Companies rightly want ethnically diverse teams, to reflect the population of the countries that make up their customer base. But governing an ethnically diverse country is not without its challenges. A new study takes a look at the role of gender in successful leadership, and finds that the countries that pull off both economic success and diversity all have one variable in common: a female head of state.
(Photo Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/Flickr)
Researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern State decided to investigate circumstances in which ethnic diversity could be a boon to a country’s economy, rather than a detriment. This questioning led them to research on leadership styles of men and women.
According to Kellogg Insight’s interview with Nicholas Pearce, a clinical assistant professor of management and organization at the school, researchers asked the question “might female leaders — who tend to have a more participative, collaborative style than men … be well-equipped to counteract, or overturn, the negative association between diversity and economic growth?”
The research team spent three years looking at both male and female leaders of 139 countries over a 55-year span while also measuring gross domestic product (GDP) performance along with ethnic fractionalization levels. Their findings confirmed the established association between diverse countries and weak economies, but when they examined the gender of a leader, it was discovered that diverse countries with female leaders had a 6 percent higher GDP growth rate, on average, than diverse countries with male national leaders.
In fact, they found that the more diverse the country, the more extreme the effect of a female leader. For example, Liberia, one of the most diverse countries in the survey, had a predicted GDP growth rate of 6.15 percent under a female leader in comparison to a 0.069 percent rate with a male leader.
As explained in the interview with Kellogg Insight, “In countries with a lot of internal conflict, oftentimes people are looking for signals that the person in charge is going to be collaborative and not dictatorial or self-interested,” Pearce says. “Women’s gender role is symbolic of collaboration, that they’re going to empower marginalized voices.”
Authors of the study say more research needs to be done before they can claim with certainty the cause of this leadership difference. They also emphasize the goal is not so much to declare whether one gender makes a better leader than the other, but to recognize the qualities associated with leaders of both genders in order to construct ideal characteristics of a leader that can adapt and respond in any situation.
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