Female leaders outperform men in social and soft skills

08 March 2016 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read

New research by Korn Ferry Hay Group reveals that women score higher than men on nearly all emotional intelligence competencies, except emotional self-control, where no gender differences are observed. Building on the changing role of leadership, with social factors growing up the ranks, the case for gender parity in boardrooms is according to the authors becoming increasingly evident.

In the run up to International Women's Day, Korn Ferry Hay Group conducted an analysis on data from 55,000 professionals across 90 countries and all levels of management, collected between 2011-2015. Applying its Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) – a tool that measures 12 emotional and social intelligence competencies proven to impact business performance* – the firm was able to extract difference between genders.

The researchers found that women more effectively employ the emotional and social competencies correlated with effective leadership and management than men. The greatest difference between men and women can be seen in emotional self-awareness, where women are 86% more likely than men to be seen as using the competency consistently (18.4% of women demonstrate the competency consistently compared to just 9.9% of men). Women are in addition 45% more likely than men to be seen as demonstrating empathy consistently. Other competencies in which women outperform men are coaching & mentoring, influence, inspirational leadership, conflict management, organizational awareness, adaptability, teamwork and achievement orientation.

Emotional intelligence competencies

Social and emotional intelligence are key aspects of leadership, says Korn Ferry Hay Group, as it helps leaders adapt to the changing expectations the business environment as well as employees have of their superiors. Previous research from the authors found that the most effective leaders within organisations are those who have the greatest scores on emotional and social intelligence. “Whether remaining calm during times of turbulence, inspiring and building team consensus or serving as an empathetic mentor and coach to nurture the next generation of professionals, leaders who tap into their social and emotional intelligence competencies positively impact their teams and drive greater performance throughout the organisation,” comments Stephen Lams, Talent Product Manager at Korn Ferry Hay Group.

In addition, according to the authors, levels of emotional intelligence displayed by a leader are strongly related with how long their team members plan to stay with the organisation. Leaders with strong emotional intelligence create conditions that inspire team members to stay and contribute to long-term objectives. Conversely, leaders with low emotional intelligence have greater potential to drive team members away from the organisation.

Building on the two observations, the researchers conclude that the the data builds a strong case for gender equity. “If more men acted like women in employing their emotional and social competencies, they would be substantially and distinctly more effective in their work,” state the authors. They add: “When you factor in the correlation between high emotional intelligence and those leaders who deliver better business results, there is a strong case for gender equity. Organisations must find ways to identify women who score highly on these competencies and empower them.”

According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, gender parity could add a staggering $28 trillion extra to world GDP by 2025, with a more achievable ‘best-in-region’ practice likely to add $12 trillion. 

* The 12 factors are achievement orientation, adaptability, coaching and mentoring, conflict management, empathy, emotional self-awareness, inspirational leadership, influence, organizational awareness, positive outlook, teamwork and emotional self-control.