When It Comes to Gender, Who Makes a Better Boss?

Tonight’s episode of The Numbers Game tackles the question Could you be the boss?  It covers traits from creativity to optimism and demonstrates different tasks that highlight leadership qualities. 

The show’s host, a data scientist named Jake Porway, also notably states, “A study found that groups of higher proportions of women were more likely to succeed at all sorts of tasks – visual puzzles, resource allocation, even video games.  Women tend to score higher on social sensitivity, which means that they’re able to read a group’s emotions better in order to help with the tasks at hand.”  The number of female leaders in the United States is rising, but still low—only about 4% of senior executives in investment banking and 4.2% of chief executive officers at Fortune 500 companies. With such stark numbers, one has to ask a couple questions.   What qualities make good leaders?  Why is there such a discrepancy between men and women in leadership? A study by Pew Research Center may have some of the answers.

The study asked the question, “Is this characteristic more true of women or men?” This question was posed into categories that were rated the most important leadership skills: honest, intelligent, hardworking, decisive, ambition, compassionate, outgoing, and creative; as well qualities that negatively affect leadership: arrogant, stubborn, manipulative, and emotional.

According to the study, women outperform men in five of the eight positive characteristics, and are equal to men in two of them (hardworking and ambitious), and underperform in only one (decisive).  The negative characteristics are split equally between women and men, with public opinion saying that women are more emotional and manipulative than men, but men are more arrogant and stubborn than women.

In Could You Be The Boss?, Jake states that creativity, teamwork, and charisma are some of the most important traits for leaders and that social sensitivity is especially helpful in group settings.  According to him, 60% of leaders list creativity as the most important leadership trait.  This is significant in terms of gender in the workplace because the Pew study shows that 62% of people say women are more creative than men, while only 11% say men are more creative than women; the other 24% say that women and men are equally creative.  Both the American public and Jake agree that creativity is pivotal, and public opinion overwhelmingly favors women having this characteristic.

Teamwork is also a point on which the data scientist and public opinion agree.  Leaders are built by their teams, and teams with more women are more likely to succeed in general according to Jake.  This is in part due to women’s heightened social sensitivity that allows them read a group’s emotions better in order to help with the tasks at hand, which is paralleled by the public’s overwhelming opinion of women being more compassionate and outgoing.  80% of respondents to the Pew survey stated that women are more compassionate than men, and 47% said women are more outgoing than men (compared to the 28% that said the opposite).  Compassion and outgoingness also relate to charisma, one of the top leadership traits identified in the episode.


Of course, all of these statistics are generalizations based on society’s perceptions of the two genders.  They do not necessarily mean that women are always better leaders than men or that men are always less creative than women.  Each individual has his or her own set of skills, and you can stack yourself up against participants trying to solve puzzles and complete tasks in tonight’s episode of The Numbers Game. 

Tune in tonight at 10:30P on National Geographic Channel to test yourself in real-time against the participants on screen in a variety of games that can help you answer the question Could You Be the Boss?