Groundbreaking research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of the Zenger/Folkman leadership consultancy reported in 2012 found that women were perceived to be stronger leaders than men in twelve out of sixteen leadership competencies. Zenger and Folkman’s original research was conducted using 360-degree feedback reviews for 7,280 leaders in public, private, government, commercial, domestic, and international organizations. They have now updated this study with striking results—women are now rated more highly than men on 360-degree feedback reviews on seventeen out of nineteen leadership capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.
The authors note that while for the first time in history several women are running for president of the United States in a major political party, the voters and TV pundits are still asking whether people will vote for a woman for the nation’s highest office. Furthermore, the authors acknowledge that the percentage of women in senior leadership roles in business has remained the same since the original study was done—4.9 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2 percent of S&P 500 CEOs are women. In addition, these numbers have steadily declined globally.
Despite the fact that women consistently prove themselves to be—and are perceived to be—capable leaders, why do so few women hold senior leadership roles? Zenger and Folkman suggest that many factors probably contribute to the small number of women in senior positions, including in the elected role of president of the United States:
- For centuries, societies have held onto broad, cultural biases against women being leaders.
- Lots of research shows that unconscious bias plays a big role in hiring and promotion decisions.
- Research shows women often don’t apply for jobs unless they feel 100 percent qualified, while men are more likely to assume they can learn what they are missing on the job.
Zenger and Folkman report that their updated study shows that women are perceived by their managers—especially male managers—to be more effective leaders at every hierarchical level and in virtually every functional area, including IT, operations, and legal. Women are rated higher in seventeen out of nineteen capabilities with their highest ratings in the following areas:
- Taking initiative
- Acting with resilience
- Practicing self-development
- Driving for results
- Displaying high integrity
In conclusion, the authors state that research shows women make highly competent leaders. What’s holding them back is a lack of opportunity driven by old stereotypes and unconscious bias. We have six women who have declared themselves to be 100 percent confident that they can lead our country. Wouldn’t you like your next president to excel in the competencies above? We need to challenge ourselves to push through old stereotypes to hire, promote, and elect women as leaders. Women are more than up to the task of leading.
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