Do women make better bosses than men?
Women are sometimes thought of as lacking the necessary drive and single-minded commitment to take on senior executive and leadership roles
There is no evidence to show that women as a class make better bosses than men, just as there is no evidence that men in general make better bosses than women. Leadership and managerial ability are gender-neutral. Managers owe their success not to their gender but to their (gender-agnostic) capability and performance and to favourable winds. It would be hard to prove women make better managers than men or the other way round. Studies do show that women tend to be more diligent, detail-oriented and empathetic. But from this to extrapolate that men lack these characteristics or cannot acquire them would be fallacious. The problem with generalizations is that they do not explain the myriad exceptions and are bereft of nuance.
I have worked under and with a number of women and cannot recall dealing with them differently from how I dealt with male colleagues. Nor do I think they dealt with men any differently from how they dealt with their women colleagues. This is as it should be. An obsession with gender does little justice to either man or woman at the work place.
I have also seen many women leaders in action and some of them were quite brilliant. I know they would resent the insinuation that they were good or got to where they were because they were women.
Women are sometimes thought of as lacking the necessary drive and single-minded commitment to take on senior executive and leadership roles. They are also seen as much too self-effacing and lacking in assertiveness and as consensus-seekers, unwilling to confront. We know that none of this is true of women as a class assuming that the said competencies are desirable and necessary. We also know that there are as many men as women who lack these competencies and that both men and women can be coached, mentored and trained to acquire the competencies required for success.
Amartya Sen has pointed out, albeit in a different context, that human beings have multiple identities – son or daughter, father or mother, husband or wide, as well as identities forged by one’s profession, nationality, language and religion, to name a few – and privileging any one identity (in this case gender) over numerous others is futile, unreasonable and potentially harmful.
Therefore, rather than discussing the superiority of a woman candidate over a man, organizations must focus on the strengths of the two candidates relative to the role in question. The process to decide which of them to select should be exactly the same as it would be if the two candidates were women both, or men. If the woman is better suited, it would be because she possesses and demonstrates in her individual capacity the competencies required for the role in greater measure than the man she is competing with, rather than because she is a woman.
All this said, there might be case for discriminating in favour of women to promote diversity. In doing this, it is well to remember (as I pointed out in “On Diversity”, People Matters, June 2013) that the case for diversity is grounded in its social desirability and inevitability, rather than on a presumed higher level of capability in this or that category of employee.