Work is improved by female leaders. The science behind promoting them is explained here.


Studies on psychology indicate that companies with female executives perform better. Experts provide advice on how to boost the proportion of women in leadership positions.

Everyone gains when more women are given the ability to lead. Numerous studies conducted over the years have shown the positive effects of women leaders on productivity, teamwork, organizational devotion, and justice.

Ten percent of Fortune 500 corporations are run by women, notwithstanding these advantages. How can companies use psychological research to give women more chances in leadership roles?

A variety of research-supported tactics are available from industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists to assist in narrowing the gender gap. These include of early detection of leadership potential, official mentorship and sponsorship programs, and training for males and other powerful individuals to act as supporters.

Professor of psychology emerita at Northwestern University and pioneer in the study of women’s leadership, Alice Eagly, PhD, said that “women still face challenges to their authority and success that are greater than those faced by their male counterparts.” “Yet, women are gradually advancing in corporate, educational, and political leadership roles despite these obstacles.”

What happens when women take the lead

Psychological study spanning decades confirms that when women are given the opportunity to assume leadership roles, everyone may experience a metamorphosis.

  • A seminal 1992 meta-analysis of 61 research headed by Eagly found that female leaders exhibit stronger transformative leadership approaches. Compared to males, they are more likely to represent the organization’s best qualities and encourage others to support its goals, according to research findings.
  • According to a 2020 meta-analysis headed by Eagly, women are now seen as equally or more capable than males. Data from sixteen nationally representative public opinion surveys with over 30,000 American people were used into the research between 1946 and 2018. The three sorts of qualities the researchers examined were competence (i.e., intellect, creativity), agency (i.e., ambition, aggressiveness), and communication (i.e., compassion, sensitivity). The researchers then asked individuals to rate the degree to which each feature applied more to men or women than to the other.

    The findings demonstrated how competency preconceptions evolved over time in a significant way. In a 1946 study, for instance, just 35% of respondents said that men and women were equally clever, and of those who did, more said that males were the more capable sex. On the other hand, according to a 2018 survey, 86% of respondents thought men and women were equally intellectual, 9% thought women were smarter than men, and 5% thought men were smarter than women. Furthermore, throughout time, societal preconceptions that women are more sensitive and empathetic than males became stronger.

  • According to a 2010 research, the inclusion of women in the group significantly improves team cooperation, an impact that is mostly explained by women’s advantages to group processes. Organizational psychologist Anita Williams Woolley, PhD, and her colleagues looked at working groups of two to five people in two studies totaling 699 participants. They discovered that the percentage of women in a group was significantly correlated with the group’s collective intelligence, or their capacity to collaborate and solve a variety of problems. In terms of conversational turn-taking, groups including more women demonstrated higher equality, which further allowed the members to be more receptive to one another and to maximize the knowledge and abilities of the group.
  • In seven of the eight leadership-relevant attributes evaluated in a 2008 Pew Research Center nationwide poll, women score higher than or are on par with men. Twenty percent of respondents thought males were more honest than women, whereas half of the respondents said women were more honest than men. About IQ, 38% of respondents thought women were smarter than men, while just 14% said males were wiser. Additionally, women were rated as being more gregarious, creative, and empathetic.
  • According to a 2022 research headed by social psychologist Mansi P. Joshi, PhD, the sheer appearance of a female CEO compared to a male leader prompted perceivers to predict fairer treatment in that firm and increased anticipated wage and prestige. In businesses where women predominate as well as those where men do, female leaders who also held varied positions in the organizational hierarchy fostered organizational trust.
  • According to a 2022 research, elevating women to the highest levels of management might even help lessen ingrained linguistic preconceptions. Using natural language processing techniques, researchers examined over 43,000 shareholder documents and investor calls from 33 S&P 500 companies led by men and women. What they discovered was that the appointment of female CEOs and board members was linked to changes in the language used by the organizations, as it helped to associate women with qualities that are essential for successful leadership. “Our findings suggest that female representation is not merely an end in and of itself, but also a way to overcome the trade-off between women being seen as likeable or competent,” the study’s authors stated.

steady yet gradual advancement

In business, Congress, higher education, and psychology, female leaders are gradually gaining traction as a result of continuous initiatives to advance gender equality in the workplace. Even with these exceptions, there are still far too many men than women in positions of leadership. Psychology experts, such as the late Jean Lau Chin, EdD, who was the first Asian American psychologist to get a license in Massachusetts and was a trailblazer in promoting more diversity in leadership, have been echoing this theme for years.

“Merely having a place at the table is insufficient,” Chin said at a 2016 TEDx Talk. “If we are to have a future together that moves ahead, it is time for women and diverse leaders to be at the head of the table in leadership roles.”

Many women encounter prejudice because of their color, sexual orientation, disability, or other facets of their identity, in addition to their gender. According to a McKinsey & Company research on Women in the Workplace for 2022, Latinas and Black women are less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to claim that their boss supports their professional growth.

Additionally, they feel less psychologically secure. According to a McKinsey analysis, Black and Asian women are less likely to have powerful supporters on their teams. Additionally, compared to White women, they are less likely to claim that significant sponsorship actions—like complimenting their abilities or pushing for a raise in their pay—have been made on their behalf by senior colleagues. Moreover, more dehumanizing and isolating microaggressions are reported by LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities. They are more likely than women in general to get comments about their looks from coworkers, such as “look mad” or “should smile more.”

How can institutions support the advancement of more women into leadership positions?

Science suggests a number of actions that businesses and people may do to narrow the gender gap in leadership.

Early on, identify those who may be leaders. According to executive coach and adjunct psychology professor at New York University Anna Marie Valerio, PhD, early detection of leadership potential is one viable strategy. Encouraging aspiring leaders to get a lot of feedback early in their careers via assignments, coaching, and mentorship is one way to do this. These opportunities can also help them build their networks and show that they can handle more responsibility.

According to Valerio, author of the 2009 book Developing Women Leaders: A Guide for Men and Women in Organizations, “giving women key experiences early in their careers helps give them the runway to be able to develop themselves and excel and go as far as their skills, abilities, and motivation will take them.”

Create mentoring initiatives with a sponsorship component. Many studies highlight the advantages of effective mentoring programs, including increased employee engagement, retention, and knowledge-sharing for companies as well as increased career success for individuals.

According to I/O psychologist Victoria Mattingly, PhD, founder and CEO of Mattingly Solutions, a workplace inclusion consulting firm, when it comes to mentors, it’s crucial that women look for mentors who can offer career guidance, support, feedback, and knowledge, as well as sponsors who go above and beyond the role of mentor and use their position and influence to proactively advocate for a junior employee’s advancement.

According to research, sponsorship is a more useful tool than mentoring for assisting a person’s advancement into leadership roles, according to Mattingly. “While mentors are excellent sources of advice and sounding boards, when the chips are down, you need someone who will stand up for you when you’re not in the room.”

Encourage women to become members of professional groups run by women. According to a 2023 research, women may enhance their leadership skills by becoming members of women’s professional groups. Members of a women-led professional organization in the Southeast of the United States were surveyed by researchers, who discovered that membership in these associations enables members to develop their leadership skills, network with other women, collaborate with and watch over other women leaders, and get encouragement from others to assume leadership roles.

According to research authors, “as a result, these members had more expansive views of leadership within their careers, increased confidence in their leadership capabilities, and increased aspirations for leadership.”

Employers may support this by allocating cash for professional development within their budgets, which will enable more staff members to participate in these groups.

Prioritize allyship. According to Mattingly, men and women alike may contribute to increasing the proportion of female leaders. A 2018 research found that male CEOs who get training on how to be allies are considerably more likely to speak up about instances of gender injustice than males who do not receive this kind of training. The study’s author, Mattingly, said, “This occurs because they are already in a position of power and they are not going to be penalized for speaking out the way a woman would.”

According to Mattingly, allies help and speak out for members of historically marginalized identity groups by using their privilege and in-group position. She went on to say that allieship should also be considered from an intersectional perspective, with White women supporting women of color, able-bodied people supporting people with impairments, and heterosexual people supporting members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Leveraging our privilege to either step up or step back or step in and help those who have historically been left behind when it comes to advancing into leadership roles is a matter of recognizing our privileges, working through the biases that we all have as humans,” Mattingly added.

The future of female leaders is bright, according to Valerio, because of these and other global initiatives that enable women to hold leadership positions.

“We have the perspective of witnessing what happens when you give people important experiences, the forums to learn from those experiences, and mentors and coaches,” she added. “We know so much more about this issue than we did ten years ago.” “They possess the ability to achieve the necessary progress and a positive outlook on inclusivity. In ten years, hopefully, this won’t even be a problem, but getting there will still need consistent work on our part.

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