Dave Conrad: Are women better managers than men?

Dear Dave: I know you won't answer this question, but I need to know what you think. My question is, do you believe women are better managers than men? There are many women in my office who read your column and this question is at the top of our list. — T

Dear T: Trust me, I filed your question at the bottom of my "will not answer" list, but I decided to take a crack at this any way. Why do I feel like no matter what I write I am going to offend either men or women with my response? I am going to be careful here and write about what research has shown -- that may keep me off the hook.

Leadership writers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman studied 7,280 leaders in 2011. They looked at leaders in a variety of positions — from very senior management to lower level supervisors. In the study, they asked the employees of these leaders to rate these leaders in 16 leadership competencies including relationship building, team management, problem-solving, integrity and honesty, and change championing among others.

According to the data shared in the article, they found that women out-scored men in all but one of the 16 competencies surveyed, and in 12 of the 16, the women were better by a significant margin. And, in the words of Zenger and Folkman, "Two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree -- taking initiative and driving for results -- long have been thought of as particularly male strengths."

This may surprise people who prefer a male boss to a female boss, but employees who work for female managers in the U.S. are more engaged than those who work for male managers, according to Gallup research. Despite this Gallup finding, only one in three working Americans say they currently have a female boss.


Gallup also found that 41 percent of female managers are engaged at work, compared with 35 percent of male managers. In fact, female managers of every working-age generation are more engaged than their male counterparts, regardless of whether or not they have children in their household.

Gallup reveals female managers are more likely than male managers to encourage their employees' development, and they're also more inclined than their male counterparts to check in frequently on their employees' progress. Those who work for a female boss are 1.29 times more likely than those who work for a male boss to strongly agree their female boss tends to provide regular feedback to help their employees achieve their development goals.

The studies line up with my experience when doing an unscientific poll with people I know — both men and women. My sources candidly revealed that women: build better teams; they're more liked and respected as managers; they tend to be able to combine intuitive and logical thinking more seamlessly; they're more aware of the implications of the their own and others' actions; and they think more accurately about the resources needed to accomplish a given outcome.

Maybe women have to overcompensate and work harder because they are women in a male-dominated management world. This assumption was validated when I asked a friend of mine, a female manager, why women may be seen as better managers than men and she responded, "In order to get the same recognition and rewards, I need to do twice as much, never make a mistake and constantly demonstrate my competence."

In conclusion, the study by Zenger and Folkman and the polling done by Gallup seem to demonstrate pretty strongly that women are seen as better leaders than men by those around them. However, what research shows doesn't amount to much if you are working for a boss -- either a man or a woman -- that you can't stand and is totally incompetent.

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