Consultancies like Hudson Nordic, specializing in attracting and developing the right profiles, play a crucial role when it comes to finding and hiring candidates for management and board positions. In our work processes, we are constantly aware of how diversity on boards and management team creates value. Because we do not believe that it is up for discussion about whether more women should join the management level in a company. After all, it seems illogical to overlook half of the Danish talent population simply because of their gender. Therefore, our question instead is: “Why aren’t women in management? And what can we do to make sure they get there?”
Diversity creates value – also economically.
Although we do not think it should be a point of discussion that more women should enter leadership positions in Denmark and around the globe, it can still be interesting to understand why we believe that diversity creates value. Several of us have undoubtedly heard that diversity is essential. Both at work and outside work. Not only diversity when it comes to genders, but also diversity when it comes to, for example, age, educational background and ethnicity.
A now well-known advantage of greater diversity – both innate (e.g. gender and race) and the profession (e.g. experience and educational background) is superior team performance in areas such as innovation, collaboration and critical thinking. Different problem-solving approaches, knowledge-sharing and differentiated skills promote both creativity and discussions, ensuring that more alternatives are considered when identifying solutions.
In an article for Jyllands Posten (2019), Bodil Nordestgaard Ismiris and Thomas Thune Andersen focus on how getting more women into senior positions is not just about social responsibility but actually about sheer business. In an international study, Denmark is placed at a 95. place when it comes to having women in senior positions. Bodil and Thomas believe that this is partly because most Danes are not so good at seeing the value in gender diversity in the workplace, which they think has become a CSR effort instead of real business thinking. And although Danish companies have a social responsibility in society, an increasing number of research projects indicate that gender diversity in corporate companies also has a positive economic impact. The link between diversity and economic growth is particularly hard to pinpoint, but if you look at an IMF survey of 2 million stock exchanges and non-listed companies in 84 European countries, you find a correlation between the proportion of women in senior management and the company’s financial returns.
In addition to a possible link between women in management and economic growth, studies highlight that against the expectation of many, female leaders tend to be riskier, and more rigorously in their monitoring than their male counterparts. Overall, it becomes clearer and more apparent that diversity – be innate or learned – can benefit a management team context and, at the same time, the company’s performance. So – why aren’t there more women in management?
The difference between male and female leaders?
Is there a difference in the personality between women and men in leadership positions? Hudsons Research & Development Center in Belgium asked that exact question. The study, which is based on a survey of more than 65,000 people across the globe, is based on results from Hudson’s Business Attitude Questionaire (BAQ). Hudson’s BAQ is a psychometric tool based on the famous Big 5 model that assesses 25 aspects of human personality. The BAQ has been tested in thousands of recruitment and talent management processes.
Quite briefly, Hudson R & D’s research shows, among other things, that women and men in C-level positions exhibit many of the same characteristics. Both groups position themselves quite high on the factor we call ‘extraversion’, which is about leadership, communication, motivation and persuasiveness. At the same time, these men and women often see themselves as influential decision-makers and strategic thinkers – and to some extent, also as result-oriented and autonomous.
But although there are clear – and many – contradictions between the sexes, the results also show that women may tend to focus less on immediate results, and instead takes the bigger picture into account and take an autonomous stance to what they see.
Women also seem to be more aware of open communication in the organization and adopt a more “human” approach with room for collaboration, mutual support and sociality. The study also showed that women tend to choose a style that is more democratic or participatory and less autocratic or directive than men.
In the average woman’s eyes, female leaders seem to behave more like men because they take the lead and are career- and results-oriented. But in the eyes of their male colleagues, they act like women and are more aware of intangible, emotional elements, such as communication, cooperation, and human well-being. The discrepancy between the typical female leader’s “hot” personality profile and the usual “cold” male leader’s personality profile seems to create difficulties for female managers. In particular, younger women seem to be confronted with this double bond: They show a more warm demeanour than more experienced colleagues. While this is perceived as favourable, they need to find a way to be recognized as being as capable as men in leadership positions. The conclusion is that women in leadership positions, thus risk not having a clear identity in the eyes of others. This is because they do not fully conform to the stereotype of a woman or that of a leader (usually a man).
This seems to put female leaders in a double bond situation: If they behave like a leader and typically use male characteristics, they are perceived as being harsh because they act against the typically female personality profile. If they act like a woman, they are perceived to be ineffective, as typically male personality traits are seen as more effective leadership traits.
Given the above, it becomes clear that women who already hold leadership positions are not necessarily challenged because of their differences from their male counterparts. It seems as though an interpersonal, stereotypical view of women may perceive women as altruistic and warm in style – and this to be less effective than their male colleagues.
The stereotypical understanding of women plays a big role
Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Sara Louise Muhr states in an article in Dansk Industri (2020) that ‘(…) the biggest myth in business Denmark is that we have equality. We do not have equality“. And when we see that more than 89% of the Danish top executives and over half of Danish companies do not have any women in their board, we begin to understand why Sara Louise is saying the way she does.
So, when we now know that diversity benefits bottom line, branding and job satisfaction – why is it so difficult to get more women into senior positions? According to Sara Louise Muhr, it is typically prejudice and stereotypical notions of gender that keep women from entering the leadership positions.
“If women exceed gender expectations – and, for example, take short or no maternity, choose not to have children, exhibit harsh behaviour or similar traits associated with being male, they are considered unnatural or outright unpleasant. If, on the other hand, they are too feminine, they are not taken seriously and instead overlooked as leadership potential “.
Sarah Louise Muhr explains that research shows that one of the biggest problems lies in the fact that men are systematically judged to be better leaders than women – this despite the fact that the female boss may have the most substantial skill set. Sara Louise Muhr says that women are expected to be soft and ‘good with people’, while men are expected to be tough, results-oriented and therefore ‘good leaders’.
It becomes clear that the lack of female leaders is not only due to the fact that women themselves do not seek leadership positions, but also that they are part of a social structure in which (un)conscious biases play a significant role when decisions are made on the executive level. As a sparring partner and trusted advisor for our clients and candidates, Hudson Nordic has an opportunity to ensure an objective, documented and qualitative assessment in our recruitment processes. We are in ongoing dialogues with our clients and therefore also have the chance to support the development towards an even more diverse recruitment process – among other things – when it comes to gender diversity in Danish management positions. As Sara Louise Muhr points out, there is a need for more ‘bias-blockers’ that can help ensure a fair assessment on the basis of competences and not on the basis of gender.
At Hudson Nordic, we help our clients always make the right decision based on a fair assessment. A choice that is based on recruitment processes rooted in deep professionalism, experience and objectivity. If we take a look at our industry, there is a wealth of attitudes about what Talent Management is. We have no doubts: It is a professional and objective assessment of competencies. Much of our daily work is about assessing candidates. Are they a match for the position they are applying for? And are they a match for the workplace, they will potentially work for? One of the most important elements of this work is to ensure an objective assessment; to act as ‘bias-blockers’ on behalf of our clients and to the benefit of our candidates. By continually expanding our horizons of our own and others’ preconceptions, we become aware of the tools that provide the most objective assessment – creating value to both our clients and candidates.
Anthropologist & Programme Manager at Hudson Nordic
At Hudson Nordic we have conducted more than 1900 Assessment and Development Center. The process is different from candidate to candidate, from company to company – and the starting point is an additional objective assessment based on Hudson’s scientifically proven and well-developed assessment tools. With an Assessment or Development Center, our clients can get very close to the candidate’s personal and professional competencies.
Read more about our Assessment and Development opportunities here