Are there gender differences in personality?
Well the short answer is yes, there are some persistent differences between men and women. Media depictions of men and women as fundamentally “different” appear to perpetuate misconceptions – despite the lack of evidence. Some recent studies have found that teams managed by a balanced mix of men and women leaders are more successful across a range of measurements.
Men tend on average to be more outcome focused, so tough, competitive and logical. Women are higher on average on people focused, particularly on empathy, as well as more demonstrative. However, these differences are small and the differences we find within gender are far greater than those between genders.
Interestingly, these gender differences in personality tend to be most pronounced in gender egalitarian countries such as the US, Canada, France, and the Netherlands.
The reason why men are penalised more is due to ‘anti-gender stereotype’ backlash. This effect is true for both genders with research showing that women who show more ‘masculine’ traits such as being more outspoken and self-promoting are also judged more unfavourably, particularly by other women.
‘Feminine traits’ most predictive of leadership performance
Our research examined the gender differences of 360 ratings on Lumina Leader and the results were surprising. Women leaders were rated significantly higher on 13 of the 16 competencies across the 4 leadership domains (People, Delivery, Influence, and Vision). Conversely, men were rated significantly higher on the overextended leadership domains.
Why? The Lumina Spark qualities most predictive of positive leadership ratings included collaborative, empathetic and demonstrative. These are qualities which are claimed higher on average by women. This may explain why they get the edge over men on leadership ratings. That said, men who possess these ‘feminine’ traits would also benefit from improved leadership performance. Conversely, the Lumina Spark overextended qualities most linked to overextended leadership include being controlling and seeking conflict, which men claim higher on average. Again this may explain why men receive higher ratings on overextend leadership generally, although the results suggest that these traits hinder women leaders just as much as men.
As a leader, the results are clear, tuning up your people focused can heave a real, positive impact. When it comes to overextensions, some can be particularly damaging. However, you need to be particularly aware of overextensions such as controlling and seeking conflict as these can undermine trust and ultimately disengage others.
Organisations often claim they want certain traits that are linked to agreeableness (people focused) such as being a team player, easy to work with, and empathetic. This is perhaps not surprising. Our research shows that these traits lead to higher leadership performance ratings. Women claim higher on these traits on average than men. This may explain why women are rated significantly higher than men on the majority of leadership competencies.
And yet, evidence suggests that these ‘feminine traits’ are penalised both in terms of reduced pay and advancement. They fall into the trap of conflating assertiveness with competence, and niceness with weakness. Organisations need to do more to break down the biases that leaders must conform to the masculine stereotype. If organisations really want leaders who are truly transformational they must recognise, reinforce and reward these ‘feminine’ traits, in both men and women.
In brief, there are persistent gender differences in personality, although these are still small to moderate in size compared to those we find within gender. Gender differences are more pronounced in more gender egalitarian countries. However, evidence does suggest some ‘feminine’ traits can have a negative impact on pay and career progression, but these differences are far greater for men.