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Korn Ferry research shows that overall, women in leadership have higher competencies than men

The Korn Ferry research found that with the exception of confidence, women generally score higher than men in all dimensions of leadership style such as comfort with ambiguity and being socially attuned. They also score higher in most of the skills and competencies deemed necessary for senior leadership success, such as employee engagement, customer satisfaction and building talent.

“What women are missing are the experiences that their male counterparts seek out during mid-level and business unit level roles,” said J. Evelyn Orr, senior director of the Korn Ferry Institute and editor of Korn Ferry’s research on women in leadership. “Women need to seek out and say & lsquo;yes’ to experiences that stretch their skills and organizations need to provide women with opportunities to accept those challenges earlier in their careers.”

These critical experiences include challenging/difficult situations, business growth, financials, strategy, and high-risk, high-visibility assignments such as helping turn around a low-performing unit. The study shows women are either not being offered or are saying “no” to critical opportunities more often— leaving them a full leadership level behind in experiences when they are considered for senior positions.

As of June 2014, only 24 Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs and women occupied just 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.

This isn’t just about helping women break the glass ceiling. Having a critical mass of female leaders across the organization and at the top is proven to have a direct correlation with better financial return. McKinsey’s 2012 Women Matter study measured a 41 percent higher return on equity and a 56 percent higher earnings before interest and taxes margin for companies that have the largest share of women on their executive committees.

"Decades of Korn Ferry research proves that effective leaders move beyond technical skills to practicing well-developed relational/social and influencing/political confidence and skills,” said Korn Ferry Managing Principal Peggy Hazard. "In achieving these skills, women often face obstacles, including different gender norms and 'unwritten rules' around power, risk, critical experiences, teaming, networking, style of presentation and communication. With the right development programs, women can build confidence, identify unique barriers and learn how to navigate obstacles to reach their goals.”

Hazard also highly recommends complementing development programs with pairs coaching between women and their managers and/or other key stakeholders. "There is exponential impact when there is a shared responsibility. Skillfully guided dialogues build affinity and candor about barriers and how to tackle them, transforming working relationships. Not only does this have a far-reaching business benefit, it effectively changes the culture by changing the mindset of leaders and engaging all colleagues as allies.”

Additional Korn Ferry research points to the need to examine not only the skills and competencies of individuals (what they do) but their traits and drivers or motivations (who they are). The research shows that when all aspects of individuals are examined, assessments are 96 percent more predictive of future success.


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