I am doing research about women in sports, and one of the most memorable statistics I have come across is that nearly four out of five women executives played sports growing up. So I called Jennifer Crispen, to talk about her work in this field. She said that there has been a lot of research to show how much women’s careers benefit from exposure to sports — “in terms of teamwork, shared commitment, and leadership.”
But Crispen told me that most current research focuses on how we talk about women. The media focus on women doing “skirt sports” like ice skating and gymnastics, because, “People still want to describe women doing sports as graceful and pretty,” says Crispen. “If you define men as aggressive and competitive it’s positive. But for women, these are negative attributes.”
The double standard for men and women is true at the playing field and the office. The Hay Group did a study (reported by Paula Burkes Erickson of the Daily Oklahoman), which concluded that successful women employ a mixture of male and female leadership styles. But when women use a strictly “command-and-control” style typical of successful men, the women get feedback like “‘bitch,’ ‘disempowering,’ ‘not clear what she wants from me’ and ‘we’re not working as a team.’”
So women need to keep their leadership style a little soft in order to keep everyone on board. But what about men? Authoritarian leadership may have worked in the past, but it absolutely won’t fly with Gen Y. They will quit rather than put up with it. So the most effective leadership style for everyone is a mixture of male and female leadership styles.