This blog is a companion to the interview with Susan R. Madsen and Karen Longman on VoiceAmerica “Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations” on December 20, 2016, focusing on “Women in Leadership: Why it Matters and How to Develop It.” Susan and Karen, experts and advocates for women as leaders, talk about the role women leaders play in organizations, and how we help to develop and prepare girls and women to take leadership roles.

Until relatively recently, career women generally used men as role models, emulating them because they were often mentors. Early in my career I did just this. As times have changed, however, I have been trying to understand the value that we, as women leaders, bring to organizations by acting like women rather than, as I was taught, acting like men. By acting like men, we “leave part of our value on the table” because we travel through life in different bodies, being socialized differently and ultimately having different personal and professional experiences. By denying our own experiences, we leave a gap in our ability to lead effectively and minimize what we contribute to an organization.

According to Susan Madsen, “Organizations will increasingly thrive when both men and women hold management and leadership roles.”  I wanted to understand these benefits women bring to organizations in leadership and management roles so that I could make a well-researched case to our readers and listeners who may question the general statements that we should include more women in management and leadership because of their differences. Susan’s work quantifies specific value and provides extensive data to support her claims.

For the blog post, I quote Susan’s brief extensively, but not reference her sources. If you are interested in the specific sources, please reference her original work, Utah Women and Leadership Project Research and Policy Brief: “Why Do We Need More Women Leaders in Utah?” (January 12, 2015).

Susan cites five primary benefits that companies receive by building an organization that includes both men and women in leadership and management roles. The number or percentage of each gender depends on the environment.

1. Improved financial performance: “…companies with a market capitalization of more than $10 billion and with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 percent worldwide.” In another reference, research “…showed the following benefits: higher operating results, better stock growth, better economic growth, higher market-to-book value, better corporate governance and oversight, improved corporate sustainability, and overall increased profitability.”

2. Strengthening organizational culture: “…the Corporate Leadership Council discovered a link connecting commitment to diversity and inclusion with the level of employee engagement.” The study cites several other examples of the impact women in leadership roles have on a company’s culture. “Women leaders also tend to look more carefully at issues of fairness in policies and practices for all employees. A Chinese study found that boards with higher numbers of women were less likely to violate security regulations and to commit fraud.” And finally, “inclusive leadership styles, most commonly found in women, are also linked to reduced turnover and improved performance of diverse teams.”

3. Increased corporate social responsibility and organizational reputation: “…the Committee for Economic Development argues that having more women on boards helps companies better engage with society.” Another study found “companies viewed as ethical or good corporate citizens were more likely to have more women board directors than companies without those reputations. Internal culture and practices can strengthen organizational reputation.” (Utah Women & Leadership Blog: “Increasing CSR and Organizational Reputation,” June 5, 2015.)

4. Leveraging Talent: Both male and female qualities are necessary for effective organizations, although the specific situation dictates which qualities are most effective in any given setting. “Women tend to be more holistic rather than linear thinkers. They usually look for win-win instead of win-lose solutions and are often more process-oriented than men are.” In addition to being more holistic, “Women are also known to be more sensitive to nonverbal communication cues and are often more comfortable with ambiguity.” Finally, when looking at another study, “Researchers looked at data from 7,000 leaders and found that, according to subordinates, peers, and superiors, women outperformed men on 12 of 16 measures of outstanding leadership competencies and scored the same as men in the other four. Most significantly, women’s scores lead those of men in taking initiative, practicing self-development, displaying high integrity and honesty, and driving for results.”

5. Enhancing innovation and collective intelligence: “…research findings revealed that the ‘number of women in the group significantly predicted the effective problem-solving abilities of the group overall.’ As with other studies, the researchers also found that the collective intelligence of the group exceeded the cognitive abilities and aptitudes of the individual members of the group. This collective intelligence is critical to effective decision making and problem solving, as well as high levels of innovation and creativity.”

These data make a strong case that including the right women in leadership and management roles improves organizational performance, and are held true globally and across a broad range of organizations.

For organizations looking for leverage points to improve performance, you may be missing a significant differentiator if you have not evaluated your polices on developing, recruiting, and retaining women.

If you are looking for additional information, the International Leadership Association, in concert with Information Age Publishing, launched a new book series: Women and Leadership: Research, Theory, and Practice. This series asks provocative questions about the status quo, encouragers and discouragers to women’s leadership advancement, explores what strategies are working, and if the “pipeline” is a helpful metaphor for addressing the challenges that still confront high-potential women.

To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.

About the author

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Metcalf & Associates, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

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