As More Women Climb the Corporate Ladder, Will Decision Making Change?

Fortune has an interesting analysis of men and women and decision making.

In an interview with Jack Welch in the late 1980s, I challenged him about his strategy to make GE No. 1 or No. 2 in all its markets-or get out. At the time Welch was working hard to reinvent the company, which desperately needed it. He could ill afford public doubts about what became a guiding principle. As I pressed him on the subject, the GE legend lost it and stomped out of the room. He did come back-and we ended up having a four-hour talk. Some years later, when I interviewed Marjorie Scardino, the CEO of Britain's Pearson, I ended up talking about myself. The difference is not merely one of personal quirks. After 25 years of interviewing CEOs, I can say definitively: Men love to lecture, women like to listen.

Lots of interesting research is quoted that, of course, isn't provided for us to look at. So I'll rely on my own experience for this one.

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I've worked for bosses of both sexes that were all across the board, but there is one major thing I have noticed. Men tend to be more direct and women tend toward consensus building. This leads to problems when people focus more on work style than on outcomes. I once worked in a department where a newly promoted female leader was criticized for being too chatty and not doing enough work, even though she hit all her milestones and performed quite well. When I got the chance to work with her, I realized her management style relied heavilty on feedback and consensus. Because she didn't sit alone in her office all day (which was the de facto standard to show you were a good worker) she wasn't perceived as working.

  • Great points Rob.

    If you list at all the things we’ve come to think of as being “businesslike” (mathematical, commanding, highly competitive, status oriented, tooting your own horn, disconnected from emotion, hurried, etc.) you’ll find that they are extensions of the way males approach each other and the world (see the work of Dr. Deborah Tannen).

    More than half of the solutions I found (for my book on leading follow through in teams and companies) came from women, I think because they look at business and the right way to lead very differently.

  • I read the case studies that were part of the article, and didn’t see anything particularly “female” about the decision-making process outlined: No obvious differences from the way a guy would have approached the same decision.

    Can anyone point to anything specific in these examples?

  • David is right. The article doesn’t make the case.

    But the case can be made.

  • Rob

    I don’t think they were basing the article off the attached cases. I agree they aren’t useful in determining that. I would prefer to see some of the research mentioned earlier in the article.

  • I’ll tell you one place where men and women in business aren’t different enough. They both often have an “infantile” response to having their conclusions questioned (especially by someone below them on the organizational chart).

    That’s not the first time I’ve heard of a celebrity CEO (man or woman) stomping his feet and saying, “I’ll just take my ball (or dolls) an go home.”

    Then they act incredulous when things go bad. “Why didn’t anyone warn me?” they ask.

  • I’m with Laurence – the only woman I ever reported to was a dragon. I don’t think bad management discriminates sexually.

    I’m all for more concensus though – we’ve learnt that good business requires listening to your customers – maybe the ladies are right, and good leadership requires listening to your direct-reports.

  • Deb

    Because she didn’t sit alone in her office all day (which was the de facto standard to show you were a good worker) she wasn’t perceived as working.

    Fascinating. In my last management position, I did spend most of my day in my office. My male boss thought I was fantastic. My female subordinates were convinced that I did absolutely nothing and was a b*tch to boot. I never did figure out how to keep everybody happy.

  • Rob

    Be careful Deb, you’ve come very close to saying something politically incorrect, like “men and women are different.” ;-)

  • Sure men and women are different and will always be treated differently at work, even if it’s only because they look and sound different!