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Women are better leaders – and it's backed by science!

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

woman holding cup saying "like a boss"
Photo: Brooke Lark

Zenger and Folkman monitored the gender-disparity in management positions for years and the results are stunning. 'Taking initiative', 'resilience', 'practicing self-development' or 'a drive for results' are only some of the criteria that make excellent leaders. And guess what? Women score better than men in nearly all of those aspects. This backed-by-science statement is an open invitation for every workplace to start embracing more women in leadership positions.

It's a fact – proven again and again

To offer some context – Zenger and Folkman surveyed the leadership skills of 4,779 women and 3,876 men between 2016 and 2019. What they found is that women outscored men in 17 of the 19 categories that differentiate an excellent leader from an average one.

One may argue that one study might not be enough for conclusive scientific proof. That's why Zenger and Folkman already conducted the same study among another couple thousand people back – with the same result.

Considering this outcome, it is appalling that women are still so immensely underrepresented in leadership positions. The recently hit milestone of 10% of Fortune-500-CEOs being women is a testament to how bleak the picture looks.

Looking at the evidence, while women are just as – if not more – effective than their male counterparts in leadership positions, they tend to lack opportunities, for which workplaces and employers are at least partly responsible.

Chart adapted from David Hanny. Source: Zenger Folkman

Interestingly, the findings regarding confidence apply to the whole professional life of a person – not just for leadership but also in terms of applying and job-hunting. For example, Zenger and Folkmann argue that women might only apply for a job when they fit the requirements while men are more overconfident about their skills and apply – even when they don’t fit the criteria. 

Unconscious bias from employers

As Zenger & Folkman put it in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review: “If 96 out of 100 people currently serving in comparable positions are male, and you are making the decision about whom to promote, and you have a highly qualified female and a highly qualified male, what are you inclined to do? It may seem safer to choose the man."

In cases like these, decision-makers are influenced by an unconscious bias. They perceive women as not-so-good decisions because of stereotypes, and they don't even notice. Luckily, managers and consultants are increasingly becoming aware of the problem now. But still, it’s a long way to go – and the best thing we all can do to battle this kind of bias is to raise awareness and demonstrate women deserve a seat at the table.

Decision-makers are influenced by an unconscious bias.

The first steps towards a more equitable business world

If you're asking yourself now how you can successfully elevate the number of women in leadership in your own company, there are several organisations out there that can help. Diversity & inclusion is not a checklist, but an ever-evolving process that needs goals on a strategic level, like every other business aspect which should deliver results.

about how to implement a diversity & inclusion strategy in our free whitepaper.


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