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How do men and women show up differently as leaders?

August 20, 2015

This is the first post in our new guest blogger series where we will highlight stories of success and lessons learned from the leaders that we work with at client organizations around the world. We’re grateful to Kristy Roberts of Medtronic for taking the time to share some insights about women in leadership and reflect on the impact that a recent discussion on the topic had on the leaders in her organization.

A recent workshop we held during our National Sales Meeting (attended by 100 people, including our entire leadership team) to raise awareness about the differences between the way men and women lead has proven to be more than just another event. For some, it was transformational.

We started out making the case for diversity and citing several studies that show a direct correlation between diverse leadership teams and financial results. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has noted that women are more likely to attribute their success to help from others, working hard and getting “lucky,” whereas men attribute their success to their own core “skills.” As our discussion progressed, we shared other ways that women show up differently than men including:

  • Minimizing/understating their accomplishments while men exaggerate them
  • Being less likely to speak up in a meeting—especially when the majority of the people in the room are men. Also being more likely to position themselves at the perimeter of the room or in the back versus sitting at the front of the room
  • Being less likely to ask for a promotion/raise, and when they do, they ask for 30% less than men
  • Applying for a job only when they meet 100% of the job criteria, whereas men applied for the job even if they met just 60% of the criteria (HP study)
  • Speaking less declaratively and more likely to ask questions
  • Tending to be “perfectionists” and less likely to take risks
  • Tending to ruminate over mistakes, whereas men shake off mistakes more easily
  • Taking work criticism more personally
  • Appearing to be less confident/more tentative

Much of this is noted in The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, as well as in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. But things got very interesting once participants started talking about their own experiences and observations, especially when one of the male district managers described a female rep whom he managed as “holding back” and that she didn’t feel she was “ready” for a promotion to a leadership role. The female reps helped him understand that she may be saying this because she is a perfectionist. They suggested that he provide more encouragement and reiterate and reinforce his confidence in her ability.

He later wrote me a thank-you note, stating “This experience is going to make me a better father and a better manager. I now see that my role is to empower the women on my team.” He went on to describe his two daughters who compete at a very high level in both golf and swimming. He has noticed that although they are both exceptional athletes, they lack confidence when competing. “I have never understood the reason why. I constantly praise them, but it never seems to stick. When guys are good at something, we let everyone know it. I now have a better understanding why my daughters feel this way. They are focused on what they don’t know or aren’t good at, and are afraid of failure. I am now able to have more in-depth conversations with them and will encourage them to focus on their strengths and to coach them to not let their weaknesses exacerbate their fear of failure or interfere with their confidence.”

His email resonated with me. It was a powerful testimony to the impact these workshops and conversations can have in the workplace. I am proud to work for a company that is committed to developing female leaders. I believe that this type of event will impact our engagement and retention, and assist both our male and female leaders in identifying and preparing more women for leadership roles.

Dark haired woman watches from audience of conference event

Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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