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More and more studies demonstrate the connection between gender diversity and higher returns. What is it about having both men and women in leadership that helps the bottom line? Do men and women lead differently? Is the combination a good thing?

A recent blog suggested that companies do better when they have women leaders because of the “leadership strengths of women.” Summarizing the research on this topic, the authors pointed to a number of strengths: women are inclusive and collaborative; they consult more when making decisions; they view the world holistically.

The problem with this analysis is obvious. Women do not all lead alike — any more than all men do. Describing “women’s leadership” as opposed to “men’s leadership” involves stereotyping. Many women lead in a masculine way; many men incorporate “leadership strengths of women” in their approach to leading.

masc fem bal There are real strengths of feminine forms of leadership, including those noted. Men can and do display them too. And there are real strengths of masculine forms of leadership, which both men and women use. The BEST leaders have a balance of both. They understand and appreciate both masculine and feminine approaches. They know when to use which. They can “shift” depending on circumstances – what they are trying to accomplish and who is involved.

The BEST leaders value and leverage the strengths of both in the people who work with them. That means people who bring feminine strengths and people who bring masculine strengths both feel valued and included. That means that more people will be engaged. Higher engagement drives greater productivity and result. AND better decisions. Research shows that heterogeneous groups process information more carefully than homogeneous groups.

Because more women than men demonstrate feminine strengths, having more women makes it more likely a group will have feminine as well as masculine strengths. The real key to why companies with more women at the top do well is that they have a balance of both strengths. They have cultures of inclusion and engagement. Decisions are better. Having gender diversity at the top simply makes all this more likely.

Why do you think gender diversity in leadership is linked with better business results?