Work and Wellbeing · 26 September 2018

Serena Williams umpire clash strikes a chord with female business owners

At the 2018 US Open, Serena Williams demanded an apology from umpire Carlos Ramos

US tennis star Serena Williams’s recent bust-up with an umpire is an experience shared by female bosses every day, according to a new study.

People assessment group Thomas International said research of director-level female leaders revealed that they share the same emotional intelligence and personality traits of equivalent male bosses.

Female leaders were found to be no more empathetic than male bosses and male leaders were found to be no more assertive and composed than females.

The study found that against every measure – including approach to risk, competitiveness, conscientiousness, assertiveness, emotion management, relationships and optimism – there is no discernible difference between successful male and female leaders.

Contrary to stereotypes, the women haven’t needed to be more sensitive to get to the top and the men are no more likely to be risk-takers or competitive than the women in the study.

Thomas International then examined how these traits are perceived by people – and found a key difference. On the road to the top, personality and emotional traits which are found in successful leaders, and which are perceived as good in men, are often interpreted as a fault in women.

It said showing strong emotions is seen as passion when it’s a man, but as hysteria when it’s a woman. Standing your ground and being direct is seen as assertive when it’s a man and bossy when it’s a woman.

Thomas International equated the findings to the experience of Williams in the recent US Open final when she complained that her on-court tirade was penalised heavier than that of a similar outburst by a male player.

“Our study lends weight to the very issue highlighted by Serena Williams during the recent US Grand Slam – behaviour that’s seen as acceptable from a man is judged differently when demonstrated by a woman. This is an experience that is sadly quite common for women at work,” said Jayson Darby, head of psychology at Thomas International.

“Our research has shown that women are as likely as men to have the traits of a good business leader, but women face additional hurdles to their success.”

“There is an inherent bias in the way people describe female success, and it’s holding women back”.

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