Leadership Differences Between Men and Women

New DDI research explores leadership differences between men and women and makes the case for gender diversity in the workplace.

Women comprise more than half the workforce. Yet, less than 20 percent of C-suite executives are women and only five percent of CEOs are women. To help answer why there are not more women in the top ranks of leadership, scientists at Development Dimensions International (DDI), the global leadership development consultancy, released two research studies aimed at finding the answers. The first, Ready-Now Leaders: Cultivating Women in Leadership to Meet Tomorrow’s Business Challenges by DDI and The Conference Board, identifies “confidence” as one of the few but significant leadership differences between the sexes. The research also provides a snapshot view and analysis of gender diversity across countries and industries. DDI’s High-Resolution Leadership study reviewed true assessment data from 10,000 global leaders and found no difference in the battle of the sexes for leadership skills.  Men and women equally qualified in business drivers around hard- and soft-business skills—with neither gender scoring high.  However, the study did identify three personality differences—inquisitiveness, sensitivity and impulsiveness—between the two sexes.

To get ahead, should a woman act more like a man at work? “The quick answer is no—except when it comes to confidence,” said Tacy M. Byham, Ph.D., DDI CEO. “Women need to do a better job of declaring themselves and becoming their own advocates—speaking and acting confidently and mentally promoting themselves to a future-focused role.  With this mindset, our own behaviors change. And, a woman’s impact is strengthened and improves her ability to get that seat at the table.” Combined findings from the research include:

Fact 1: Women are less confident and less likely to rate themselves as highly effective leaders compared to men. Men highly self-rate their own leadership skills and their ability to tackle management and business challenges. Only 30 percent of women rate themselves in the top 10 percent of leaders, in comparison to 37 percent of men. At the senior level, 63 percent of men rate themselves as highly-effective leaders compared to only 49 percent of women. Women were less likely to have completed international assignments, to have led across countries or geographically dispersed teams, all of which make up important development opportunities. Leaders who had access to global and more visible experiences are more likely to advance.

Fact 2: Business drivers comparing men and women yield no significant differences. Business drivers examined include: Building high-performance cultures; engaging employees; cultivating a customer-focused culture; creating alignment and accountability; enhancing organizational talent; building strategic partnerships and relationships, driving process innovation and driving efficiency. “The reality is we tend to focus too much on differences which are actually few and far between,” said Richard S. Wellins, Ph.D., DDI Senior Vice President and study co-author. “The disparity in gender diversity has little to do with competence levels.”

Fact 3: Considerable personality gaps exist between the sexes in inquisitiveness, sensitivity and impulsiveness. The research shows that men are 16 percent more inquisitive than women, possibly due to their tendency to gravitate towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers that reinforce inquiry. Women are interpersonally more sensitive than men (13 percent more), which can be an advantage in cultures where leaders are valued for demeanor and interactions with others. Men also score as more impulsive than women (11 percent more) which could result from the reinforced “just do it” attitude where women are nurtured with the outlook “don’t do it unless you can do it right.”

Fact 4: Organizations with a greater percentage of women in leadership roles perform better financially. Organizations in the top 20 percent of financial performers have 37 percent of their leaders as women. “When it comes to leadership, gender shouldn’t be an issue, but it is—a business issue,” said Byham. “Encouraging gender diversity in leadership ranks leads to more diversity of thought prompting improved problem solving and increased business benefits.” Organizations with women in at least 30 percent of leadership roles are 12 times more likely to be in the top 20 percent of financial performers. Organizations in the bottom 20 percent have only 19 percent of their leaders as women. “DDI research shows that when women occupy top leadership spots it pays dividends to the bottom-line in the form of increased revenue and profits,” said Byham.


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