The results from the study of 360-degree evaluations in two articles from 2012(Are women better leaders than men and Gender shouldn’t matter but apparently it still does) shows that women in leadership positions are considered to be just as successful as men. In fact, while the disparities were not large, women scored on the vast majority of leadership skills statistically significantly higher level than men.

Nonetheless, the disturbing fact is that since the original research (1 and 2) was conducted, the percentage of women in senior management positions in industry has remained relatively steady. Just 4.9% of CEOs from Fortune 500 and 2% of CEOs from S&P 500 are female. And globally, those numbers are declining.

Of course, there are many factors contributing to this paucity of senior women. Cultural biases toward women have existed for centuries, and stereotypes die slowly. People have assumed that many women choose not to aspire to the organization’s highest ranks and step out of the race. Research has shown that unconscious bias places an important role in hiring and advocacy decisions, which also contributes to the lower number of women in key positions.

“Taking action, acting with courage, practicing self-development, striving for performance, and displaying high integrity and honesty” were among the leadership skills on which women scored higher than men. In fact, in 84 percent of the competences that we most commonly assess, they were thought to be more successful. Research found that men were rated better in two domains: “gain strategic perspective” and “technical or professional competence.”

According to the report below, women outperformed men on 17 of the 19 skills that separate outstanding leaders from the average or weak.

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Interestingly, the data shows that women are not as generous in their scores when asked to measure themselves. The collected data compares the male and female confidence score and there is a big difference in those under 25. The research points out that these women are highly likely to be far more capable than they feel they are, while the male leaders are overconfident and believe they are more qualified than they are. The scores of confidence combine at age 40. When people age, their confidence generally increases; interestingly, we see male trust decreasing over the age of 60, while female trust increases.

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The researchers also looked at the trend in women’s perceptions of the overall effectiveness of their leadership, with their rating rising as they grow older. Again, younger-aged women are much lower than men, but their ratings climb— and eventually overtake men’s — as they get older.

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The above data suggests that, women are highly competent leaders — and what holds them back is not a lack of capacity, but a lack of opportunity and unconscious bias.

Leaders need to look hard at what’s going on in their companies to promote women. Apparently, the unconscious bias that women don’t belong in the senior-level position plays a big role. It is imperative that companies change the way they make decisions about recruitment and promotion to ensure that significant consideration is given to eligible women.

Those who make these decisions need to pause and wonder, “Do we succumb to subconscious prejudice? Are we giving a person the nod automatically when there is a woman who is equally competent?” And, as the confidence data shows, companies need to give women more support. Leaders should inform them of their abilities and motivate them in their professions to pursue promotions sooner.

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