If at the workplace you have always had the feeling that, beyond the widespread prejudices, most of the women in charge manage to handle the professional problems with greater professionalism, now an authoritative study proves in an incontrovertible way the effectiveness of this sensation . Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, respectively CEO and president of Zenger / Folkman, a North American leadership development consultancy, and authors of the book Speed: How Leaders Accelerate Successful Execution, recently updated data from research that started in 2012. The report evaluates, through interviews, the performance of the heads of different companies, assigning a score expressed as a percentage to specific skills recognized as essential to being an excellent leader.
The results are easily accessible through a table that compares the scores obtained by women and men. Women outnumber men out of 17 of the 19 skills that characterize an excellent leader, among them: the ability to take initiatives, resilience, high integrity and honesty and being able to motivate and inspire others. In the commentary on their research published on the prestigious Harvard business Review website, Zenger and Folkman wonder how it is possible that, given the facts, the business world continues not to take these evidences into due consideration. The causes are often based on die-hard prejudices, but other times they are caused unknowingly by the women themselves.
The first group includes those obsolete and anachronistic categories of thought that believe that women do not aspire to roles of responsibility because, when in life they have to reconcile career and family, they renounce the first in favor of the second. Obviously, in this case the cultural problem is not only in assuming what the choice falls on, but in completely ignoring that if the companies were more family-friendly, as suggested by the article that always appeared in the Harvard business review, entitled Rethink what you “know” About High-Achieving Women, this would allow women workers not to give up anything.
The biases of many leaders also prevent women’s access to roles of power, as proven in 2016 by management professor David R. Hekman at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business and his team. “Everyone is known that people have prejudices because they tend to preserve the status quo,” Hekman writes, “Change makes them uncomfortable. It is for this reason that 95% of CEOs are white men: prejudices cause boards of directors unconsciously tend to prefer hiring white men to fill roles of power. “
In the second category of cases, highlighted by the scholars Zenger and Folkman, who contribute to limiting women’s access to the top roles in companies, falls the wrong assessment that women workers make of their skills. “Interestingly, our data show that when women are asked to evaluate themselves, they are not as generous in their estimates,” they write. The data differ in age: women under 25 have less self-confidence than their male colleagues who, on the other hand, often demonstrate too much and not always proven by proportionate results in the workplace. Towards forty years men and women reach a right awareness about their abilities, while from sixty years onwards it is women who have more self-confidence, with a growth of 29% compared to the beginning of their careers. On the other hand, men demonstrate that they feel less competent at the end of their working life.
The problem very often arises even before the application: women tend not to compete for a job if they do not feel they satisfy most of the qualifications required, while men have a totally different approach. Workers respond to a job offer if they believe they meet 60% of the requirements. “A man and woman with identical credentials, who have no experience with a higher level position, come to different conclusions about their preparation. Man is more likely to assume that he can learn what he doesn’t know with practice. [ …] The woman is instead inclined to be more cautious and less willing to come forward in similar circumstances “.
These authoritative studies can also respond to the numbers circulating in Italy: according to the latest Manageritalia report, released on 7 March, in the category of private managers, women are now 17.1% of the total. Still too little, even though they grew by 32.7% from 2008 to 2017, against a 10.3% drop in men. Among middle managers, women are 29.5% and 36.1% among under 35s. “We are not yet on an equal footing,” says Luisa Quarta, coordinator of the Women Manager Group Manageritalia Lombardia, “but we are improving. Although here and in many other economic and social fields there is a lot to do not only for women, but in general for all those differences that have always been, but even more today, a value to be shared. And this we can do by aiming only and truly on merit, which must be the only parameter with which to evaluate and grow those who work, with real benefits for everyone, people and companies “.
As also highlighted by the study of Zenger and Folkman, in fact, what keeps women from reaching top roles is in no way the lack of ability but a lack of opportunity. When these conditions are provided, women are more likely to succeed in higher level positions than men. In 2019, speaking at a private leadership event, Barack Obama, President of the United States from 2009 to 2017, said that while in office he had meditated on what the world would have been like if women had been in power. “What I can say quite indisputably is that you are better than us [men]. I am absolutely confident that if every nation on earth was run by women it would take two years to see a significant improvement in practically all fields.”
If the awards are not lacking and the data prove us right, what is missing then is a serious and new corporate culture that does not limit, even if only unconsciously and in accordance with old legacies, the great skills of women and the new, different skills that could enrich all working areas with their entry into senior roles. Unfortunately, we cannot rely only on the generic idea that the new generations will do better than the previous ones. Also in the article Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women, written by professors Robin J. Ely, Pamela Stone and Colleen Ammerman, it is highlighted how Millennials, although they have different knowledge and sensitivity compared to their parents, tend to emphasize the same social patterns.
“Younger men have more traditional expectations than their peers. While three quarters of women predict that their careers will be at least as important as those of their partners,” reports the report, “half of the men of the same generation expect their careers will take priority. And while two-thirds of the boys expect their partners to manage the majority of childcare, just under half (42%) of the girls think that it will be up to them. their”. These latest data published in the Harvard business review, added to the first, must encourage us not to give in, to continue to reflect, study and work to overcome prejudices and ancient social conventions, because the world of work can only respond to new global challenges if will be able to recognize all its protagonists their fair value.