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Gender differences vs gender diversity in leadership

By Julia Corvalan - Posted on 18 June 2015

Julia Corvalan is currently completing her MBA from Strathclyde Business School.  Here she explores whether it's gender differences or gender diversity in management which impacts an organisation’s bottom-line.

In contemporary management literature, many studies explore how men and women behave in the workplace. Evidence emerging from these studies suggests men and women in management can have a differentiated effect on a company’s performance, but what are these differences?

The first part of this post will focus on three main aspects that highlight how men and women in senior management influence organizations in different ways.  The second part discusses how men and women’s differentiated influence impacts the bottom-line and considers implications for a stronger management.

Management style

Men and women usually take different approaches to management style.  Research shows in leadership positions men tend to use a more task-oriented approach that draws on competitiveness and power.  Women, on the other hand, usually act in a more relationship-oriented way that centres on the people being managed. These two distinct styles can unquestionably have different effects on the workforce in terms of how they perceive management. Tannen (1994) argues that even small things such as men and women's different linguistic style can affect their negotiation power and authority.

Communication

The way in which male and female managers communicate can also be considered distinctly different.  According to a number of studies, men use a more hierarchical type of communication, which is perceived as goal-oriented, decisive and authoritative.  Women, alternatively, focus on participation, which causes them to be thought of as more inclusive when making decisions and reaching goals. The different methods certainly have diverse effects on the people being managed.  Some of these studies further show that due to pervasive workplace stereotyping, female managers are often forced to adjust how they communicate in favour of a more command-driven style so they are perceived as strong and in control.

Leadership

Researchers find male leadership is generally more aggressive and stern, while female leadership tends to be more inclusive and participatory.  We can base leadership in management on three main elements: vision, vision implementation and charismatic communication. Bearing these in mind, the fact women generally have higher emotional and social skills can result in them being more predisposed to charismatic leadership than males (Groves, 2005; Neuborne, 1996).  However, since cultural stereotypes preferring male leadership persist, the research shows females can often be perceived as less capable than they actually are.

The case for gender diversity

Despite the vast amount of literature available on gender differences, no conclusive evidence has been found to establish whether men or women are better at improving the bottom-line. Several studies argue companies with greater gender diversity are more profitable and achieve higher firm value than those with less diversity. Krishnan & Parsons (2007) found the improved bottom-line of companies with more women in senior roles is positively and significantly related to high gender diversity.

It seems then, the issue of examining a company’s potential in terms of bottom-line results should not be looked at from the gender differences perspective. Rather, the key issue when trying to assert improved performance should be that of gender diversity. The question is not so much ‘who’ but rather ‘how’.

While it is important to recognize the gender gap in management, it is likewise important to recognise men and women contribute to business in different yet equally valuable ways. Thus, management that incorporates highly diverse teams has more opportunities to maximize results and attain improved bottom-lines, since they can draw on a wider range of strengths.  In such environments, men and women can engage in powerful, highly dynamic relationships that propel their initiatives with added impetus, forming a win-win situation for the company.

Reflecting on my own experience in management, I can attest to the strength of diverse leadership teams. The added benefit centres on improved conditions for success. When you have talented men and women working side by side, the power of collaboration which is born out of gender differences lends itself to the development of solutions that are not only more comprehensive, but also more innovative and efficient. The result is a company that is able to deliver increased value all around: for its customers, its stakeholders and its employees.

What different traits do you think male and female leaders can bring to an organisation? Share your comments below.

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