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The Gender Divide Redefined

The differences between male and female leaders are fewer than you think—but women still don’t make it to senior level roles

The great gender debate continues—and we add new data to the topic of gender balance in the leadership ranks.

“Why are women unable to rise as frequently as men? And why does a male-female wage gap still exist across a wide range of jobs including managerial positions? We have found, these conditions do not stem from their competence to lead.”

The Gender Divide Redefined

More Same Than Different

The lobby of EY’s New York headquarters features a larger-than life mural proclaiming: “80 Years Until Gender Parity? Time to Fast Forward.” With this display EY shows its awareness of the importance of workforce gender diversity. But it’s far from alone! Companies around the world recognize that diversity is not just an issue of social equality; it’s also good business.

We looked at how women and men differ in skills and personality patterns, offering unique insights into what enables or hinders greater gender diversity.


The glass ceiling for women in the workplace is cracking, but it’s a long way from shattering. Because assessments represent investment, the ratio of men to women chosen to complete these assessments is a reliable indicator of gender diversity among high-potential leaders. Far more women are chosen as candidates for assessment at lower leader levels than at senior levels (See “Chosen Assessment Participants” graphic). This conveys to women: It’s OK to be a lower-level leader, but you’re not yet ready to rise to the top! Why are women rising less frequently? We have found that this is not rooted in a lower competence to lead.

When we looked at business drivers differences, not one was statistically significant —in fact, neither gender scores extremely high.

We’ve also heard considerable discussion about men being better at the “harder” side of business, while women shine in the “softer” side. But looking at the “softer” versus “harder” business drivers, there is little support for this proposition.

While we found no gender differences in business driver scores, we did see significant distinctions on three personality traits displayed in the “Personality Gaps” graphic:

  • Men trump women in inquisitiveness. Possible reasons include men gravitating toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers that reinforce and reward structured inquiry. Also notable are cultural attitudes and practices. In some countries, women entering the workforce were raised in an environment that reinforced silence over curiosity.
  • Women are typically more interpersonally sensitive than men. This can be an advantage in environments where leaders are valued for their demeanor and interactions with others.
  • Men tend to be more impulsive than women. We surmise that men are reinforced to “just do it” without considering consequences. Women, on the other hand, are often nurtured with the outlook, Don’t do it unless you can do it right.


  1. A work culture that makes all types of diversity a key priority is a must. Organizational initiatives that reinforce such an environment include establishing women support groups, maintaining flexible working arrangements, nominating and nurturing high-potential women leaders, and career mentoring. Strive for a reputation of valuing diversity. One top Japanese corporation has done this by setting a goal to double its women leaders and professionals and enacting a set of strong initiatives.
  2. Networking is an essential element to success. Sponsor formal networking activities for women, and encourage self-initiated networking. Women as well as men can super-power their own networks around career development, idea generation, key influencers, and formal mentorships. The latter is especially important for women, as almost two-thirds of them have never had a formal mentor. Even one good mentor means they are more likely to climb the organizational ladder.

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