Men versus women: Why comparing leadership according to gender is harmful

sexual harassment at work

It’s time we stopped trying to fix women and fixed the systems we all operate in.

Becoming conscious of the damaging narratives we run about women and leadership will help to shift the focus of how we support women to thrive so everyone thrives.

A Google search I did today on women and leadership yielded 750 million results in a swift 41 seconds. A search on men and leadership yielded 635 million results in 40 seconds. Significantly, there were 115 million more references, articles and research focused on women and leadership. ‘We’ have a lot to say about women and leadership.

The themes in the articles for women and leadership focused on gender and equality,  development and empowerment (with a lot of references about building resilience and confidence).

The dominating focus of women and leadership articles is often focused on what we (women) need to do. 

Distinctively, when I scrolled down the articles for men and leadership, the headlines were all of a similar theme: comparison.  

  • Are Men or Women Better Leaders? Several Studies Reveal the Facts”
  • 5 Reasons The ‘Best CEOs For Women’ Are All Men”
  • Why Women Leaders Are Outperforming Men”
  • The Different Words We Use to Describe Male and Female Leaders”
  • Male vs Female Leadership: Differences and Similarities”

Is this comparison helpful or harmful?

It certainly takes us down a path that is not helpful. We (women) do not need fixing, the systems we operate in do. 

We do need access to equal opportunities to build skills and capability and to put these into practice.  

In the article “5 reasons the best CEO’s for women are all men”,  the author states their research showed ‘even women leaders themselves preferred male leaders’.

It’s hard for women to lead when the prevailing narrative is ‘my worst boss ever was a woman’! That’s tough day at the office in a new leadership role.

Given that women make up only 5% of chief executive officers globally in fortune 500 companies, and the total number of women in ASX200 executive leadership teams is 430 compared with 1,428 men, both women and men have far less exposure to women leaders than male leaders.

Poor leadership isn’t gender specific, it’s poor leadership.

Women are still required to navigate a landscape that men do not have to. We still have to have strategies for situations, and behaviours that our male colleagues do not have to think about.  There is a backlash and shaming that happens when women stand alone or together to voice this.

Fortunately, there are great men who call out unacceptable behaviours, and we need more men to do so publicly, in the moment, not after the event.

One of my clients recently was told to ‘stop being so sensitive’ when she had the courage to stand as the only woman in a senior executive team after inappropriate comments were made.

For meaningful long-term change to happen, we (men and women) need to work together to change the systems we all operate in.

When women thrive, the men we care about and love thrive, as do our families, teams and organisations.   

Stereotypes harm everyone

Eight men will take their life today in Australia according to research collated by Lifeline. Death by suicide continues to be the leading cause of death amongst Australian men aged 15-44.   

A recent study revealed a correlation between men’s risk of health issues and gender inequality. The gender stereotypes that keep women locked out of senior roles and equal pay, keep men locked into the role of breadwinner. The impact of this resulting in disastrous consequences on their emotional and physical health and wellbeing.

The true cost of allowing gender inequity is higher than a company’s bottom line.

Let’s change the landscape together so we can all thrive.

NOW READ: Nine valuable online resources for women entrepreneurs

NOW READ: Unconscious bias: Amazon forced to scrap machine learning recruitment tool because it didn’t like women


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