While they only represent 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, recent studies suggest that if companies want great leadership, they should hire a woman. Corinne Post, associate professor of management at Lehigh University’s College of Business and Economics agrees and she says there are certain circumstances that give women an advantage.
“As a woman, it sounds exciting that women are better leaders, but I wanted to explore under what context women have more of an impact,” she says.
Post studied members of 82 teams in 29 innovative organizations to learn how the gender of the leader relates to team cohesion, co-operative learning, and participative communication. Her report “When is Female Leadership an Advantage?” was published in the June issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior, and reveals that as co-ordination requirements increase, teams with female leaders report greater team cohesion, more co-operative learning, and more inclusive communication than those led by men.
“There is a lot of evidence that women pay more attention to the quality of relationships versus men,” says Post. “The special thing women leaders bring to the team is that they exercise relational leadership practices, stimulating high-quality relationships, bonding, and connectivity among members. This can be a strong advantage when teams are challenged by size, geographic dispersion and functional diversity.”
When there is a conflict, for example, women exhibit more empathy and are better listeners. They express themselves well, and they understand the knowledge that can be embedded in relationships, says Post. These relationship qualities help create and build strong teams.
In teams that don’t have these same three challenges, however, Post found that there are fewer differences between the genders. “Relational qualities were not as important under other circumstances,” she says.
So what does this mean? While Post admits that it’s tempting to say that large, geographically divided or diverse teams should always put a woman in charge, she says companies should teach all of its leaders relational team-building skills, such as empathy and dealing with conflict without trying to dominate a situation.
“These skills can be taught,” she says. “Companies that offer training on these areas create better situations within their organizations. This will create a climate where team members feel a sense of belonging, can learn from each other, and communicate.”
When making leadership choices, organizations should look at their team interactions to determine which qualities are most important. “What percent do teams need to communicate? To what extent do teams learn together?” Post asks. “Identify the skills that are are needed, and then choose the appropriate individual.”
Women should also take away from the findings a sense of their strengths and value to a company, says Post. “As women, we need to realize that we offer organizations an important skill,” she says. “This can be helpful when approaching new situations.”
Finally, Post says that the findings also suggest a strong reason why corporate boards should include more women: “Having these leadership styles on committees encourages participation and learning from each other,” she says. “This might explain the studies that show that boards with more women perform better.”