship building 53.2 49.9
Change management 53.1 49.8
Goal Orientation 52.6 49.7
Cooperation and teamwork 52.6 50.2
External networking 51.6 50.3
Communicates powerfully and productively 51.8 50.7
Fixes problems and analyzes issues 51.5 50.4
Leadership speed 51.5 50.5
Innovation 51.4 51
Technical or professional expertise 50.1 51.1
Develops strategic perspective 50.1 51.4

Interestingly, the study shows that women do not rate themselves as highly in self-assessment. Self-assessment data collection since 2016 measures self-confidence of leaders (previously 3.876 men and 4.779 women) in career progression. It shows some interesting trends.

Leadership: Younger women lack self-confidence

Comparing the trust ratings of men and women, there is a big difference among those under 25 years old. It is very likely that these women are far more competent than they think, while male executives are cocky and assume they are more competent than they are. At age 40, confidence ratings merge.

Self-confidence generally increases with age. Surprisingly, men’s self-confidence declines over age 60, while women’s self-confidence increases. According to our data, men aged 25 to over 60 get only 8.5 percentage points of self-confidence. Women, on the other hand, receive 29 percentage points.

Men are more courageous in their applications

The results are consistent with other research showing that women are less likely to apply for a challenging job unless they are confident they meet most of the qualifications.

A man and a woman with identical qualifications who lack experience for a higher position come to different conclusions about preparation for promotion. The man is more inclined to assume that he can learn what he lacks in his new job. He says to himself, "I’m close enough." The woman tends to be more cautious and less willing to perform under these circumstances.

It is possible that this lower level of self-confidence at a younger age motivates women to take more initiative, be more resilient, and be more open to feedback from others, making them more effective leaders in the long run.

Recommendations for action for company leaders

What are the consequences of these findings for company management?? Managers must examine what stands in the way of promoting women in their organizations. Obviously, the unconscious tendency that women do not belong in management positions plays a major role. It is imperative that organizations change their hiring and promotion decisions and ensure that eligible women are given serious consideration.

Those who make these decisions need to pause and ask, "Are we succumbing to unconscious bias?? nods automatically to a man, although there is an equally competent woman?" As the data show, organizations need to do more to encourage women. Managers can assure their competence and encourage them to seek promotions earlier in their careers.

Prof. Dr. Claudia Hilker teaches marketing at Fresenius University of Applied Sciences. As owner of Hilker Consulting, she accompanies companies with strategy consulting, workshops, and as a supervisory and advisory board member. She also heads the Academy for Digitalization, which offers advanced training in digital transformation with innovation and change management. As an author, she writes marketing reference books – the current book is called: Digital Marketing Guide. As a speaker, she speaks at events about digitization, marketing and innovations. Their qualified team ensures the implementation of the services, z.B. Content marketing, social media and marketing automation.

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