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Why More Women Will Become CEOs

A Dartmouth B-School professor makes the case, based on performance.

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It's an understatement to say that Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, has been in the news lately.

In December, she became the first female CEO of a major automaker. A few weeks later, she was spotlighted during the State of the Union address. On top of this, there were numerous reports comparing her base pay ($1.6 million) to that of her male predecessor ($1.7 million).

Clearly, the topic of a woman becoming the CEO of a large company garnered tons of attention. Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, believes that many more women will become CEOs or business leaders in the future. For one simple reason: The pool of qualified women is growing. 

What the Statistics Say

As reported on the Tuck site, women are outperforming men in academic settings. In Finkelstein's view, the discrepancy is so great that "many colleges and universities have improved their average test scores simply by admitting more women." Which is why the population of some undergraduate classes is now as high as 60 percent women.

The next step, Finkelstein anticipates, will be a higher percentage of women attending elite business schools. (Today, about one third of students at these schools are women.)

The Benefits of a Woman CEO

"At the risk of stereotyping 50 percent of the population--and this is backed up by some research--there are some central tendencies in the management styles of women versus men," notes Finkelstein.

"Women tend to be more collaborative. They tend to work better in teams, and they tend to be better at communication."

In short, more women in leadership roles will mean more collaborative cultures. Moreover, if leadership teams begin to approach 50-50 male-female ratios, Finkelstein thinks that leaders will gain a greater sense of self-awareness--for the simple reason that diversity on a team can make all members more aware of their own assumptions, habits, and idiosyncracies. 

While Barra's ascension received a lot of attention, what will be interesting to track in the months and years to come are the results of her early tenure. Not so much the fiscal numbers--though, obviously, those will matter too--but her influence on General Motors' overall culture.

In an interview with the New York Times, Barra said she feels quite comfortable with the company's existing culture, in terms of women in the leadership ranks. "I think there are more women in more senior roles than in 1980 when I started,"  she said. "But from my career perspective, I don't go into a room and take count. I want to be recognized for my contribution and for what I do.

"Yeah, there were probably times it was to my benefit, and there were probably times when it was not to my benefit. But that is true for everyone. There are always things that potentially impact how you are received. And I just don't focus on it. I don't focus on what you can’t control."

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Feb 10, 2014




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