Why Asking Women To Lean In Won’t Solve Our Leadership Problems

Although women are awarded 57% of bachelor’s, 60% of master’s, 51% of doctor’s degrees, and they occupy over half of all managerial and professional roles in the U.S., as well as most middle management roles, they make up fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs and just 14% of Fortune 500 Executive committee members.

A common misconception is that the the major reason for this obvious underrepresentation is women’s inability (or unwillingness) to lean in, defined broadly as the tendency to showcase assertiveness and ambition. If only women had the same desire to lead as men, the argument goes, we would have more female leaders!

Not quite.

For starters, academic studies show that, at least in the industrialized world, there are no significant gender differences in motivation to lead, which means that both men and women are equally interested in becoming leaders. In fact, a recent study of 1,000 employees in U.S. public and private organizations reported that women’s ambition to get to the top of their organization is now higher than men’s, with other studies suggesting that female career aspirations now surpass male’s. Furthermore, as I highlight in my latest book, academic studies also report differences favoring women when it comes to leadership effectiveness.

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