Research shows that men and women share the same leadership skills

2020 | 08 | 12

So why are women still underrepresented in senior management positions?

Based on statistic Canada data, women now represent 47% of the Canadian labor force, but only 25.6% of senior managers in the private sector were women. Why is it so? We ran research to figure out what could possibly be holding women back.

Our  leadership competencies study

Our research compares nearly 200 female and male CEOs and top executives across behavioral dimensions associated with high-performance leadership: problem-solving style, work habits, motivation, self-awareness, human relations, coping strategies, lifestyle priorities, and vocational incentives.

Our findings: even with statistically higher IQs, female executives still hampered by “Imposter Syndrome” and lower self-confidence than male counterparts.

The Imposter Syndrome was coined by Georgia State academics in 1978 to describe high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. While both men and women can suffer from discomfort that they don’t have the skills or experience for the role they are in, in general men do a better job to ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’

What we measured

Our research team conducted, collected, and compared behavioral assessments on 97 female CEOs and Vice Presidents against 89 male CEO counterparts.

Results from the detailed assessments show no statistically relevant differences between the male and female executives across most of the key leadership dimensions including:

  • Stamina — able to work at a fast, prolonged pace
  • Innovation —recognizes and delivers creative, imaginative solutions
  • Decisiveness — prefers to be the final decision maker
  • Work ethic — satisfied to work at 100% effort
  • Family — recognizes importance of an active family life
  • Intuition — able to operate with few intangible facts
  • Wealth — motivated to seek personal financial wealth
  • Self-sufficiency— independent; doesn’t require reliance on others
  • Power — seeks strong influencing control over others
  • Political acumen — uses politically appropriate judgment

But, what the research does identify are two areas of statistically relevant — and telling — gaps between the sexes in “book smarts” and “self smarts”:

  • Book Smarts: Women executives have (on average) 10% higher IQs than male leaders.
  • Self Smarts: Women executives have approximately 10-15% lower self-assessment (inner belief systems) than male leaders:
    • 15% lower self-respect (holding oneself in high regard)
    • 10% lower self-confidence (faith in oneself to succeed)
    • 10% lower self-fulfillment (belief in the ability to overcome failure)
    • 10% lower self-realization (willingness to make lifestyle sacrifices to succeed)

What’s keeping women out of the C-suite?

According to McKinsey’s 2019 women in the workplace report, women only represent 22% of the C-suite corporate pipeline.

Women who make it to the top have the skills, are smarts, experienced, and show key leadership performance behaviors to succeed. But that success exacts a far greater emotional price for them than for their male counterparts.

The question is not can women succeed at the highest executive levels, but rather do they want to?


What businesses can do to build women’s potential in the workplace

At SuccessFinder, we’re not only about identifying what’s holding women back from the C-suite but we’re also about helping companies take meaningful action to lessen the gap that continues to exist between the percentage of male executives and female executives in the top leadership roles.

Companies can play a role in addressing and improving women’s confidence—and success—in the workplace:

  1. Identify women with high executive talent earlier in their managerial career using statistically valid and proven means of doing so
  2. Provide them with targeted development that enhances their self-esteem, inner confidence, and optimism about their ability to succeed at the executive level
  3. Develop more options for work/life flexibility. There are highly competent women who clearly have executive potential but many are opting out because of the perceived family and lifestyle sacrifice required.


About SuccessFinder

SuccessFinder is a talent assessment and career success prediction company, proven at more than 75 global and mid-sized organizations including Rexall, Bell, CAE, Pomerleau, SSQ, Morneau Shepell, is Financial Group, Énergir, The Ottawa Hospital, and Desjardins. Its robust cloud-based platform is used to predict — with 85% accuracy — the “behavioral DNA” connection between people’s behavioral traits and their likelihood to succeed in a role, a team, and an organizational culture.

Don’t hire for skills and hope for behavior: map the traits that matter with SuccessFinder.

Written by
Originally written by Didi D’Errico, reviewed in 2020 by Stéphanie Pelland

“I wanted to know if women really come up short in the competencies that make great leaders, or if it is more an issue of perception versus reality that could be holding them back,”Dr. Larry Cash, founder of SuccessFinder, who led this research. “What I found is that it is a case of mistaken perception and significantly lower self-confidence on the part of female leaders.”