European & International News

New study finds staff rate female leaders highly but male bosses score them lower than men

[Brussels, 14 September 2011] A three-year study conducted by Oxford Brookes University has found that staff rate women managers, and their style of leadership, higher than that of their male counterparts, but that conversely, their bosses rated them significantly lower.

The following are extracts from an article published in The Guardian by Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, professor of leadership studies at Oxford Brookes University:

“Our major three-year investigation of the nature of leadership – which is deliberately gender- and ethnic-inclusive – sought the views of staff rather than asking senior managers why they are effective. It has resulted in what we believe is the first model of the nature of "engaging leadership" and closely resembles "servant leadership", that is, the notion that leaders create an environment and relationships which are based on genuine respect, empowerment, collaboration and partnership, with their staff, colleagues, and other stakeholders, in achieving the organisation’s goals. In a subsequent three-year research study, we found that teams that embed a culture of engaging leadership are more productive, have higher morale and lower stress levels than those that don’t.

While this should lead to optimism in relation to the increased opportunities for women to display their generally preferred style of leadership, I am still holding my breath. Why? Because additional research we conducted that compared how female and male middle-to-senior managers were rated by their bosses in 360-degree feedback, found that women were rated significantly lower than men. Interestingly, and importantly, their staff rated them higher!

What might be the reason for these findings? Research studies exploring whether there are differences in how success and failure are perceived in female and male managers, revealed that even when women produced superior outcomes at work, this was more likely to be attributed to luck, or exerting extra effort, which is clearly somewhat transitory, whereas men’s success was more likely to be attributed to their personal capability. However, failure in women is more likely to be attributed to lack of ability, but for men, to bad luck.

A major problem for women is that they simply don’t look like the notion of a leader, because leaders look like men.”

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