From the elite offices of America's successful business executives comes the latest news on people who give orders: Men and women have different leadership styles.
The women - at least those in non-traditional organizations - are showing their methods can be as effective as those traditionally used by men.Female leaders, it turns out, have a greater tendency to work with others when making decisions and are more likely than men to share power and information.
The findings emerged from a recent study of male and female leaders by the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Irvine. The study's author, Judy Rosener, summarizes the results and discusses the "ways women lead" in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review.
Rosener, an Irvine professor, says that "a second wave of women" has ignored the styles and habits long used by male executives (and adopted by the "first wave" of female executives). The women executives are now "drawing on the skills and attitudes they developed from their shared experience as women," she says.
"The women's success shows that a non-traditional leadership style is well-suited to the conditions of some work environments and can increase an organization's chances of surviving in an uncertain world."
In a telephone interview, Rosener says she found women have their own leadership style and techniques. The style, she emphasizes, should not be considered better or worse than the male style. Just different.
Women, she says, have been brought up to be much more "interactive," and as a result female leaders are more likely to share information and power and be more comfortable with group decisionmaking.
Male leaders, on the other hand, have been taught to be very competitive, very independent and not to admit they don't know something. Men use a "command-and-control" style when managing others, she says.
The study of male and female leaders was commissioned by the International Women's Forum, an organization of prominent women leaders employed by corporations, government and educational institutions.
Using an eight-page questionnaire, Rosener compared members of the IWF to professional men with similar jobs and leadership responsibilities. She ended up studying 355 forum members and 101 male leaders.
The study was conducted in spring 1989. Respondents were asked how they see themselves in terms of sex-role expectations, uses of power, "followership" (how their subordinates follow them) and managerial style. They also were asked to name a man with a similar position in a similar organization.
The typical female in the study is 51 years old, married to a corporate executive or attorney, and has no children at home. She works about 55 hours a week and earns about $140,000 a year.
Interestingly, the women leaders have household incomes averaging about $135,000 more per year than men leaders. Why? Because the women are more likely to have spouses earning an average of $160,000.
Rosener says the study puts to rest several widely held myths about successful women in the workplace. For instance, nearly 70 percent of the female respondents are married - countering the belief executive women sacrifice family for career. And salaries were roughly the same for men and women in the study.
"The story the findings tell is that it is possible to combine family and career, earn a substantial income and not act imasculine' in order to succeed."
True, she says, the women in the survey were not likely to be employed by Fortune 500 companies - long seen as bastions of "old-boy" networks with established hierarchies and where female executives have been slow to rise. "Women who want to be themselves and not sacrifice everything tend not to work at those places," she says.
The women in the study generally are employed in "fast-growing, service-oriented companies with international connections."
Not all of the findings emphasize differences. The study finds both women and men experience conflicts between work and family. And leaders of both sexes pay female subordinates an average of $12,000 a year less than males with similar jobs.
Rosener believes women will be effective as leaders in new or fast-changing fields, where traditions are less entrenched. Women, according to her findings, are more comfortable with the ambiguity in such fields.