Tag Archives: CEO

Why Women are Better CEOs, Presidents, and Prime Ministers

New research shows that women are far better at handling stress than men. I suppose that’s not a newsflash as most people already think that’s true, but consider the way in which this study frames it [Emphasis added]:

We consistently found the same general response pattern: while stressed women showed higher self-other distinction than women in the non-stressful control condition, men showed the converse pattern. More specifically, stressed women showed reduced emotional egocentricity bias, enabling them to judge the emotions of the other person in a way that was less influenced by their own emotional state. Moreover, their response times in the cognitive perspective-taking task decreased under stress, documenting that they were able to regulate the mismatch between their own and the “director’s” perspective faster under stress. Finally, stressed women showed a reduction of automatic imitative tendencies in the imitation-inhibition task, indicating that they were able to overcome low-level social signals interfering with their own movement intentions. Note that the latter finding is crucial. It highlights that women did not simply show an increase in other-related responses under stress – as this would have resulted in increased interference from automatic imitation. Instead, they were able to flexibly increase either self- or other-related representations, depending on the task demands which either required overcoming egocentric biases, or overcoming social interference.

As the stereotype goes, women are more “emotional” than men, so it would be much better for an organization or unit if it were managed by a man. However, this research is telling us that, when under stress, it is men who are less able to distinguish their emotional state from the intentions of those around them. It is men who are more adversely affected by stress. For women, it’s the opposite. In fact, women tend to be more prosocial [behaviour intended to benefit others] when they’re stressed. Meaning, instead of retreating inward, women are actually more helpful when they’re stressed.

This research certainly makes one think about the way that many organizations and countries are run today. Most people would agree that being a CEO, President, or Prime Minister certainly comes with oodles of stress. Unfortunately, the number of women who hold these positions is far outweighed by their male counterparts. Of course, there are a number of reasons for that, which we won’t get into in this post, but consider for a moment if the numbers were flipped. That is, what if there were more women CEOs (or high-powered leaders)? Or, what even if it was 50/50! What if the number of high-powered leaders and CEOs was 50% women and 50% men? At that point, would it be easier for folks to see, understand, and digest that women are actually better leaders and better at handling the stress?

Maybe it’s the language we use.

A quick Google search showed mixed results for “women are better CEOs.” In fact, many of the results near the top indicated that women CEOs are more likely to be fired. However, when I keyed in “women are better leaders,” I got plenty of positive results. Posts on Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, and articles talking about academic research in newspapers like The Globe and Mail.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world during my time in it, it’s that change (usually) happens gradually. Rarely is there a massive cultural shift overnight. So, here’s hoping that research like this contributes to the realization for some that when it comes to managers and leadership, women just might have an edge over men.

ResearchBlogging.orgTomova L, von Dawans B, Heinrichs M, Silani G, & Lamm C (2014). Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 43, 95-104 PMID: 24703175

I’d Love to Get Inside Marissa Mayer’s Head: The End of Telecommuting at Yahoo

By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Marissa Mayer is ending telecommuting at Yahoo. There’s been lots of opinion written about why what she’s doing is wrong and lots written about why what she’s doing is right. In general, I think that the research supports the plethora of pros to working from home, but of course, a blanket generalization across all situations stating that working from home is better than being in the office would be near-sighted. There are two articles that I want to highlight.

The first doesn’t specifically state that what Mayer’s doing is “right,” but does lend credence to her decision:

So when Mayer decrees seven months into the job that she wants people to, you know, physically show up at work instead of telecommuting — or else — I’m pretty confident this reflects a data-driven decision more than a cavalier command. In all likelihood, Mayer has taken good, hard looks at Yahoo’s top 250 performers and top 20 projects and come to her own conclusions about who’s creating real value — and how — in her company. She knows who her best people are.

Certainly, this makes sense. It’s unlikely that the executive team of Yahoo woke up one day and said that we need to bring those telecommuters into the office because they’re not working hard enough!

The second is of the opinion that Mayer and Yahoo might be erring in their decision:

The working-from-home ban also reveals that Mayer doesn’t know how to measure her workers’ performance. Swisher quotes a source who says that Mayer has been “irked about Yahoo parking lots that are slow to fill in the morning and quick to empty by 5 p.m.” This is a classic bad-manager misconception—that a full parking lot means people are getting stuff done. And it’s easy for employees to game that system. If my boss makes it clear that she’s looking for my car in the parking lot in the evenings and on weekends, all I’ve got to do to get noticed is spend a lot of time at the office. Sure, this will ruin the rest of my life, but otherwise it’s easy—as long as I’m in the office, even if I’m just playing solitaire, I know I’ll be making a good impression.

An important point, indeed.

As I said earlier, in looking specifically at this situation at Yahoo, I don’t know which side I come down on. In fact, it’s really impossible to know, unless I could get a hold of the data that Mayer used to make this decision. That being said, based on the research that supports working from home, part of me wonders if the data that Mayer used to make this decision isn’t accurately capturing what Yahoo thinks that it is.