According to a Gallup survey published late last year, women in management positions in the U.S. tend to outscore men when it comes to employee engagement—which is a key predictor of productivity, job satisfaction, and employee loyalty. The polling organization concluded that American firms would benefit from promoting more women to positions of authority. This result suggests that not only is the advancement of women important from a social justice perspective; it is also a prudent business decision.
Of course, some qualification is necessary here. The world is home to excellent, mediocre, and lacklustre managers of both sexes, and the survey’s findings indicate a trend rather than a universal absolute. The average levels of employee engagement detected by Gallup are also disconcertingly low overall—from 25 to 35 percent. Nonetheless, the scores for female managers are superior across the board.
At least two questions spring to mind in response to the study: why do female managers tend to engage their employees more effectively than male managers? And what are some of the common traits that make female managers more successful, on average, than their male counterparts?
Gallup’s elements of great managing.
Gallup’s evaluation of employee engagement, and the questions it posed in its survey, are based on 12 elements of managing, all of which reflect aspects of employee engagement and productivity. Engaged employees are likelier to feel that they have a clear mission and the resources they need to do their job well; that managers take their opinions and ideas into consideration; that they have opportunities for career development and advancement within the organization; that their colleagues and superiors care about them and are invested in their success; and that they receive regular feedback and encouragement. Less-engaged employees may believe their work is not especially important or not valued by the organization; that they have no real avenue to growth and progress (i.e. that they are in a dead-end job); or that their managers and co-workers don’t care about them, either personally or professionally.
The survey indicates that female managers check in more often on the individual members of their team, provide greater feedback and positive reinforcement, and are likelier than male managers to praise good work.
The downside of manliness.
The gender binary—that contrived line of demarcation that distinguishes “male” qualities from “female” qualities—informs the individual identity of most people in our culture, along with our social interactions, and our perceptions of each other. In childhood and adolescence, a lot of boys and young men are encouraged to adopt personality traits traditionally associated with masculinity: toughness, strength, dispassion, tolerance for pain and discomfort, independence, and an aversion to betraying any sign of vulnerability. (This is why so many men are reluctant to ask for directions when we are lost: because it would require us to acknowledge that we have a problem we can’t solve on our own.)
These stereotypically “manly” traits are not always useful in a modern office environment. To engage employees requires emotional tact and intelligence, and excellent communication and social skills. On average, women tend to have the upper hand in those departments.
Nearly all managers can bring about improvements in employee morale by attending to the core areas of engagement and job satisfaction. The advantages of better engagement include enhanced productivity, and improved chances of retaining highly skilled and desirable workers. The Gallup survey’s implications are clear: if employee engagement is one of your organizational priorities, you’ll improve your chances of achieving it by promoting more women to management positions.