female managers

Female managers are better at boosting employee engagement than their male counterparts.  

Research giant Gallup. in its State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, says that employees who work for a female manager in the U.S. are actually more engaged, on average, than those who work for a male manager.

Here’s the rub: Only 33% of American workers actually report to a female supervisor.

A little background, from Kimberly Fitch and Sangeeta Agrawal, writing on the Gallup website:

“If you were taking a new job and had your choice of a boss, would you prefer to work for a man or a woman?”

Gallup first put that question to workers in 1953, and the results were, well, what you’d probably expect in 1953:

  • 66% said they preferred a male boss
  • 5% said they preferred a female boss, and
  • 25% said it made no difference to them.

Gallup asked that same question of employees last fall, and things have changed:

  • 33% would prefer a male boss
  • 20% would prefer a female boss, and
  • 46% say it doesn’t make a difference.

An intriguing note from last fall’s survey: Though women are more likely than men to say they would prefer a female boss, they’re still more likely to say they would prefer a male boss overall.

Going down the list

Using data it’s compiled over the years, Gallup has come up with a 12-item checklist — called, logically enough, the Gallup Q12 — to define positive qualities employees find in their managers. The topics range from manager expectations to positive feedback to whether or not employees feel their ideas are valued.

Fitch and Agrawal provide a snapshot of Gallup’s recent research:

Employees who work for a female manager are six percentage points more engaged, on average, than those who work for a male manager — 33% to 27%, respectively. Female employees who work for a female manager are the most engaged, at 35%. Male employees who report to a male manager are the least engaged, at 25% — a difference of 10 points.

Gallup found that employees who work for a female manager are 1.26 times more likely than employees who work for a male manager to strongly agree that “There is someone at work who encourages my development.” “This suggests that female managers likely surpass their male counterparts in cultivating potential in others and helping to define a bright future for their employees,” the authors wrote.

Additionally, female managers are not only more likely than male managers to encourage their subordinates’ development — they’re also more inclined than their male counterparts to check in frequently on their employees’ progress. Those who work for a female boss are 1.29 times more likely than those who work for a male boss to strongly agree with the statement, “In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress,” said Fitch and Agrawal.

Those who work for a female manager are 1.17 times more likely than those with a male manager to strongly agree that “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”

And, finally,  employees who work for a female manager outscore those who work for a male manager on every Q12 element except one: “At work, my opinions seem to count.” Overall, female managers eclipse their male counterparts at setting basic expectations for their employees, building relationships with their subordinates, encouraging a positive team environment and providing employees with opportunities to develop within their careers, according to Agrawal and Fitch.

Engagement breeds engagement

So why are female managers better at building employee engagement? It may well be because they’re more engaged themselves.

According to Agrawal and Fitch, Gallup finds that 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared with 35% of male managers. In fact, female managers of every working-age generation are more engaged than their male counterparts, regardless of whether they have children in their household.

“If female managers, on average, are more engaged than male managers, it stands to reason that they are likely to contribute more to their organization’s current and future success,” the authors write.

Let talent be the deciding factor

Here’s how Fitch and Agrawal sum up the significance of the research:

While the explanation behind these findings is subject to debate, there are a few possible reasons as to why female managers and their employees are more engaged. Gallup’s employee engagement data show that men and male managers are more likely to hold jobs that tend to be less engaging, such as production jobs.

However, it is also likely that gender bias still pervades leadership and management in America. As such, female managers might be somewhat more adept and purposeful in using their natural talents to engage their teams because they need to exceed expectations to advance in their organization.

Though some may find Gallup’s findings surprising, the management implication is quite clear: U.S. organizations should emphasize hiring and promoting more female managers. To do this, organizations should use talent as the basis for their selection decisions. Talent is an equalizer that removes gender bias in the hiring process. Talent gives organizations a proven, scientifically sound method for choosing the best candidate, regardless of gender.






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