Perception Matters: Emphasizing A Woman’s Achievements Will Make Her More Likely To Lead

EXETER, England — The typical business office has historically been a male-dominated domain. For decades, women were largely relegated to secretarial and assistant roles while their male counterparts were enjoying much more lucrative managerial roles. Of course, times are changing in 2020 and the typical office is no different. Women are being promoted and placed in leadership roles in the business world at ever increasing rates. However, recent research has found that many women working in male-stereotyped industries are hesitant to assume leadership roles.

So, what can be done to help make women more comfortable taking on these managerial positions? Researchers from Exeter University believe that highlighting and emphasizing a woman’s prior achievements and accomplishments in her field will make her significantly more likely, and more comfortable, accepting a leadership position in charge of men.

Furthermore, the research suggests that teams led by more empowered female leaders typically end up producing superior results.

The study’s authors initially noted that the more men present within a mixed-gender office team, the more hesitant women were to assume a leadership position. It’s worth noting that the same actually held true for the opposite; men were less likely to assume leadership roles if the team they would be managing held more women than men. Regarding women, though, researchers discovered that publicly acknowledging a woman’s accomplishment helped alleviate this tendency to avoid leading men.

On average, women working in male-stereotyped industries are twice as likely to turn down a leadership position.

“There are so many capable women, but many do not feel encouraged in their workplace, and this leaves them feeling they shouldn’t put themselves forward for leadership positions,” says head researcher Dr Jingnan Chen in a release. “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.”

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“If we have more acknowledgement of women’s achievements, so their colleagues know what they are doing well, women will be more likely to step up and utilize their leadership skills,” she adds. “Recognizing women’s abilities should be done by pointing out their quantitative achievements – specific, objective and measurable work such as sales figures or number of projects successfully completed.”

“Of course this research does not suggest anyone should downplay male achievements, but it shows companies should make a commitment to making sure female achievements are not overlooked or ignored. This is especially important in male-dominated industries,” Dr. Chen clarifies.

Conversely, the research also noted that when being offered a lead position among a group entirely consisting of other women, proclaiming a woman’s accomplishments actually makes her less inclined to accept the job. This is attributed to most women wanting to foster an environment of fairness and cooperation among other females.

The experimental portion of this study included 248 University of Exeter students, separated into four groups. Each group was asked to complete a series of tasks, such as quiz-style questionnaires. Then, each student was asked how likely or comfortable they would be leading their group. Participants were also asked if a man or a woman would know more about the subject they were being quizzed on, and the likelihood that the answer provided by the group was correct.

“We have shown highlighting achievements is both highly beneficial and often straightforward for companies. The most capable female and male leaders emerge, and consequently the best group outcomes are obtained, when public performance feedback is given,” Dr. Chen concludes.

The study is published in The Leadership Quarterly.

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