Harvard Business Review and Why Women Make Great Leaders

In June of 2019, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman posted an article about new social research into the leadership capabilities of both men and women, Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills.

They reported that, while men remain holding 95.1% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies, make up over 70% of Congress, have continuously held the office of the presidency, and consistently been the majority cohort in the Senate and on the Supreme Court, that women are just as good – if not better – leaders than men.

In fact, in 84% of the categories they tested, women actually scored higher than their male counterparts in the most frequently tested leadership areas. Most specifically, women in this study were found to be rated as “excelling in taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty..”, while the mere two (out of nineteen) capabilities men were rated higher on were “developing strategic perspectives..” and “technical or professional expertise,”.

So why have the numbers of women in business and politics not soared? Or at least, why have those numbers not been steadily increasing every year, hopefully reaching the equilibrium of 50%? Why, if women are so equipped to lead, at least equally equip as men, do they not make up even 10% of top leadership positions in the most influential businesses in the United States? 

Why, in 2020, are the percentages of leading women in these high management and leadership positions stagnant, or even declining? With our increased access to education, and our understanding of the importance of balance in the workplace, why have we not made more strides towards a system which actively includes women in leadership roles, not just in politics, but also in businesses and decision making bodies of all forms, and at all levels?

Harvard Business suggests that it may be in part due to the “broad, cultural biases against women,”, and that these long-held belief systems often die slowly. Further, they suggest that young women, specifically those under 25, are much more likely to assume that they are not qualified for a position, while a man with their exact credentials is more inclined to assume that he can learn what he is missing. This confidence gap has been measured by Harvard Business as well, and they report that it is not until around age 40 that men and women have similar scores in terms of self-confidence in their marketable abilities.

“ A man and woman with identical credentials, who both lack experience for a higher-level position, come to different conclusions about being prepared for the promotion. The man is more inclined to assume that he can learn what he’s missing…he says to himself, “I am close enough.” The woman is inclined to be warier, and less willing to step up in that circumstance.”

— Harvard Business Review, June 2019


It is not until women reach the tail end of their careers do they begin to rate themselves higher for effectiveness, ability, and credentials. If nothing else, this research makes clear that young women are not growing up to be confident and empowered leaders, at least not as confident as their male counterparts.


It’s imperative that organizations change the way they make hiring and promotion decisions and ensure that eligible women are given serious consideration. Those making those decisions need to pause and ask, “Are we succumbing to unconscious bias? Are we automatically giving the nod to a man when there’s an equally competent woman?

— Harvard Business Review, June 2019


Harvard Business concludes that women make “highly competent leaders, according to those who work most closely with them — and what’s holding them back is not lack of capability but a dearth of opportunity”. Leaders in business must consciously change their perspectives to invite women to the table, to encourage them to get promotions early on in their careers, and to be unapologetically sure in their capabilities to lead, make change, and stand alongside men on both the board room and in their checkbooks.