Successful Female Leaders

Carina Furlong, a student on our MA Coaching programme is modelling successful female leaders. Having sent her the following article we thought we would share it with you;

Women are often appointed leaders of some of the most successful companies in their most critical moments. Some well known examples are: the appointments of the prime minister of Sweden when the country suffered as a result of the global recession and the CEO of the oil company Sunoco, appointed when the share price dropped by 50%. But why does this phenomenon (known as the glass cliff), occur?
In 2005, a year-long study conducted by Caliper2, a Princeton, New Jersey-based management consulting firm, and Aurora, a London-based organization that advances women, identified a number of characteristics that distinguish women leaders from men when it comes to qualities of leadership:

1. Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts.
2. When feeling the sting of rejection, women leaders learn from adversity and carry on with an “I’ll show you” attitude.
3. Women leaders demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of problem solving and decision making.
4. Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks.

Despite research showing that women have specific leadership qualities, Susanna Bruckmüller and Nyla Branscombe (2010) noted, in their research, that women often only became leaders in times of trouble because men lack the attributes to do so.

As part of their research, they carried out two tests on different sets of people. The first posed a group with a fictitious story of a company in trouble. Respondents would pick a female to take over if the previous bosses had been men but would pick either a man or a woman if they had been women. Why did it not work both ways?

In the second test, they provided the respondents with details of a fake supermarket chain and described to them two managerial candidates, one male and one female. The respondents were asked who they would pick if the business was thriving or if it was in crisis. They discovered that the man was often appointed leader in times of prosperity but the woman, thanks to her stereotypical attributes (e.g. more Emotional Intelligence etc), would be picked if the company was in trouble.

The work of Bruckmüller and Branscombe appears to have highlighted a real-life male leadership bias. They conclude that women only get their true opportunity to lead when it is believed that men can no longer do so, and not because of their merits.

The research highlights some interesting points. Do we perceive women’s leadership qualities only useful in a crisis? Being Emotionally Intelligent would seem to be not enough to ensure that women have the opportunity to excel at leadership. There are obviously some great women leaders (Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi), however, it would appear to still be the norm to only choose a female leader in times of crisis, regardless of how many leadership attributes they may have.

Bruckmüller, S. & Branscombe, N. (2010). The glass cliff: When and why women are selected as leaders in crisis contexts. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49 (3), 433-451

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