A recent article in the Economist, ‘Sex in the boardroom’ (Schumpeter, 6 June 2015) argued that ‘claims that women manage differently from – or better than – men are questionable.’ Drawing on McKinsey articles which are ‘fond of being quoted’ by persons who do think that women manage differently, the article criticizes the studies for firstly only being ‘snapshots’ of managers’ changing opinions which are likely to be influenced by politically correct ‘hokum’; secondly for ‘lumping women bosses together’ which ‘obscures huge differences between them’; and thirdly for overlooking the fact that men and women continually change and adapt their leadership styles according to circumstances.
They also cite another study from Norway which found that ‘men and women do not have different styles of leadership.’ In that context, the article is promoting a type of gender-neutral approach to leadership, and they cite three further studies which highlight that ‘there is a lack of solid evidence that putting more women into senior jobs improves a business’s performance.’ Here are the three points followed by further considerations and counter counter-arguments (‘et alors’)
To counter the argument that women manage differently from or better than men, Schumpeter cited the following three studies:
A study of a large sample of American firms by Adams and Ferreira found that ‘the average effect of gender diversity on firm performance is negative.’
A large study of the influence of diversity on group performance in companies by Hans van Dijk found that ‘gender diversity has no overall effect.’
Two studies of companies in Norway (following the implementation of the minimum 40% female board participation legislation) found that ‘increasing the number of women had a negative effect on profits.’
The only thing I find positive about this article is the allusion to gender-neutral leadership. Indeed, why not make leadership and gender two different matters? There are some very good female leaders; and there are some very good male leaders, so why not just take ‘gender’ out of the definition of good (or bad) leadership? It can be argued that leadership is an inter-personal event that is about the adaptability of the leader to the context and the situation of the followers; it is not about who the leader ‘is’ whether male or female. However, the article is very strongly asserting that any gender differences are questionable and appears to have an agenda of ‘balancing’ all the ‘politically correct’ studies and articles that are being published on the matter. I would like to reply to that reply:
Firsts, ‘androgynous’ leadership might be achievable by both men and women; but not everyone can and there are some proven correlations between gender and leadership characteristics. Consider ‘judging’ preferences per the MBTI personality type indicator – significantly more females than males prefer to make decisions using their feelings in preference to thinking. Vice versa for males, but of course, some males prefer to ‘feel’, and some females prefer to ‘think’; but my point is that if we are to achieve ‘best’ leadership, whilst we might need a balance, that balance might be best achieved within a team. A collection of diverse individuals can achieve it more readily than one person. Don’t neutralize gender, benefit from it in a collective sense!Second, it is not just merit but opportunity that defines careers in organizations. The gender-neutral arguments assume that everyone has the same opportunities. Gender-neutrality might be another barrier since the (predominantly) male senior executives review the merits of their junior female managers and think that they are assessing their merit in a gender-neutral manner. But they are not! They are actually assessing the females on (predominantly) masculine corporate culture and values. Only those females who exhibit these characteristics are promoted, thereby reinforcing the masculine culture, whilst ‘at the top’ the senior executives congratulate themselves on their gender-neutrality!
Third, whilst there are strong arguments for gender-neutrality in leadership, the problem is that these arguments might just be used to close any debate on the matter. Everyone is the same, so it’s ok – nothing to talk about… Well, yes and no – yes, anything that helps overcome prejudice and improve meritocracy; however, no: the corporate world is perhaps not ready for this yet. There is a corrective dynamic in play and that needs to continue until we do have gender ‘diversity blindness’ – until that time, any argument that closes (rather than opens) the debate should be treated with caution…