In July of 2014, a federal report in Canada called for corporate boards and other entities to aim for 30 percent female membership in the next five years (Flavelle, 2014). This report stopped short of setting quotas, but the intent was clear. In Canada, as in the US, the percentage of women on corporate boards and in other positions of power remains at less than 17%.
In addition to the question of equity, some research suggests that companies with a higher percentage of women at the top outperform companies with fewer women. McKinsey and Company (Barsh and Lee, 2011) found that companies with three or more women in top positions measured higher in their assessment of organizational health such as external orientation, coordination and control.
These figures correspond to higher financial performance. A Catalyst report focusing primarily on boards also reported higher financial returns for companies with higher percentages of women (Taylor, 2012).
Many attribute these findings to differences in emotional intelligence (EI) between men and women. Some go so far as to suggest that women are better leaders.
At the risk of offending one gender or the other, I want to take a closer look at the levels and types of EI men and women possess.
The good news is that both men and women score just about the same on measures of emotional intelligence. The not-so-good news is that women and men have significantly dissimilar scores in specific areas of EI.
According to research from Dickau and Schipper (1997) using the Emotional Quotient Inventory*, women tend to score higher in areas of interpersonal EQ, which includes empathy, relationships and social responsibility. On average, men score higher in areas of intrapersonal EQ that includes self-regard, self-reliance and coping with stress.
This seems to indicate that women are better at social awareness, social action and interpersonal relationships, and men are better at promoting themselves and their vision while handling the stresses of the job. The findings are not as clear cut as this may indicate, but generally men and women score differently on measures of EI.
There can be many reasons for these reported differences (Sanchez-Nunez, Fernandez-Berrocal, et al, 2008). They range from how children are enculturated to the problems of self-reporting EQ tests. Mo Costandi (2013) presents a detailed explanation of the differences in brain composition, biological sex and socialization, which may contribute to these differences. He argues that we cannot take these findings as irreversible, and we should not engage in stereotyping. Individuals are different and they can change.
Whatever the causes or the implications, we need to put this information into perspective and use it to benefit the greatest number of people. How do we as leaders, women, men, executives, policy makers or whatever, use this information? How do we look at these differences in a way that reaches beyond the numbers? I offer below a few suggestions:
- Recognize our own biases. When we make assumptions about individuals, ask if our assumptions are based on fact or conjecture.
- Look at and present all the facts, not just those that support a specific position or point of view. Consider alternative viewpoints before making a declaration or a decision.
- To avoid stereotypes, stay current with research findings, but recognize that all individuals in a group vary significantly from the average of a group. Each finding is just one more piece of information to consider.
- Recognize when certain traits are necessary. In making decisions about whom to hire or where to apply for positions, look first at what skills are necessary to be successful in a particular organization or culture. Then look at who is most capable of meeting the challenges that position presents. Sometimes it is a man; sometimes it is a woman. Most often it has nothing to do with gender.
- Promote diversity so that all can benefit from difference skills and perspectives. A variety of opinions and perspectives makes an organization or group stronger. The challenge is to listen and to value those differences.
- Recognize, enjoy and/or learn to tolerate the differences. Find the commonalities. It’s not always a competition. Sometimes it’s just a conversation.
As individuals, it is important to recognize our own strengths and developmental areas and continue to grow. This is the challenge for everyone who wants to make a difference. These findings offer some valuable opportunities for personal reflection.
“Like this post? Make sure you don’t miss our next one — sign up here to stay connected.”
If you want to learn more about emotional intelligence, check out our Emotional Intelligence Portal, an unparalleled collection of information, resources, media and products for your personal and professional use.
Leading With Emotional Intelligence from Lynda.com
- Barsh, J and Yee, L. April 2011. Unlocking the full potential of women in the US economy. McKinsey and Company Accessed June 28, 2014.
- Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. (2013) Accessed June 28, 2014.
- Costandi, M. (October, 2013) Male brain versus female brain: How do the differ? The Guardian: Neurophilosophy. Accessed June 28, 2014.
- Dickau, J. and Schipper, J. (1997) Men and Women Have Different Kinds and Levels of Emotional Intelligence,, EQ for Both Sexes is Key to Workplace Success. Multi-Health Systems: Accessed June 28, 2014.
- Flavelle, D. June 30, 2014. Corporate Canada told to aim for 30 percent women on boards. Accessed June 28, 2014.
- Nunez, M, Berrocal, P, Montanes, J and Latorre, J. 2008 Does emotional intelligence depend on gender? The socialization of emotional competencies in men and women and its implications. Department of Psychology, Universidad de Castilla La Mancha, Albacete. Accessed June 28, 2014.
- Taylor, K. (June 26, 2012). The New Case for Women on Corporate Boards: New Perspectives, Increased Profits. ForbesWoman: Accessed June 28, 2014.
*The EI Consortium evaluated many tests designed to measure areas of emotional competence. One of the few they selected as having a substantial body of research supporting its validity and reliability was the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i). For a greater understanding of the Bar-on model and the inventory, click here.