How female leaders are judged differently

Long read: The tricky path to the top for female leaders has been well documented. But what happens once they get there? MT investigates whether women at the top are given a fair shot, or if innate biases still limit their success.

by Kate Magee

Not long ago, Dame Moya Greene was enjoying lunch with the chairman of one of the boards on which she sits. At the end of these meetings, he would usually assign his companion a task. Greene is an experienced and respected senior leader. She has around 15 years of experience as a chief executive – most recently privatising Royal Mail – and 25 years’ experience on all types of boards. So what was her homework? The chairman said: “I think you’d do better if you didn’t speak so much.”

For those who secretly think she probably was loquacious: watch out, your bias is showing. Studies have shown that men – and women – think women have dominated conversations when they have spoken for no more than half of the time (in one study by Dr Dale Spencer, this figure was just 30% of the time). 

Another found it was only when women made up 80% of a group or a consensus decision was required, that they spoke for a proportionate amount of time (The Silent Sex, Karpowitz and Mendelberg). And female CEOs perceived as “talkative” are seen as less competent – it’s the opposite for men (Yale School of Management).

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