Girls rule. Boys drool. That was a refrain we used in elementary school and, as it turns out, it’s still used (which always makes me laugh).
While I love men, I mean LOVE, there is something to be said for women in the workforce.
Survey after survey shows that when women step into executive roles it’s associated with an increase in profitability. One study even found that increase could be as much as 15%. Fifteen percent, y’all!
What are women doing that is so different than men? Is it a different type of emotional intelligence or nurturing or is it that we’re just superior human beings?
Based on my experience, I see lots and lots of differences, but I’m not a researcher nor are my observations based on data.
Thank heaven for Corinne Post, a Villanova University professor of management. She has researched what changes in a company when women enter top-level positions.
To Prove Themselves Worthy, Women Walk a Tightrope
Before doing her research, Corinne Post and her colleagues theorized that women appointed to upper management positions bring unique knowledge, contribute distinct perspectives, and foster team dynamics that shift ways of thinking within the entire top management team.
It turns out her theory is correct. She and her colleagues found that in the year following a woman’s entry into the top management team, there is a change in how the entire team thinks.
Their willingness to take risks declines by about 13.5 percent, and their openness to change increases by about 10 percent, on average.
These numbers are even higher when a woman is appointed to a top management team that already includes women.
Post says, “People often confound risk with innovation. We find that after adding women, firms still pursue innovation, but with more measured risks.”
The research posits that the reason for this is women have unique life experiences that influence their path to the top management team. They said female executives are aware that they have lower perceived status and thus they more carefully weigh risks (and favor less risky gambles). Women understand that they are under heightened scrutiny and that one misstep may associate them with lesser competence. Thus, career derailment. Increasing evidence suggests that women develop strategies to balance assertiveness and acquiescence in leadership roles to navigate the complicated expectations of female leaders.
Post says, “To prove themselves worthy of promotions to the highest corporate levels, women need to walk a difficult tightrope. They learn to stand out by promoting visionary and novel strategies to counter stereotypes. At the same time, they cannot afford to make any mistakes, because of the high career derailment price that comes with token-based hyper-visibility. Women in top management teams learn to carefully weigh the risks of their innovative strategies. It appears, their thinking may sway the elite groups that they join.”
And They’re Great In a Crisis
But it’s not just about taking less risk and being more innovative. In other research, Post and her colleagues found that an executive’s ability (men or women) to anticipate and manage others’ emotions is critical for gaining and keeping both employee and stakeholder trust in times of crisis.
Crises are emotional experiences, and individuals caught in such a condition tend to feel threatened. Studies have repeatedly found that, on average, women have stronger relational skills than men.
As a result, one can reasonably argue that these skills are likely of great value when restoring confidence among employees.
For example, when a leader strives to convey to employees a safe plan to return them to the office and the company to a growth path. Or when an executive is blamed for one of the largest oil spills in our country and he laments that he just wants to get back on his yacht and go back to his life.
Certainly, the reaction and communication in both instances are gender-neutral, but research shows that women are better in emotional instances.
Differences In How Men and Women Work
During my own career, I have experienced all the things: sexual harassment, drunk clients banging on my hotel room in the middle of the night, misogyny, micro-, and gigantic aggressions, and mansplaining.
The mansplaining KILLS me. I literally just had someone spend 30 minutes explaining to me how a podcast works—as if I couldn’t even spell the word. As it turns out, he’s never launched, hosted, or been on a podcast. But sure. Tell me all about it. I’m just a girl. Surely I have no idea what I’m doing.
I’ve also noticed significant differences in how men and women work. Again, this is a gross generalization based on my own experience and I love working with men—I wouldn’t want it any other way. But women just work differently.
Men tend to be better at delegation. I often joke with some of my colleagues that tasks are like hot potatoes on their desks. The sooner they get them off their desks, the better. Hot potato, hot potato in a pot.
Women, on the other hand, say they’re going to do something and THEY do it. They also do it well and on time…even if it burns them out or sends them into depression.
Women also tend to be great at multi-tasking. My friend Katie and I joke about how it takes the men in our lives FOREVER to do something because they do one thing at a time, while we’re putting a full gourmet dinner on the table in 30 minutes, it takes them 30 minutes to boil the water.
Venus and Mars…Or Something Like That
It’s the whole women are from Venus and men are from Mars philosophy, right? We’re just wired differently. This goes to the argument that there should be diversity at all levels of an organization—and not just gender, but race, too. And proves the point that Corinne Post made through her research: an organization is better run when men and women collaborate together.
Over and over again, research has shown that firms with more women in senior positions are more profitable, more socially responsible, and provide safer, higher-quality customer experiences—among many other benefits.
Additional research suggests that female executives are likely to care less about tradition and are more open to challenging the status quo than their male counterparts. Behavioral psychology has found that these sorts of attitudes fundamentally increase others’ receptiveness to change, and so it would make sense that as more women are appointed to executive teams, it could trigger more open-mindedness in the rest of the team.
Diversity Is What Rules. Today, Tomorrow, and In the Future.
In her research, Post says, “It’s also possible that these changes are simply the direct result of increasing diversity in the top management team. Research suggests that having more diverse perspectives to weigh in on key decisions can make a group more open to change, and more likely to see change as feasible. At the same time, having a wider range of opinions to consider often slows down decision-making, decreasing the chances that the group will make rash or risky decisions.”
The moral of the story is that we need diversity inside organizations. Not just at the top, but at all levels, which allows the organization to consider all perspectives and to understand how decisions affect more than just the men working there.
As communicators, we have an immense opportunity—and responsibility—to help our clients or our executives make these changes. Constantly discuss it. Consistently bring it up. Provide research and case studies to prove your point. And work to make change to a world where men can learn to multi-task and women can learn to more effectively delegate.