Do Women Make Better Managers?

Daniel Pink’s thought-provoking book ‘A Whole New Mind’ encourages businesses to be more right-brained in their thinking.  As women are generally regarded to be more right-brained than men, it should follow that as we move from, what Pink described, as the ‘Information Age’ into the ‘Conceptual Age’, women’s performance in business should improve relative to men.

While considering this point, I came across an excellent article by Johanna Krotz in which she poses the question: ‘Do women make better managers?

Johanna’s article is reproduced in full below:


Before getting to the point of this provocative headline, here's a disclaimer:  Prepare to consider widely accepted generalizations.

Translated, that means, ‘Included in this article are some sweeping statements presented as general truths but based on limited or incomplete evidence.’

But let me add this:  Remember, too, that being equal does not mean being the same.  Now, let's proceed.

As women gain traction as business owners and executives, gender differences are increasingly playing out in the way they run their shows.  If you think that isn't having an effect on the rules of the business road, think again.

Nearly 11 million privately held companies are now majority-owned (50% stake or greater) by women, according to the Center for Women Business Research, based in Washington, D.C.  That accounts for nearly half (47.7%) of all private companies in the United States.  In addition, women-owned companies now generate $2.5 trillion in annual sales and employ 19 million people nationwide.

Typically, women operate and manage those businesses in some significantly different ways than men do.  Recent studies point out that while both male and female styles of leadership can be effective, ‘female’ frequently has the edge.

Obviously, no single individual can embody every one of the many traits we tend to call ‘female’ or ‘male.’  In exploring such issues, we must allow for the sweep of imperfect generalizations.

With that understood, here's how women manage and why they often do it better than the guys.

Biology, upbringing make women more flexible

As we all know, gender differences stem from nurture and nature alike.  It's not only socialization that shapes men and women.  It's also biology.

In the past few decades, researchers have discovered physiological variations in the brains of men and women.  For example, male brains are about 10% larger than female brains.  But women have more nerve cells in certain areas.  Women also tend to have a larger corpus collusum — the group of nerve fibers that connects left and right hemispheres.  That makes women faster at transferring data between the computational, verbal left half and the intuitive, visual right half.  Result: Women are more flexible and find it easier to multitask.  Men are usually left-brain oriented.  That often makes them better at solving abstract equations and problems.

As girls and boys grow up, of course, they're also molded by differing sets of social rules and expectations.  Gender obviously colors behavior, perception, and just about everything else.

Women exhibit these leadership strengths

Typically, when comparing managers, the dialogue is framed as men's command-and-control style versus women's team-building or consensus approach.

‘Women managers tend to have more of a desire to build than a desire to win,’ says Debra Burrell, a psychological social worker and regional training director of the Mars-Venus Institute in New York.  ‘Women are more willing to explore compromise and to solicit other people's opinions.’  By contrast, men often think if they ask other people for advice, they'll be perceived as unsure or as a leader who doesn't have answers, according to Burrell.

Other female leadership strengths:

  • Women tend to be better than men at empowering staff.
  • Women encourage openness and are more accessible.
  • Women leaders respond more quickly to calls for assistance.
  • Women are more tolerant of differences, so they're more skilled at managing diversity.
  • Women identify problems more quickly and more accurately.
  • Women are better at defining job expectations and providing feedback.

On the other hand, men tend to be more confident and faster decision-makers compared to women.  Male managers are also more adept at forming ‘navigational relationships,’ that is, temporary teams set up to achieve short-term goals, says management psychologist Ken Siegel, whose Los Angeles firm, the Impact Group, works with executives to develop leadership.

What about 'hard skills' and analysis?

Big deal, right?  So women typically outperform men at communications and interpersonal skills, which is far from a news flash.  You're probably thinking: Those are ‘soft skills,’ not the hard tools and analysis required to grow a business.

How do such ‘female’ traits translate into better business management?

In today's workplace, when employees juggle multiple jobs, and technology enables even the smallest businesses to compete in global marketplaces, the ability to make staff feel charged up and valued is a definite competitive edge.

‘Some companies succeed while others don't,’ says Jeffrey Christian, chairman of Christian & Timbers, a Cleveland-based executive search firm.  ‘It's not about production, it's about talent.  Whoever has the best team wins.’

Money is not the primary reason talented people stay on the job or jump.  Rather, they stay predominantly because of relationships.  ‘Women get that,’ says Christian, whose firm placed Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard, among other high-level hires.

Generally, women delegate more readily and express appreciation more often.  ‘Women ask questions, men tend to give answers,’ says Terri Levine, a career coach based in North Wales, Pa., who often advises entrepreneurs.

By communicating goals more readily and expressing appreciation more often, women tend to be better at making staffers feel recognized and rewarded.  That translates into cost-effective staffing and recruiting.

Experience leading to broadening of women's skills

Lately, women are demonstrating higher levels of traditional ‘hard’ or ‘male’ skills as well.  Some investigators suggest that many women workers had such skills all along, but that male bosses either overlooked or misperceived them. Others think the cumulative years of experience for women are broadening their skills.

One influential study, conducted in 1996 by management consultant Advanced Teamware (since merged with ConsultingTools), analyzed a database of 360-degree assessments for more than 6,000 managers.  Such assessments include anonymous reviews from a manager's peers, supervisors and subordinates.  The study looked at a range of managerial behavior, including problem solving, controlling, leading, communicating and more.

The results:

  • ‘. . . Previous studies showed that women excelled in interpersonal skills (right brain), not in intellectual skills (left brain).  Our study demonstrates that women are considered better performers in both right- and left-brain skill areas.’
  • ‘Women received higher evaluations than men in 28 of the 31 individual behaviors, representing 90% of items.’
  • ‘The most problematic factor for women is Managing Self . . . The worst rated of the 31 behaviors is 'Coping with one's own frustrations.' ‘

But more glass ceilings ahead

Obviously, there are still very few women running Fortune 500 companies and, in the corporate VP ranks, there are roughly three men to every woman. So if women have the managerial edge, how come you don't see more of them in positions of power?

Here's my speculation: Men are used to running the show and, for the most part, don't reward ‘female’ style management because they see it as weak.  Women have had to prove, repeatedly, that their way of managing works. (Then, too, women have only begun to rise on corporate ladders. Give them time.)

For owners of small and midsized businesses, being able to keep staffers and stakeholders enthusiastic may be the key factor in building success. ‘You want to delegate outcomes, not tasks,’ says consultant Siegel.  ‘You must have the ability to let go.  Women can do that better than men because their self-esteem is multifaceted,’ he says.  ‘Men's self-esteem is based on what they do, it's uni-dimensional.’

The upshot for chief executives should be to move over to the ‘female’ side of management, whether you're a thoroughgoing left-brainer or a woman trying to manage ‘male’.  Turns out, girls can do it better.


Joanna L. Krotz writes about small-business marketing and management issues.  She is the co-author of the Microsoft Small Business Kit and runs Muse2Muse Productions, a New York City-based custom publisher.

This article was first published in the Learning Centre of the Microsoft Small Business Centre.  For further details visit:

The foreword was written by Alistair Schofield, Managing Director of Extensor Limited.