Why Jane Does Not Lead
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At some date in the first months of 2010, women will cross the 50% threshold
and become the majority of the American workforce. Females already make up the
majority of university graduates in the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) countries as well as the majority of professional workers
in several rich countries, including the United States. And women already run
many of the world’s great companies, from PepsiCo in America to Areva in France.
As a speaker at business conferences, I’ve addressed organizations around the
world, and I’ve seen the genuine commitment that many companies have made to
develop the leadership abilities of female employees and to create workplace
environments with family-friendly policies and flexible work arrangements -- all
in hopes of attracting, retaining and grooming women for top management roles.
But despite this effort and this progress, far-too-many talented females,
still bump their heads on a glass ceiling: Only 2% of the senior leaders of
America’s largest companies and 5% of their peers in Britain are women.
In my book, “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at
Work,” I talk about the power of silent signals in the workplace. So I was
fascinated to come across research that helps explain why even the
best-intentioned efforts at developing women leaders are failing.
This is research that deals with emergent leadership in groups of equal
status. And the findings have everything to do with body language.
Doré Butler and Florence Geis at the University of Delaware compared the
nonverbal affect responses to male and female leaders and found that
intellectual assertiveness by women in mixed-sex discussions elicits visible
nonverbal cues of negative affect. Females taking a leadership role in the group
received fewer pleased responses and more displeased responses from fellow group
members than male leaders speaking up and offering the same input.
From earlier research, we know that displeased expressions by fellow group
members cause a leader’s contribution to be rated less valuable than the
identical contribution when embedded with cues of approval. So you can see how
women’s ideas can be devalued simply by receiving less positive and more
negative responses than men’s contributions of the same objective quality.
Here’s what can happen in a team meeting: A woman states her opinion. In
response, negative nonverbal affect cues -- frowns, head shakes, eye contact
avoidance, etc. -- are displayed, processed, and often mimicked by the entire
group to produce a negative consensus about the value of her contribution. And
all of this occurs without individuals on the team being aware of what’s
At a time when conscious responses (direct answers on questionnaires, etc.)
are becoming increasingly egalitarian, covert, unconscious responses still
reflect discrimination against women taking a leadership role. Since hiring,
salary, and promotion (especially to top leadership positions) often depend on
being recognized as an emergent leader, this puts females at a distinct
Three key points:
1. This was a study of leadership behaviors in peer groups. There is no
evidence to suggest that women in formal leadership roles generate any greater
negative (or less positive) emotional cues than do their male counterparts.
2. This was not about men discounting the contribution of women. The groups
in the study had an equal mix of male and female members.
3. The power of nonverbal communication lies its unconscious nature -- and
bringing the covert into awareness can help nullify its effect. (So, circulate
So, if you want to groom women for top positions in your organization, keep
doing those things that have proven to be helpful: Offer females the coaching,
mentors, and career opportunities that develop leadership potential.
But, in addition, pay attention to your own body language. Employees look for
and emulate the nonverbal signals they get from their bosses. Current leaders
can help create a level playing field for emergent leaders by providing the same
cues of positive affect (eye contact, smiling, nodding, leaning forward, etc.)
when listening to women as they do when listening to men.
On December 23rd The Washington Post published Carol's article, “The Greatest
The January 2010 Workplace Today® online journal featured Carol’s article,
“Emotions integral to all that happens in an organization.”
BNET posted Carol's video on the body language of mirroring at: http://www.bnet.com/2422-13950_23-372575.html
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-01-11 20:03:29 in Employee Articles