According to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women display a more collaborative leadership style, listen better, and encourage more participation. This is backed up by evidence from other studies which show that having a transformational, collaborative model of leadership is highly effective in large organizations with women-led companies performing better across the board in terms of customer satisfaction, employee benefits, and communicating company values.
This effective leadership style can transcend business and work its way into politics too. The way that political women have led the pandemic response, for example. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacidna Arden has outshone the power-and-ego dominated COVID policies of many politicians – and I’m sure I don’t need to name names.
However, the picture is more nuanced than just a binary divide in neurochemistry: our brains are not inherently pink or blue. Stereotypically ‘male’ and ‘female’ traits are seen across both sexes in terms of brain activity and hormones. Differences in levels of empathy and compassion do exist between men and women, but these differences are exaggerated by society rather than being a fair reflection of the actual genetic variation between the sexes, which are comparatively small.
So why do women display contrasting leadership traits if it’s not all wired into our DNA?
Men have been the dominant gender in business (and elsewhere) for hundreds of years. Women, despite it being 2021 – the age of space tourism and automated personal assistants – are still the underdog, facing far more challenges in accessing capital and relevant mentors than their male counterparts.
Women understand how it is to be walked over, talked over, and ignored when it comes to negotiating the boardroom. Research suggests that it is this inherent unfairness that spurs women to adopt a more inclusive leadership style – as underdogs ourselves, we know how it feels to be sidelined, and this triggers a more collaborative response with our peers, and our juniors.
The deeper question, however, is not why women and men lead differently, but how both men and women can harness the potential of collaborative leadership to drive performance.
Studies show that companies which use positive discrimination to promote women into executive positions have between 25-33% better profits than the industry average (Pepperdine University, 2007; Catalyst, 2009).
Additionally, having a more gender diverse workplace is a self-fulfilling prophecy for attracting a wider array of talent – the more a company can be seen to hire (and promote) women of color, transgender women, and other marginalized groups, the more the talent-pool widens. And this is important not only in terms of gender. Hiring people with a diverse range of life experiences, which extend beyond gender, is also a surefire way to increase creativity and innovation, which in turn drive profits.
If we can successfully combine a core collaborative, empathetic leadership, with a goal-driven, competitive edge, then the potential for profit is exponential.