Women as Leaders: Good for Worker Engagement and The Performance of Our Organizations!

Some interesting information came over my favorite evening TV news show the other day: it was about the role of women at work, something in which I have been interested ever since I was a young recruit at the Hay Group, an international HR consulting firm which specializes in compensation programs, among other things.  My job as a junior level consultant was to learn the Hay System, a method of evaluating jobs for knowledge and skills needed, and responsibility placed on the person in the job.   Each job then came out with a single score of “Hay points”.  It was interesting because it was capable of separating the job from the person in the job.  The system allowed clients to pay women equally based on what was being paid in their market or locality for a given complexity or “size” of job regardless of male or female incumbents.  As such it enabled our clients to tell their female workers that they were being paid, not on prejudiced pay scales for “womens’ jobs” but on something “gender neutral”.  I got a lot of satisfaction from that.  When I soon moved into Hay’s research business (employee opinion surveys, culture, worker morale etc.) I didn’t forget the lessons learned on the compensation side, and have always been interested in data about women at work.

So on NBC News the other day, this piece came on about how many women are now in the US workplace and what positions they hold, how many go to college and so on. Data was also shown as to how they are being paid, which is always a depressing figure.  The employment and education numbers are far from depressing, however. Sixty percent of women now work outside the home; they occupy more than half the professional and managerial jobs in the US, which is an astounding statistic.  There are now more women in college than men in US, and 40% of women are primary breadwinners in their families.

This was mostly great news for women, but it got better: the part which really caught my eye was about top management jobs and womens’ impact when they occupy them. NBC quoted a study, not a new one but one I had not seen before, that looked at 2000 of the biggest US companies. This was done by David Ross of Columbia Business School and showed that when women were senior managers in a company, it performed better.** Ross was interviewed and he said that is because as leaders women are more democratic, less dictatorial and more collaborative. I would add, also more compassionate. Now the jump to engagement here is an easy one: the traits which Professor Ross mentions are clearly ones which are related to creating a more “engaging environment”, that is one in which workers will choose to engage.

The idea that women are having more and more positive influence on work cultures is gaining ground in both books and the blogosphere. In Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership, Barbara McMahon states: “In the new form of leadership, it is no longer doctrine that creates a following; it is dialogue. It’s more valuable to be able to engage than to influence. Command and control has shifted to collaboration and empowerment.” As blogger Mitch McCrimmon points out: “Regardless of whether more women make it to the top, organizations are becoming more feminine. There is now more emphasis on relationship skills, emotional intelligence, the ability to nurture talent, listening skills, collaboration and partnership. These skills are essential for success for both male and female executives.” At the same time he points out that mens’ competitive nature is essential and that “In any case, this issue should focus, not on men versus women, but on organizational culture. At that level, a mixture of feminine and masculine traits are required. But there is no doubt that we are in the midst of an unstoppable shift to more feminine cultures”

With women now going to college more than men, and that trend accelerating, they will continue to get more of the top jobs. This study would indicate that this bodes well for US engagement and resulting organizational performance levels. That is good news in an otherwise still quite gloomy post-Crash hangover!

** Note: I am aware that correlation is not cause, and the fact that there may be a third element in this story, which “causes” both women being hired to top jobs and great performance by the organization. I was not able to check if Professor Ross had allowed for this, but he talks as if he has. It is certainly worth further research.

Data source: NBC Nightly News (US), “America in Transition”: March 4th 2011

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