Women, Men and Leadership

It’s past midnight. This is already the third night in which this post and I are trying to befriend each other. Is the fact that this is the time when I can work quietly and diligently, only after the children are in bed, part of the topic I am writing about? The pile of articles next to me and on the computer doesn’t make my work any easier. It includes conflicting findings that are presented in complete certainty. It includes conflicting opinions, all of which I can agree with. It has findings and statements that upset me and some of them would probably upset you too…


Many times I stand amazed before my children, a son and a daughter. He likes soccer and she likes her dance class. She can paint for hours and have “meetings” with her dolls; while he prefers imaginative games with superheroes. Do they choose this? Are they born with it? Do they grow up with it? Did I, unintentionally, guide them there? Do they learn it from their environment? What parts will they take with them for life, adulthood, career choice and the way they affect and lead other people?


While addressing the issue of male and female leadership in organizations, I found three myths with which I will try to conduct a dialogue now: The first – “There is no problem here. We operate in a modern world where people are judged only by their abilities”. The second – “It’s all about individuals; why generalize men and women?” And the third – “There is no difference between men and women in leadership.”


1st myth – “There is no problem here”


Let’s start with this first myth, because failing to refute it will practically pull the rug out from under the rest of this post…

Many people, men and women alike, argue that a gender problem doesn’t exist in organizations. I ask myself if I have ever felt discriminated against at the work place because of my gender, and I can’t think of any example to support it. After all, we work with smart, modern, verbal and gender-conscious people. How is it possible that in 2013 there are still biases that exclude women from management positions?



Looking at top management in organizations, we see that the percentage of women declines as we go up the managerial ladder (5% in senior management positions and 50% in entry positions). Women are far from being represented in CEO and management positions as they are represented in the population.


An example of existing bias is shown in a recently-published study in Scientific American: Scientists (women and men) ranked application forms for a position of laboratory manager and researcher. The only difference between the descriptions of applicants was their gender names. Men were ranked by scientists as having higher capabilities and employment potential. More scientists expressed their willingness to serve as a mentor of a man than for a woman. The wage offered to women was 15% lower than that offered to men.

This shows that we are definitely approaching female and male leadership areas from bias, with higher or lower levels of awareness. Bias produces exclusion mechanisms of women from management positions in general, and from senior management in particular.


2nd myth – “It’s all about individuals”


Ultimately, every leader and manager is a human being, who makes his own choices and has individual capabilities. So why generalize? Why judge people by their gender?

There is no end to diversity in the female and male leadership world. Each person brings his/her own unique voice and abilities.


Most women and men are placed in various places in relation to various characteristics – communication patterns, influence channels and dominant capabilities. A “majority” doesn’t represent all cases – it only enables us to examine groups of people instead of dealing with each person individually.

3rd myth – “There is no difference between men and women in leadership”


Do male and female leaderships differ from one another? Catalyst called the stereotypes attributed to male and female leadership “Take Care and Take Charge”. Are there no women around who take charge? Do any men take care?


However, many studies show brain differences between men and women. One study talks about 100 billion neurons in the brain that interact differently in men and in women. There are chromosomal difference between men and women. There are hormonal differences between men and women. Don’t all these have any effect on other aspects as well?


Examination of the game patterns of boys and girls show a totally different style between them. Boys and girls play games of different types, for different purposes. They determine differently who won and attach a different role to the winner.


Even if we don’t address the origins of these differences – shortcomings, stereotypes or socialization – we grow up knowing them. How can they not affect the influence and leadership style of men and women?



A Hay Group study about key success capabilities in a matrix-based environment identified four such capabilities: Empathy, conflict management, influence and self-awareness. Those were defined by 360˚ assessments (self-evaluation, peers, managers, subordinates). Women scored significantly higher marks than men in all capabilities.


Another example comes from a series of reports by McKinsey entitled “Women Matter”. McKinsey identified nine leadership capabilities that enhance organizational performance and compared male and female leaders in relation to these capabilities.


Female leaders came out higher than male leaders in five of the nine capabilities, three of which are regarded critical in dealing with future challenges: Developing people, managing expectations and rewarding achievements, and inspiration (the other two were role model and building a sharing-based team and work environment). Male leaders came out higher than female leaders in individualistic decision-making abilities (taking personal responsibility for decisions and helping others to implement them), and in control and corrective action, if necessary.


Overall, when we look at both studies from a bird’s eye view, we can see that women are more likely to be transformational leaders – motivating their staff, expressing optimism and enthusiasm about future goals, setting an exciting vision for the future, relating personally to subordinates and rewarding proper behavior. However, men apply more transactional leadership, which highlights the link between successes and mistakes to realization, recognition, and rewarding, manages relationships based on what each party gets from them. Men also choose more providing high degrees of freedom and not to intervene until the situation gets worse (“LAISSEZE FAIRE”).


Transformational and transactional leadership, are both effective in various leadership and challenge situations.


So what conclusions can be drawn from all this about us, both as an organization and as leaders?


As individuals, we must learn to be sensitive to the multiplicity of languages and their significance. We need to understand that unaware exclusion mechanisms don’t skip any of us.


As an organization, we must express, nurture and accommodate diverse leadership styles. This diversity improves our ability to contend with the business and with organizational challenges that face us.


As an organization, we have to figure out which patterns are more aware and less likely to exclude women. For example, one study showed that women and men relate differently to the job description they apply to. Men will apply if they fit to most of the criteria. Women will not apply if they do not fully, 100% fit. Are job description written on the premise that the applicant should meet every clause or just most clauses? For these and other reasons, women and men will be perceived differently in organizations on the entry-phase, when starting to manage a new team, and during the decision-making process.


As an organization, we need to understand the different nature of men and women, recognize it and design the organization to that effect.


19 questions marks were written here in the above pages. Some of them will probably continue to follow us in the future. But one thing is certain – a better organization for women is a better organization for all its people, men and women alike.


It’s almost two in the morning. The wet bed sheets and pajamas have been changed. The children are tucked in. Good night.



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Osnat Golan
Osnat Golan
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Gil Messing
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Anat Lev-Confortes
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