Gender and Behavioural Influence in the Workplace: Leadership Styles

Hello and welcome to the third article of our mini-series. In our first two pieces, we reviewed work-life balance and asked some HBA members their opinion on this topic. In the next two articles, we will focus on gender and behavioural influence in the workplace and ultimately see what our members think of this.

When employees are asked to describe an effective leader, most of them use stereotypical male adjectives. Generally, people tend to associate leadership qualities with men - a problem that has always been familiar to social scientists. According to statistics, European and American senior-level executives agree that women are more advanced in skills that involve providing encouragement and support, while men are considered better at decision-making and problem-solving. Men are often associated with leadership qualities and there is a tendency for employees to associate men as dominant figures in the workplace. Worryingly, studies have repeatedly found that 75 percent of women think this is the case. Can women be good leaders? Can the prototypical skills that women bring to a workplace function to a company’s advantage?

In 2017, the Korn Ferry Institute reached out to 57 women CEOs, to determine the traits and competencies of female corporate leaders. Attributes that were commonly shared between the women included traits such as risk-taking, resilience, agility and managing ambiguity. Above all, these women embraced teamwork among their employees and they were more likely to leverage others to achieve desired results. Further studies have also found that the most successful leadership teams were made up of individuals who were the best at reading people and those were also the teams with the most women. Furthermore, research conducted by McKinsey and based on Women Matter reported that female leaders are more likely than their male counterparts to use successful types of leadership behaviours that are known to improve organisational performance. These leadership behaviours include people development, expectations and rewards, role model, inspiration and participative decision-making. Indeed, as a result of these noteworthy findings, companies like Johnson & Johnson have established chairman/CEO - driven initiatives to recruit, promote and retain women, and it’s working: 45 percent of their 38,000 U.S. employees are women and 40 percent of their female employees are senior managers.

There are many reasons as to why men and women demonstrate different leadership styles however, it is often boiled down to physical, psychological and emotional factors. Men usually stick to a transactional and individualistic decision-making approach, they want to achieve certain goals and see the performance of their team as a sequence of independent transactions, each one of which must be either disciplined or rewarded. Conversely, women usually choose a transformational approach. Just like men, women in leadership positions aim to accomplish the necessary goals, however, the transformational approach involves more attention to how goals are achieved. Female leaders are interested in transforming their teams and making them more productive, focusing on effective ways of motivation and individual development. They are more personally engaged in their work, they provide more support and encouragement, putting teamwork and effective communication first. Indeed, evidence shows that this combination might get companies to move faster.

Studies have found that if women were to make up 30 percent of leadership positions in a company there could be at least a 1 percent increase in net profit margin as compared to work environments where this is not the case. Indeed, studies have found that there could be a $28 trillion growth in GDP if women have the chance to participate as equally as men in the workplace (this is the size of the U.S. and China economy combined). Moreover, on average there would be an 11 percent increase in global GDP if every country achieved the fastest rate of progress toward gender equality in its workforce in its specific region. Thus, there is no doubt over whether the financial consequences will be significant.

Additionally, it is believed that senior-level women have a big and meaningful impact on a company’s culture. They are more likely than men to embrace employee-friendly policies and programmes and to champion racial and gender diversity. They are also more likely to mentor and support other women. If women leaders leave the workforce, women at all levels could lose their most powerful allies and champions.

Not surprisingly, there are also differences in the way men and women build their support networks. Rachel Thomas, president of LeanIn.org, believes that men consider mixing friendship and business gives employees an advantage in the workplace. In contrast, women do not feel as comfortable with this belief. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of Why Him, Why Her says, "Men and women have very different brains and they do network differently. The male brain is more compartmentalized; they get straight to the point; they know the goal and are more comfortable asking for what they want."

While men are focused on short-term desires, women are more focused on building long-term personal connections or friendships. Women often make contacts through people they know and tend to form smaller, deeper networks based on trust. They will not ask immediately for what they need but will think about what they can do for them first. Moreover, there are other circumstances that prevent women from the networking opportunities that men have, such as wanting to get home after work to spend time with their families. Additionally, women also tend to avoid networking with men in social settings because they don’t want their behaviour to be misconstrued. A strong female support group needs to be created. The support system and gender-specific career advice that women can provide other women are crucial to career advancement. Female mentorship is more important than ever, and this is what the HBA is trying to achieve with its Mentorship program. As we have done with the previous article, we have engaged with a few HBA members and collected their thoughts on common behaviours and experiences in the workplace.