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Women Leaders Make Work Better

When more women are empowered to lead, everyone benefits. Decades of studies show women leaders help increase productivity, enhance collaboration, inspire organizational dedication, and improve fairness.

Despite these benefits, only 10% of Fortune 500 companies are led by women. How can businesses create more opportunities for women in leadership spaces using psychological science?

Industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists offer a host of evidence-backed strategies for helping close the gender gap. These include earlier identification of leadership potential, training for men and others already in power to serve as allies, and formal mentoring and sponsorship programs.

“Even in 2023, women still face challenges to their authority and success that are greater than those faced by their male counterparts,” said Alice Eagly, PhD, a professor of psychology emerita at Northwestern University and pioneer in researching women’s leadership. “However, despite these difficulties, women are slowly rising in political leadership and in corporate and educational leadership.”

What happens when women lead

Decades of psychological research confirm when women are empowered to take on leadership positions, the effects can be metamorphic for everyone.

  • Female leaders demonstrate more transformational leadership styles, according to a landmark 1992 meta-analysis of 61 studies led by Eagly. They are more likely to epitomize what’s good in the organization and inspire people to go along with its mission, compared with men, study results show.
  • Women are now seen as equally or more competent as men, finds a 2020 meta-analysis led by Eagly. The study included data from 16 nationally representative public opinion polls involving more than 30,000 U.S. adults from 1946 to 2018. The researchers looked at three types of traits—communion (i.e., compassion, sensitivity), agency (i.e., ambition, aggression), and competence (i.e., intelligence, creativity)—and whether participants thought each trait was truer of women or men or equally true of both.

    Results showed that competence stereotypes changed dramatically over time. For example, in one 1946 poll, only 35% of those surveyed thought men and women were equally intelligent, and of those who believed there was a difference, more thought men were the more competent sex. In contrast, in one 2018 poll, 86% believed men and women were equally intelligent, 9% believed women were more intelligent, and only 5% believed men were more intelligent. Further, communal stereotypes viewing women as more compassionate and sensitive than men strengthened over time.

The American Psychological Association

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