Academic Insight: The Need For More Female Managers

Written by: Shontarius D. Aikens

Photo by Gary Ussery

In 2015, the Gallup Corporation released a report called State of the American Manager that provided insights on what separates great managers from the rest while giving advice to organizations on how they could find, hire, and develop more great managers. This report was based on over 40 years of talent research, a study of approximately 2.5 million manager-led teams across 195 countries and engagement measures of 27 million employees. One of the sections of this report was titled: “Why Women Are Better Managers Than Men.” What does the Gallup report say on this topic? I promise I’ll get to that in due time. In the meanwhile, keep reading!

As I was preparing to write this month’s article, I reflected on my past job experiences. And it occurred to me that over the course of my career, the majority of the managers that hired me and that I have worked for as a direct report were female. And while I have learned and benefited so much from both female and male supervisors throughout my career, here is what I noticed: During some of the most critical and formative times in my life and career is when I reported to a female supervisor. And it was during those times in which key originating events and anchoring events occurred that no doubt played a vital and positive influence in shaping my personal and professional development. I do realize that my work experiences may not be as common to others, since on average, men typically hold more manager positions than women. This is especially true in corporate America especially in the C-suite where only 23% of these positions are held by women.

So as part of my research for this article, I reached out to Shelly Gompf who has an extensive background that includes over 20 years of experience working in various industries (Technology, Healthcare, and Professional Services) with both public and non-profit organizations. She also happens to be my colleague here at the Offutt School of Business at Concordia College. I asked her the following question: Based on your professional experience, what advice and recommendations would you give to organizations to create a culture or structure that would lead to the hiring and promotion of more female managers?  Here was her response:

“Organizations need to begin by acknowledging that there is a value for hiring and/or promoting women. Many of us have heard the point that people don’t leave companies; they leave managers. I believe that good people managers demonstrate high levels of emotional intelligence. They not only understand how their actions impact others, but also place a high value on strong relationships with members of their teams.  The focus on others builds trust, credibility, and ultimately respect that produces high levels of engagement and in the end retention.”

What stood out to me in Professor Gompf’s comments was the word engagement. Why?  Well, as promised, let’s go back to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report I referenced at the beginning of this article. In addition to acknowledging the value of hiring and promoting more women to managerial positions, one of the findings of this report is that engagement is a key reason why women might make better managers than men. This finding has been suggested by others as well. Gallup’s summary statement on this topic is as follows:    

“While there are many highly successful female and male managers, female managers do have a slight advantage when it comes to engagement. And it’s an advantage leaders should consider when deciding who to name manager”.   

Research studies indicate a significant correlation between gender diversity at the executive level of an organization and better financial performance which is additional evidence to support the need for more female managers. So then the next question is, what are the next steps to make this happen?  There are two responses or approaches to this question.  The first response or approach is to focus on providing general tips, guidelines, and insider advice for members of minority groups (i.e. race, gender, etc.) on how to go above and beyond at the workplace in order to stand out and to reach their managerial career goals sooner rather than later. While individual efforts are important and key, that’s only one half of the equation. The second response or approach focuses more on the roles that organizations should play in advancing this initiative. In other words, what best practices have organizations utilized to help increase gender diversity in executive positions at their respective companies? Below are three recommendations and company examples:

  • Hire Managers using Talent Analytics:  According to Gallup, “companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for management positions 82% of the time.”  Thus, they suggest that hiring organizations should use talent as a criteria for selection decisions, and that this can close the gap between the number of male and female managers in the workplace. US Bank is a company that successfully utilized Gallup’s CliftonStrengths talent assessment tool for this purpose.
  • Networking Groups: Principal Financial Group (Des Moines, IA) established three women’s networks for those in leadership, technology, and sales roles.  At Principal Financial, women hold 42% of executive roles and 45% of board seats.
  • Professional Development and Mentoring Programs:  As a result of their professional development and mentoring programs at Penn Medicine (University of Pennsylvania), women hold 55% of the company’s executive positions and five out of seven CEO roles at the system hospitals.
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