Facebook's COO Is Wrong: Women Have 'Right Stuff' for Corporate Leadership

Tuesday, 13 Aug 2013 12:40 PM

By Jennifer G. Hickey

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New research contradicts the claim of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose recent book asserts that women don't rise in the corporate world because "success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women."

If a woman is a positive, outgoing force, she gets zinged by her superiors and won't rise on the corporate ladder, Sandberg writes in "Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead."

But Joseph Folkman, CEO of Zenger Folkman, a Utah-based leadership-development firm, disagrees that women pay a "likeability penalty" when they assert themselves and advance into positions of leadership.

To the contrary, Zenger Folkman's research found that ''at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows," according to the firm's 2012 survey that included 7,280 leaders in public and private organizations around the world.

Folkman's research finds both men and women take a hit in terms of "likeability" when they moved from first-level supervisor to middle manager, and the decline in favorability was more precipitous for men. The of more than 16,000 employees determined that women eventually regain ground, while men did not.

Folkman also found that women had personal traits that recommended them for leadership roles.

Women scored better than men on two characteristics thought of as being male strengths — taking initiative and driving for results. Conversely, men outperformed women when it came to developing strategic perspective.

One reason female leaders outperform male counterparts in those areas may because of their ability to inspire colleagues and team members. That ability might stem from an unlikely source — increased participation by women in athletics.

A study in May found that a high percentage of women in executive roles had played sports at some point in their lives.

The global online survey, conducted by Ernst & Young, questioned 821 senior managers and executives. Of the respondents, approximately 54 percent of male respondents and 44 percent of female respondents were board-level executives.

The study found that while 90 percent of respondents had played sports at some level in their education, the percentage rose to 96 percent among board-level executives.

When female board-level respondents were compared to female managers, nearly seven in 10 women executives had participated in sports as a working adult, compared with 55 percent of other female managers.

"This new global survey validates and underscores the fundamental role that participation in sports plays in developing women leaders,” noted Beth Brooke, Ernst & Young global vice chair of public policy, in a news release.

In Canada and continental Europe, Folkman says, more women are attending and graduating from college and climbing the ladder in business, but that's not true in South America.

Folkman's research focused predominantly on domestic businesses, but 30 percent of the individuals included were from outside the United States.

Folkman does not take issue with the basic thrust of Sandberg's argument that men greatly outnumber women in senior roles in business, nor with the supporting statistics.

According to the "2012 Catalyst Census: Fortune 500 Women Executive Officers and Top Earners, " women held 14.3 percent of executive-officer positions at Fortune 500 companies and 8.1 percent of executive-officer, top-earner positions.

The disconnect between Sandberg and Folkman's research lies in the methodology of their surveys and individuals they questioned.

"Most of the research [Sandberg] accumulated was perceptual and involved small experiments. The kind of thing they did was to present people with generic situations with general scenarios. The problem is that that experimental design tends to accentuate your biases," Folkman told Newsmax.

Folkman and his partner, Jack Zenger, performed a "360-degree analysis," which involved a larger sample group — 16,000 individuals — and derived feedback from bosses, peers, and direct reports from others about the leaders with whom they worked every day.

Rather than rating general attitudes toward women and women in leadership, their analysis rated a specific person.

"Our respondents were speaking about people they actually knew," he notes, adding that their survey group included employees and executives from hundreds of companies.

The methodology used by Zenger and Folkman is not without its critics.

Marianne Cooper disputes the findings in the Zenger Folkman survey and says that their conclusions do not reflect the broad base of data from peer-reviewed studies that for women, show success and likeability do not go together.

Cooper, a sociologist at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, assisted Sandberg by accumulating a body of research that substantiates the arguments discussed in "Lean In."

"I would say that a study done with a group of people who paid to go through their leadership program does not reach the level of evidence required to overturn the premise of the success-likeability penalty," Cooper told Newsmax.

It would be misleading, she said, to assert that findings of a single study should be compared with a breadth of scientific evidence. That evidence consistently finds that men and women doing the same thing often are evaluated differently.

© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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