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Are Women Better Managers Than Men?

In the study, female managers outperform male on employee engagement scores.

Are women really better managers than men? One major new study says so.

I always like it when I find something of interest when I’m looking for something else. This was the case when I was poring over a recently published Gallup study examining attitudes in American management. I was surprised to find, tucked away on pages 26-28 of a 56-page report, a section titled, “Why Women Are Better Managers Than Men.”

I readily admit: My initial reaction was skepticism. Not because I don’t think women can be outstanding managers, but I hadn’t expected Gallup to find such an appreciable difference. My own experience after working with and for… and observing… hundreds of managers of both genders after four decades in the workforce? Some women were excellent and some women were awful. And the men? Some men were excellent and some men were awful. In short, six of one, half a dozen of another. Or, as an old farmer friend of mine used to say when there was virtually no difference between two choices: “A horse apiece.”

Wikimedia Commons
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund
Source: Wikimedia Commons

But this clearly isn’t Gallup’s (data-driven) position. Gallup concludes that, in the aggregate, women are—say it straight—simply better at management. Let’s look at the key findings from State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders. It includes responses from more than 2500 U.S. managers.

- Female managers have higher overall levels of personal engagement—According to Gallup’s data, 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared to 35% of male managers. While I know there’s some skepticism in management circles about the exact meaning and value of “employee engagement,” I believe it’s as good a measure as any of emotional commitment to an organization, and a reasonable way to assess motivation and ultimately productivity. A perfect measure? No. But a reasonable one? Yes.

Concludes Gallup: “If female managers, on average, are more engaged than male managers, it stands to reason that they are likely to contribute more to their organization’s current and future success.”

Even more important, though, than managers’ personal levels of engagement is the performance of their employees. Management of course is all about getting work done through others. And this is where, in the study, female managers substantively outperform their male counterparts. Employees of female managers outscore employees of male managers on 11 of 12 engagement items.

Let’s examine results on several of the core management functions Gallup assesses.

Employee development – The report states that employees who work for a female manager are 1.26 times more likely than employees who work for a male manager to strongly agree that “There is someone at work who encourages my development.”

Communication and feedback – The report notes that those who work for a female manager are 1.29 times more likely than those who work for a male manager to strongly agree with the item, “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.” This suggests, says Gallup, that female managers, more than male, “tend to provide regular feedback to help their employees achieve their development goals.”

Employee recognition – The report says that those who work for a female manager are 1.17 times more likely than those with a male manager to strongly agree with the statement that “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

The report also includes broad, gender-based engagement statistics. Specifically, what are the “percentage of employees engaged” with different manager/employee gender combinations?

- With male managers and male employees, engagement level is 25%.

- With female managers and male employees, engagement level is 29%.

- With male managers and female employees, engagement level is 31%.

- With female managers and female employees, engagement level is 35%.

“Female managers eclipse their male counterparts,”the report noted, “at setting basic expectations for their employees, building relationships with their subordinates, encouraging a positive team environment and providing employees with opportunities to develop within their careers.”

Gallup’s overall conclusion? “Organizations should hire and promote more female managers. Female managers in the U.S. exceed male managers at meeting employees’ essential workplace requirements. And female managers themselves are more engaged at work than their male counterparts.” (Women currently hold 33% of managerial positions.)

What did I make of all this material? Well, on one hand, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and I’m a pretty old dog. But on the other hand, as I used to tell management in the corporate world who questioned the findings of market research: If you’re not going to listen to the data, then why ask the questions?

To be sure, it’s a big subject. I’m curious to hear: What do readers think?

This article first appeared at

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Victor is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).

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