There’s a biological reason why there are fewer women leaders — how women can overcome it


It’s commonly known that women have struggled with climbing the corporate ladder in the workplace for decades. Luckily, companies around the world are trying to incorporate more gender diversity into leadership roles within organizations. A recent study conducted by the University of Buffalo looked into the concept of servant leadership and discovered that, contrary to our preconditioned idea that men are the best leaders, women may actually be better suited for these jobs.

The researchers were quoted in a Forbes article describing their findings. “When people think of a strong leader, many people subconsciously picture a man because of persistent stereotypes of men as commanding and goal-focused,” the researchers say. “Meanwhile, because they’re seen as more caring and people-focused, women have always faced a disadvantage—or outright discrimination—as leaders.”

The term “servant leadership” refers to the idea that the leader is to serve the people and communities, as opposed to personal gain. The term was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in an essay he published in 1970.

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types.”

The study

The researchers wanted to see which gender would be better suited in this role. They looked at over 100 leaders and 400 employers from six organizations.

The data revealed that women were more successful at inspiring better performance from their team members than their male counterparts.

Women also encouraged team members to also display servant leadership qualities.

“As followers began acting like servant leaders, they became more engaged, proactive and productive—and women were better than men at sparking that change,” the Forbes article states.

How to encourage women to pursue leadership roles

Since we have research saying women may make better leaders, why aren’t there more of them in leadership positions? Organizations still have a long way to go in providing equal gender opportunities in the workplace. One of the biggest ways we can support women in growing into the amazing leaders we know they can be is to provide support.

One of the ways we can support women in the workplace is by highlighting their achievements. Forbes cited a study conducted by the University of Exeter that stated that recognizing women’s accomplishments at work can give them the boost of confidence they need to explore opportunities in leadership. Women typically tend to shy away from these roles, especially in a male-dominated environment.

 “There is not enough attention paid to the efforts of high-achieving women, partly because they are less likely than men to self-promote their abilities, but it is very important that their work is equally recognized,” the researchers said.

Women should also demonstrate their servant leader skills on a daily basis. Displaying the core values of a servant leader (showing that you care more for helping your company and co-workers than your personal success) will come across to your peers. By women having confidence in themselves and their actions, it shows that they have just as much capability as men to run a work environment.

We can all play a part in the quest to help women climb the corporate ladder and shatter the glass ceiling. Acknowledging women’s achievements, shattering patriarchal stereotypes and providing women with new opportunities in the workplace are steps we must take. Here’s to hoping we see more women servant leaders in the coming years.