When it comes to leadership, does gender matter? Is there a difference between women leaders and men who lead? If so, what are the unique qualities of female leadership that the most effective women leaders possess, and are they unique to women?
In 2005, a year-long study conducted by Caliper, a Princeton, New Jersey-based management consulting firm, and Aurora, a London-based organization that advances women, identified a number of characteristics that distinguish women leaders from men when it comes to qualities of leadership:
Women leaders are more assertive and persuasive, have a stronger need to get things done and are more willing to take risks than male leaders....Women leaders were also found to be more empathetic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts....enabl[ing] them to read situations accurately and take information in from all sides....These women leaders are able to bring others around to their point of view....because they genuinely understand and care about where others are coming from....so that the people they are leading feel more understood, supported and valued.The Caliper study findings are summarized into four specific statements about women's leadership qualities:
- Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts.
- When feeling the sting of rejection, women leaders learn from adversity and carry on with an "I'll show you" attitude.
- Women leaders demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of problem solving and decision making.
- Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks.
In her book Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: The Unique Female Qualities of Leadership, author Esther Wachs Book examines the careers of fourteen top female executives - among them Meg Whitman, President and CEO of eBay - to learn what makes them so successful. What she discovers echoes the Caliper study, including a willingness to reinvent the rules; an ability to sell their visions; the determination to turn challenges into opportunities; and a focus on 'high touch' in a high tech business world.
This evidence - that the leadership style of women is not simply unique but possibly at odds with what men practice - begs the question: Do these qualities have value in the marketplace? Is this type of leadership welcomed by society and by the public and private sector?
Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, the World YWCA Secretary General, says attitudes toward leadership are changing, and what women offer is essential:
Domination as a leadership style is becoming less and less popular. There is a new growing appreciation of...those traits that women use to keep families together and to organize volunteers to unite and make change in the shared life of communities. These newly admired leadership qualities of shared leadership; nurturance and doing good for others are today not only sought after but also indeed needed to make a difference in the world....A feminine way of leading includes helping the world to understand and be principled about values that really matter.
"Women Leaders Study: The Qualities That Distinguish Women Leaders." Caliperonline.com.
Kanyoro, Musimbi. "Challenges to Women's Leadership." Speech in honor of YWCA of Salt Lake centennial celebration. 13 July 2006.
"Are Women Natural Leaders, and Men…the Opposite?" Knowledge@Wharton, University of Pennsylvania 8 November 2000.