Over 25 years ago I took a hard look at this question with a graduate student, Jane Farrell. I will state my bias up front. I think the management style and effectiveness of all people in leadership positions varies widely, far more than it might between men and women – and frankly I doubted that our research would show a difference. As a social scientist, I put my bias on the shelf and collected data. What is the relationship between sex of the leader and the bottom-line?
We examined 20 years of studies using Psychological Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, and the Defense Technical Information Center. Additionally we did a manual search of several academic journals. We were conducting a meta-analysis, which looks at results across studies and computes the average effect size. We identified 70 studies. Our criteria for including a study were (1) measures of group performance under both male and female leaders and (2) enough detail that we could calculate an effect size. Of the 70 studies, only 9 met our criteria. Some were field studies; several, laboratory.
The average effect size was .08 with a variance of .03. Given the small effect size we concluded it does not really matter to the bottom-line whether the leader is a woman or man. It is the person and that person’s leadership that matters.
1. Many studies have been done in the past 25 years relating to the sex of the leader. Researchers have studied many factors but I have not found one asking our question, the relationship between sex of the leader and the bottomline. More recent research by others has shown the positive effect of women on the decision making of corporate boards.
2. The most important criterion for any manager is results. Results can shape opportunities. We were surprised how few studies had been conducted focusing on the leader’s sex and results. On the other hand, it may be a positive sign that this is no longer seen as a topic worth researching.
3. At the time of this study, I grew tired of hearing less-than-positive comments about women leaders from both men and women. It is the character of leaders that matters, their attitudes toward followers, their authenticity, the level of trust they create, and their ability to truly listen. Both women and men have the potential to be great leaders.
Ballard, J. A., & Farrell, J. A. (1989, August). Group performance and sex of the leader: A meta-analysis. Paper presented at the 97th annual convention of the American Psychological Association, New Orleans, LA.
Image “Women Lead” by geralt. Obtained from pixabay. Public domain: https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en
© John Ballard, PhD, 2016. All rights reserved.
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