How Much Longer to Break the Glass Ceiling? 50 Years, Research Says

Career Climbers / 19th March 2020

The Myers-Briggs Company, a Certified B Corp™, is sharing two new research studies around gender, diversity, and management. Both pieces of research were recently presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference by John Hackston and Nikhita Blackburn.

Women, Minorities, Personality and Leadership Roles

Currently, women make up less than 10% of executive directorships in FTSE100 companies. In addition, less than 4% of executive directors in the top 150 FTSE companies describe themselves as black or of minority ethnicities. And while the underrepresentation is common knowledge, Hackston hypothesizes that personality differences between leaders and non-management level employees, which would be greater for women than for men, might be one factor contributing to the lack of gender and ethnic parity at the highest levels.

“We looked at data from 2004-2018 of nearly 1.8 million people for this study,” says John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company. “Representation of women in leadership is improving, but still lags. Based on this data on women in leadership positions, the current trend optimistically points to gender parity in management levels by 2030, but is less optimistic regarding the number of men and women at the highest levels of companies, which won’t be equal until 2070. However, when it comes to racial diversity, no such consistent trend to move toward equality appears.

“Interestingly, personality differences in how men and women prefer to make decisions (Thinking or Feeling in the Myers-Briggs® personality framework) exacerbate these effects,” says Hackston.

While many have discussed personality bias being a partial contributor to gender inequality in management (such as Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders in Harvard Business Review and more recently Unconscious Personality Bias Keeps Women from Leadership – And Costs Companies in Forbes), The Myers-Briggs Company’s research backs up the assumptions with nearly 15 years’ worth of data around gender, ethnicity, personality and management level.

Men: More Assertive During Conflict than Women

Research, presented during the conference by Nikhita Blackburn, Thought Leadership Lead Consultant at The Myers-Briggs Company, shows that men are more likely to use an assertive mode to deal with conflict than women and, at higher organisational levels, both men and women  are more likely to use an assertive mode.

This research analysed data from 2004 – 2019 of over 400,000 people who completed the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI® assessment). The TKI framework reveals five different ways that people usually handle conflict, influenced by levels of assertiveness (seeking to satisfy their own needs) and cooperativeness (seeking to satisfy other’s needs). “Differences in conflict style between men and women were found at all levels in the organisation, and these contribute to the different leadership styles of men and women.

It also plays a part in how leaders are seen by others. If men and those in higher leadership positions tend to use a more assertive conflict style, those with cooperative styles aren’t as likely to be seen as ‘leadership material’, even though research suggests that these leadership styles more often used by women are likely to be more effective,” says Blackburn.

“Helping people recognise the benefits of different conflict styles is a first step in breaking down biases. The problem is the stereotype of what an effective leader looks like – it’s just not an accurate portrait and our data suggests that this stereotyping can have big effects when it comes to selecting candidates for leadership positions, often disadvantaging women.”

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