HBR study paves a way forward to give female leaders the right opportunities.

female business CEO

These days it’s easy to find examples on LinkedIn and other social media of articles being proudly shared about female CEO’s being appointed in major firms. This is all great progress, of course, but there’s still a long way to go as a recent article in Harvard Business Review makes clear.

The writers point out that only 4% of Fortune 500 CEO’s and 2% of S&P 500 CEO’s are women, and that these numbers are declining globally. They go on to analyse a number of traditional biases against women, and then contrast these against recently updated research from their databases of 360-degree reviews in which people are asked to rate leadership effectiveness and competencies. The conclusions are clear and unambiguous: women in leadership positions are seen as just as competent as male leaders, and are rated as more competent on some key leadership capabilities, such as initiative taking, resilience and being an inspiration to others.

One of the more interesting findings is around self-assessment, which shows that women tend to rate themselves less favourably in their ratings. Self-confidence, too, is an interesting variable showing significant differences between male and female leaders. Women under 40 are less confident of their own competencies than men, implying that men are overconfident and think they’re more competent than they actually are. However, according to the HBR data, these differences seem to disappear for leaders over 40 years, and in fact over the age of 60, male confidence declines, while female confidence goes up.

One conclusion the researchers draw is that lower levels of confidence could and should, in fact motivate women to be more receptive to feedback and take more initiative, which would likely make them more effective later in their careers. In any case, lack of capability certainly shouldn’t hold back female leaders – but lack of opportunity is still a challenge.

At Business Basecamp, we strongly believe in giving female entrepreneurs and leaders the right opportunity, and one of our key objectives is to enable organizations to make the right decisions in order to develop the best leaders. We will speed up the removal of any unconscious bias that women don’t belong in senior positions. As the writers point out in their final paragraph, “it’s imperative that organizations change the way they make hiring and promotion decisions and ensure that eligible women are given serious consideration.”


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