Female managers score high on leadership

Katleen De Stobbeleir

By Katleen De Stobbeleir

Professor of Leadership

08 February 2012

Over the years, numerous studies have reported that female managers score better than male managers in the areas of empathy, communication and collaboration. Now, recent research conducted by Professor Katleen De Stobbeleir and researcher Céline Claus of Vlerick Business School shows that they score better for coaching, stakeholder management, handling diversity and results-orientation as well.


Professor De Stobbeleir examined how managers’ leadership skills and behaviour are evaluated by their subordinates, peers and superiors. The results? Out of the 32 managerial competencies that were surveyed, female managers achieved a better score than their male colleagues in 11 – up to 30% better on some leadership competencies. Moreover, the male managers were unable to out-score their female counterparts in any of the competencies.

A Facilitating Style

So, the female leadership style is clearly appreciated in the workplace. According to Prof De Stobbeleir, their leadership qualities seem to fit better in today’s business culture: “Our way of working is changing. Hierarchical structures are being flattened, team- and tele-work are on the rise and, increasingly, the boss has to direct and control, as well as coach. The results show that women may adopt this new style of leadership better than men; but men also receive higher evaluations when they combine a facilitating style with providing direction.”

A New Generation

Also in the spirit of the times, workers no longer tolerate a department head that walks off with all of the glory. Team members want to be recognised as well for a successful project or idea. Credit where credit is due. New leaders find it easier to take that step aside. “An ambitious and demanding generation is now entering the job market, and they want a life in addition to a career,” says Prof De Stobbeleir. “Today’s young people have no desire to work themselves to death. That’s an adjustment that a female boss will make more easily than a male manager. But we’re also seeing that men are evolving in this direction too. However, this may not always be appreciated from men in the workplace.”

Still Under-Promoted

Despite the excellent report on female team leaders, they’re still not rising to the top of companies or boards of directors. Only 6% of board members and CEOs in Belgium are women. “Sometimes they’re simply not noticed. They invest in their project and their team, but they neglect to make their results known up the ladder. With the consequence that they’re passed over for promotions. And sometimes they’re the victims of their own success. You think twice before you pull a good coach away from her team.”

Women also have a different attitude to networking, which for women is primarily functional, geared to current needs, whereas men engage in developmental and strategic networking, aimed at self-development and longer-term strategic benefits for their company. “Women spend most of their time with their subordinates, while men focus on their peers and superiors, the very groups that are instrumental in helping you move up in your career,” Prof De Stobbeleir explains.

Wanted: Role Models

Another explanation that is often heard is that women are less ambitious and don’t really want to advance. Out of all female employees, 43% work part-time – for men, that figure is just 6%. “For many women, having a child is still a turning-point in their career. But not only because of the extra care that a child entails – women are also strongly influenced by the pressures and expectations of their environment.”

And there’s a chronic lack of role models: “Qualitative research shows that it’s not so much a lack of ambition as a lack of inspiring role models: top women who dare to talk about the barriers, doubts or even guilt feelings they’re wrestling with. Many women can’t relate to the stereotypical CEO, working all hours and weekends. But there isn’t just one way to the top. Women should realise that. HR would do well to present different role models, just as senior executives and boards should appreciate that there are different ways of working at the top.”

Still, the figures are promising. Female executives are a growing phenomenon: never before have there been so many as there are today. Wider recognition of their leadership competencies should only accelerate the evolution.

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Katleen De Stobbeleir

Katleen De Stobbeleir

Professor of Leadership