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How Women Leaders Emerge From Leaderless Groups

Source | FastCompany : By JARED LINDZON

In spite of a significant imbalance between male and female leaders in business, new research from the University at Buffalo’s School of Management suggests that in collaborative work environments where women are outnumbered, they often emerge as the natural group leader.

The findings fly in the face of the reality of the U.S. workforce, where many fail to recognize the extent of the female leadership gap. Women represent just 3% of new CEOs in the U.S., 5.1% of Fortune 1000 CEOs, and 4% of Standard and Poor’s 500 CEOs. A recent survey by the Rockefeller Foundation also found that nine in 10 respondents thought there were more female business leaders than there really are, and further research by the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University found that those women are more likely to be targeted by shareholder activism.

“We tend to see the man as more leader-like than the woman,” says lead author Jim Lemoine, in a video interview by UB School of Management. “What we were interested in in this research were exceptions to the rule.”

In the study, researchers assigned nearly 1,000 participants to small groups and asked them to complete a series of tasks, later polling them on who emerged as the natural leader of their group. The study was replicated with participants of varying ages over both long and short-term periods.

When the groups communicated a lot, or were more “extroverted” in Lemoine’s words, women were more likely to emerge as leaders. They were also more likely to emerge as leaders when the groups were predominantly male.

“When a group is composed of lots of extroverted people, they talk more,” he says. “They’re actually getting to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and who may be the better leader beyond this diversity demographics stuff.”

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