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  • Writer's pictureCarole Stizza

Female Managers Have the Edge

Updated: May 31, 2021

Employee engagement is linked to productivity, retention, and positive job satisfaction. So which gender of managers keep employees more engaged?

Male or Female?

How do you prepare to select new managers as people progress in their career when it’s not an obvious choice? Research shows that a great manager should never be based on tenure or how well they do a non-managerial job. New research now also challenges organizations to consider gender as a factor in managerial talent.

If you had to choose between selecting a male or female manager, who would you choose? Select the more talented employee, right? Of course! When Gallup recently published data promoting hiring based on gender—I wanted to know why.


I’m not always a fan of data. Data can be biased, tilted, incomplete and misinterpreted. Gallup, however, has a strong history of great validation practices. When Gallup publishes data, they can back it up. Imagine my surprise when they took a side within the gender debate on manager success.

I’ve always had a hunch that females have the edge when it comes to both treating employees as whole human beings and implementing best practices in providing feedback and tracking progress.

Now there’s actual data to back up my intuition!

  • 41% of female managers are engaged at work compared to 35% male managers

  • 25% level of engagement at work by males managed by males

  • 29% level of engagement of males with a female manager

  • 31% level of engagement of females with a male manager

  • 35% level of engagement of females with a female manager

Is this just a “girl thing?”

Possibly. If every manager were given clear directions and expectations on how to excel and maintain employee engagement there would be higher margins of success than currently reported across the board. That said, I firmly believe that females tend to display a more holistic view when it comes to the intertwining of work and life. I suspect that’s a tremendous factor in why Gallup reports that female managers of every working-age generation are more engaged than their male counterparts.

Consider natural intuition. One night my husband came home frustrated with the performance of one of his direct employees. I asked him if he knew what was going on in their life outside of work. He had never asked. The next day he decided to ask and was blown away with the outside stress coming from events in this person’s life. They sat down and figured out ways to support the employee in their duties at work in the short term until things became more manageable. Since then, he has made a point to ask more questions about people’s life outside of work. This has greatly improved his team’s overall engagement.

What came as a surprise to me was that this seemed to be a first natural instinct for me: of course you should ask what’s going on in their life! Meanwhile, the same thought never passed through his head.

Is this why female managers are more engaged at work? Do we care more? I’m not sure. As soon as I shared this tip with my husband, he started including that perspective all the time, so I think it could be learned.

Will gender bias go away? Gender bias is reported to still be alive and well, and yet very few people will genuinely feel as if their preference for a manager is truly based upon gender. Many report that their most recent positive or negative experience with a prior manager sways their current preference. When Gallup polled for manager gender preference, the results were surprising given that female managers outperform male managers. When asked whether they would choose a male or female as a new boss at a new job, 33% still prefer a male, while 20% prefer a woman and 46% say gender doesn’t matter (score one for the neutral majority!).

So should everyone just hire more females? No.

Hiring for a successful manager requires hiring for talent in what they will be doing in the new role – not just what they have done in the past – and not just because they are female! Females are individually unique too and desire to be hired for the right job that matches their talent.

You still hire for talent!

Hiring the right talent requires several levels of information: performance results, references, and even scientific assessments that reveal natural strengths. Getting organizations to hire based on talent with consideration for the requirements for the new role, instead of on past success, will be a huge step in the right direction.

Besides! Hiring for talent may continue to reveal that females have the edge in being great managers, and when that happen, we should see not only more equality in the workforce, but more employee engagement, retention, and higher job satisfaction scores.

Discover Your Talents with Strength Strategy!

The best managers get to know themselves and their team. You lead a team to success by understanding your team’s capabilities, and by people in positions that play to their strengths while partnering them with people who will overcome their weaknesses. Discover your strengths, and the strengths or your team, with our Strength Strategy course!

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