Tag Archives: Managers

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

Facebook is a Poor Predictor of Performance of Job Applicants

A few months ago, I planned on writing more posts about academic research. I wrote one about spending your bonus on others making you happier (than if you’d spent it on yourself), but haven’t got around to it since. My intentions were good as anyone can see from looking at the list of tweets I’ve favourited over the last 100 days. Just about all the tweets I’ve “bookmarked” to read are academic in nature.

I came across an academic article the other day that seemed quite interesting and reminded me of much of what you hear when you’re in university: be careful what you put online! Even after you’ve graduated, you often hear that your employer (or potential employer) will be watching to see what you put online, so be careful what you put on Facebook. We’re told that it can have an adverse effect on our ability to be hired (or maintain our current employment).

This particular study tried to address a gaping hole in empirical research. That is, the popular press often talk about how important it is to have a pared down social media profile, but there hasn’t been much research studying the effects of potential employers using social media profiles in screening candidates. Before we take a look at some of the results, I wanted to share three important points from the article:

First, as discussed, SM [Social Media] platforms such as Facebook are designed to network with friends and family rather than to measure job-relevant attributes. Indeed, most SM information pertains to applicants’ outside-of-work interests and activities, which may have little bearing on work behavior. This factor, in and of itself, may be enough to suggest that criterion- related validity for SM assessments may be low. [Emphasis added]

The researchers raise an important point that — no doubt — you’ve seen elsewhere. Most people use Facebook in order to connect with friends & family and as a result, it may not be the best measure of how one would function at work.

Second, the sheer volume of SM information also may inhibit decision makers from drawing valid inferences. . . This large amount of information may put demands on decision makers’ ability to process all the potential cues and to determine what information (if any) is relevant and what is not. This situation may cause decision makers to rely on biases and cognitive heuristics may reduce validity. [Emphasis added]

I’ve written extensively about cognitive biases. The researchers mention of the volume of information regarding social media makes me wonder how long before organizations are using Big Data to try and analyze all the social media data in painting a portrait of a candidate.

Finally, inaccurate information may undermine the criterion-related validity of SM assessments. For example, the desire to be perceived as socially desirable may lead applicants to embellish or fabricate information they post on SM, such as experience, qualifications, and achievements. Furthermore, because other people can post information about applicants on SM platforms (e.g., Facebook), applicants do not have complete control of their information. As such, applicants may be unduly “penalized” for what others post. In fact, one study found that comments posted by others on one’s Facebook profile had a greater effect on observers’ impressions than did one’s own comments (Walther, Van Der Heide, Kim, Westerman, & Tong, 2008).


In this study, the researchers had recruiters rate Facebook profiles of potential job candidates and then followed up with those job candidates after they’d secured employment. As you might expect from where this post has led, the evaluations the recruiters gave of the potential job candidates based on their Facebook profiles were unrelated to the ratings issued by supervisors on a number of factors: job performance, turnover intentions, and actual turnover. Moreover, these predictions based on Facebook profiles aren’t more useful than other, more common methods: cognitive ability, personality, self-efficacy, or even GPA. What’s more, they found that Facebook ratings were higher for females (vs. males) and that ratings were higher for White candidates (vs. Black and/or Hispanic candidates).

I understand that many managers think more data will help them make better decisions, but as has been demonstrated in this article, when it comes to job candidates, maybe checking their Facebook profiles could lead managers to make the wrong decisions.

ResearchBlogging.orgChad H. Van Iddekinge, Stephen E. Lanivich, Philip L. Roth, & Elliott Junco (2013). Social Media for Selection? Validity and Adverse Impact Potential of a Facebook-Based Assessment Journal of Management DOI: 10.1177/0149206313515524

If You Want to Be Happy, Spend Your Bonus On Your Coworkers

We’re getting closer to the end of the year and for many firms and organizations that means it’s time to think about bonuses. Many people rely on these bonuses to get them through the holidays with all the extra spending (gifts, kids, travel, etc.). How would you react if your company made a slight change to your bonuses this year. Instead of receiving your usual 1% or 10% bonus, depending on your industry, what if your boss said you had to donate that money to a charity or that you had to spend that money on your fellow coworkers?

I’d imagine that you probably wouldn’t be too happy, am I right? That bonus you were looking forward to at the end of the year is “yours” and you should get to spend it on you and your family. Except, research shows that’s not the case. In fact, the research indicates that spending the money on someone other than yourself actually leads to greater happiness. More than that, it can lead to your improved performance at work.

In the first experiment, researchers gave charity vouchers to the experimental groups and instructed them to donate to a charity. The control group received nothing. The results:

Participants who received a $50 USD charity voucher reported being significantly happier, whereas happiness levels were unchanged for those in the control and $25 USD conditions.

In the second experiment, researchers gave members of a sports team money with which to spend on a teammate. They also gave money to the team members (of a different team) and told them to spend it on themselves. The results [Emphasis added]:

Prosocial bonus teams performed better than personal bonus teams. . . In the prosocial bonuses condition, sports teams showed a large, but statistically marginally significant increase in performance. Meanwhile, in the personal bonuses condition, there was no evidence for improved performance.

Another way to demonstrate the effectiveness of these interventions is to calculate the return on investment for prosocial and personal bonuses. On sports teams, every $10 people spent on themselves led to a two percent decrease in winning percentage, whereas every $10 spent prosocially led to an 11% increase in winning percentage.

In the third experiment, the researchers used sales teams at a pharmaceutical company. Sales teams were split up into two conditions: spending money on themselves or spending money on a coworker. The results [Emphasis added]:

Prosocial bonus teams performed better than personal bonus teams. In the prosocial bonuses condition, sales teams showed a large and significant increase in performance. Meanwhile, in the personal bonuses condition, there was no evidence for a performance improvement.

Once again, it is possible to conceptualize the effectiveness of these interventions by calculating the return on investment for prosocial and personal bonuses. On sales teams, for every $10 USD given to a team member to spend on herself, the firm gets just $3 USD back – a net loss; because sales do not increase with personal bonuses, personal bonuses are wasted money. In sharp contrast, for every $10 USD given to a team member to spend prosocially, the firm reaps $52 USD.

The research, while not extensive, adds to the growing body of evidence that prosocial behaviour can reap positive results for those who engage in it. As the researchers wrote in the discussion section, future research is needed, but this study does give managers another tool with which to improve the performance of their teams and increase the well-being (i.e. happiness) of their employees.

Anik L, Aknin LB, Norton MI, Dunn EW, & Quoidbach J (2013). Prosocial Bonuses Increase Employee Satisfaction and Team Performance. PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075509

Could “General Managers” Have Stopped JP Morgan’s Loss?

Jamie Dimon (CEO of ) has been in the news for the last couple of weeks and I’m sure he’d much rather not have been (at least not in the news for the reasons he and his firm are in the news). The :

JPMorgan Chase says losses from a massive trading blunder in the bank’s London have reached $5.8 billion and could go as high as $7 billion.

That’s a . I think that this occurrence (and probably the kerfuffle with ) is tied to something I read in the Harvard Business Review last week. It was an article by in that talked about the :

At one time general managers were at the center of the action. Two decades ago, organizations were designed around stand-alone business units, so all managers had to understand finance, technology, manufacturing, sales, marketing, strategy, human resources, and more. . . However starting in the 1980’s, many companies evolved to “functional” structures to cut costs and reduce duplication. The transition consolidated those support functions which were common among the BU’s [business units]. GE, for example, went from hundreds of discrete BU’s to a dozen large businesses with each one having strong, centralized finance, HR, engineering, marketing, and manufacturing units. . . In fact, for many chief executives I’ve recently worked with, the first real GM job that they had was CEO!

While I can see how this trend has helped to save companies lots of money, I find it a tad worrisome. I’ve about having an eye towards the bigger picture and I wonder if by consolidating these business units that this eye towards the bigger picture has been shielded. That is, not having a general manager there to act as “oversight” may have made it easier to shirk long-term goals and focus on short-term profits.

Tying this back into the JP Morgan Chase loss: I wonder if the firm had a number of general managers (at more levels than the ) would this have happened? Would a general manager responsible for the trader in question have allowed this kind of trade to happen? The same question could be asked about Barclay’s and LIBOR. Would a general manager have created an environment where it was okay to behave so unethically? It’s nearly impossible to answer these questions either way. Nonetheless, it is worth considering the trend of the organizational structure of firms. Is it really in the best interest of the firm to eliminate all general managers? Are the short-term gains worth sacrificing the long-term sustainability?