It’s a Woman’s World

The news is out: Women are better corporate leaders than men.

So asserts a Los Angeles Times article on a new study recently published in the International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics. Among the virtues of female executives, according to the Times: “Women leaders are more likely than men to consider competing interests and take a cooperative approach when making decisions,” and they are also “more inquisitive than men and tend to see more than one solution to a problem.”

As for company performance, “companies with at least one female director were 20% less likely to file bankruptcy,” and those with “higher representations of females on their boards had better financial performance.”

Now, we admit that we have not devoted a great deal of time to evaluating the merits of this particular report. Nevertheless, we see a chance to highlight the leadership attributes said to be especially common among women, for they are traits greatly valued by Peter Drucker.

Drucker viewed the ability to consider competing interests and take a cooperative approach to making decisions as important to business success, yet uncommon in most workplaces—at least in the United States. Japanese companies, by contrast, have traditionally excelled in these areas.

In Japan, Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, “there is no discussion of the answer till there is consensus about the question,” and therefore companies explore “a wide variety of opinions and approaches.” Negotiations might drag on for months because managers in Japan solicit feedback—and disagreement—at all levels of the company, generating buy-in in the process.

Among Japanese companies, Drucker added, “the focus is on alternatives rather than on the ‘right solution.’” It’s perhaps no coincidence that Drucker saw in Japan a unique interplay “between male supremacy and female power.”

UN Women
Birth of the Commission on the Status of Women. Source: UN Women Gallery

Drucker also specifically mentioned the virtues of inquisitiveness—of asking questions—when it comes to working effectively with others. People must inform their colleagues about what they are doing, why and how. And, in turn, they need to ask these things of their associates. But many don’t communicate this way. “They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid,” Drucker observed. “They are wrong.”

In general, Drucker saw little distinction in capabilities between men and women in knowledge work. Still, as we’ve noted, he did once say, bluntly, that women are “usually better” at working with others than men are. Sorry, guys.

What do you think: Are female corporate leaders generally superior to male ones?