Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 7th 2015 Contents JUNE 7 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
THE ECONOMIST | SBG15
One by one, the glitter-
ing prizes are falling to
Motors, IBM, PepsiCo,
Lockheed Martin and
DuPont are among a
couple of dozen giant
with female bosses. Oxford University is about
to follow the footsteps of Harvard and appoint
its first female leader; and next year the United
States may elect its first woman president.
Women still have an enormous way to go:
The New York Times pointed out that more
big American firms are run by men called John
than by women. But the trend is clear: Women
now make up more than 50 per cent of college
graduates and of new hires by big employers.
Will this growing cadre of female bosses
manage any differently from men? Forty years
ago feminists would have found the very ques-
Pioneers such as Margaret Thatcher argued
that women could and would do the same job
as men, if given a chance. But today some
management scholars argue that women excel
in the leadership qualities most valued in mod-
ern firms. Some ask whether the financial
crisis would have been as bad had Lehman
Brothers been Lehman Sisters, given research
suggesting a link between testosterone levels
Supporters of this position are fond of quot-
ing two studies by McKinsey, in 2007 and
2008, of large groups of managers in a variety
of businesses. The consulting firm found that
five "leadership behaviours" are seen in women
more frequently than in men: people-devel-
opment; setting expectations and rewards;
providing role models; giving inspiration; and
The firm argued that such behaviours are
particularly valuable in today s less-hierarchical
companies. By contrast, the two that men
were found to adopt more often than women
sound rather old-fashioned: control and cor-
rective action; and individualistic decision-
Those who say women are better suited to
taking charge of today s companies also lean
on two other arguments.
The first is that women are better at
"androgynous" management, that is, com-
bining supposedly "male" and "female" char-
acteristics into a powerful mixture. This is
particularly valuable in businesses undergoing
great upheaval, which need a combination of
command-and-control and caring-and-shar-
The second is that women differ from men
not so much in their leadership styles as in
the values that they bring to the job. They are
much more influenced by compassion and
fairness than men.
McKinsey s studies rest on taking snapshots
of managers opinions and scoring them. But
opinions about management are in a constant
flux, and managers tend to tell interviewers
what they think they want to hear.
The argument that women are better at
managing androgynously is a bit more plau-
sible, though the data to support this are scant.
The final argument, about the human values
women bring to the job of leadership, has the
best supporting evidence.
Around the world women are more likely
to vote for parties that place a higher value
on compassion than men. American private
companies run by women lay off significantly
fewer workers than ones run by men. Fortune
500 companies with more women on their
boards donate more to charity.
However, even when it resonates, the claim
that women make better leaders needs to be
weighed against three considerations.
The first is that lumping female bosses
together obscures the huge differences between
them. There are plenty of female bosses who
are as hard-headed as any male.
After Harriet Green took charge of Thomas
Cook, a struggling travel business, she got rid
of 2,500 staff and cut senior management
posts by one-third.
Jill Abramson, the first female editor of
The New York Times, was removed for "arbi-
trary decision-making", a "failure to consult"
and "inadequate communication."
Even if women as a whole are more com-
passionate than men, that is no guarantee that
a highly selected group of women, such as
those who reach the top of companies, are
also more compassionate.
That leads to the second consideration: that
both male and female managers are perfectly
capable of adapting their leadership styles to
meet changing circumstances.
Male managers are increasingly embracing
a collaborative approach to leadership, as they
adapt to a society that has become less def-
erential. In a 2013 study of 917 managers in
Norway, a country that has led the way in
female-friendly policies, from board quotas
to public child care, Anne Grethe Solberg, a
sociologist, concluded that "men and women
don t have different styles of leadership."
The third, and main, problem with the argu-
ment that women do a better job in running
a company is the lack of solid evidence that
putting more women into senior jobs improves
a business s performance.
Several early studies in this field found that
companies with more women in their executive
suites and on their boards had better financial
outcomes. But more recent research has cast
doubt on this. A study of a large sample of
US firms by Renee Adams and Daniel Ferreira,
two economists, found that "the average effect
of gender diversity on firm performance is
A large study of the influence of diversity
on group performance in companies, by Hans
van Dijk, a Dutch academic, and two colleagues,
found that gender diversity has no overall
effect. Two studies of public companies in
Norway, following legislation requiring them
to give at least 40 per cent of board seats to
women, found that increasing the number of
women had a negative effect on profits.
Those arguing that women leaders are dif-
ferent, and better, may have the best of inten-
tions. But they are piling flimsy evidence on
dubious argument to produce politically correct
In some societies such claims risk reinforcing
stereotypes about the sort of job that women
are "good for."
The only enlightened policy for selecting
leaders is to judge people purely on their indi-
vidual merits. Anything else is just prejudice
@2015 The Economist Newspaper Ltd.
Distributed by the New York Times Syn-
Women differ from men not so much in their
leadership styles as in the values that they bring
to the job. They are much more influenced by
compassion and fairness than men.
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