Are Men incompetent Leaders in comparison to Women?

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Andy Raymond.



Whether operating in the executive level, middle management or the C-Suite, incompetent managers can be categorised as individuals who are functionally inadequate or have an insufficient amount of knowledge, skills and judgment to undertake the motivating, directing, and handling of their team or business. Today there is a growing need for greater diversity and inclusiveness which is part of a cultural transformation that requires time and humility. It needs a set of clear, measurable and attainable long-term objectives for leadership and management. However in the UK there continues to be an uneven management gender ratio with organisations having the inability to discern between confidence and competence, which puts incompetent male leaders ahead of worthier female leaders.

There are three prevalent descriptions for the clear under-representation of women in management, namely: they are not capable; they are not interested; they are both interested and capable but unable to break the glass ceiling. This is the invisible career barrier based on prejudiced stereotypes that prevent women from accessing the ranks of power in today’s engineering and technical arena. We are fooled into thinking that men are better leaders than women because we commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence.

In the 1970s Virginia Schein introduced the concept of ‘think manager, think male’ to sum up society’s tendency to associate managerial roles with traditionally ‘male’ traits such as assertiveness and confidence. More recent theories maintain that men are preferred for stereotypically masculine jobs which require these so-called ‘agentic’ characteristics to do with independence, control and dominance. While women are preferred for jobs that require ‘communal’ traits such as empathy, kindness, and emotional expressiveness.

However, in Engineering and Technical recruitment, diversity is becoming increasingly crucial for innovation. According to the Women’s Engineering Society women make up 16.5% of all engineers. This represents a 6% point increase since 2010. The increase in number of women in engineering roles continued to rise even when the total number of people working in engineering fell in 2020 and 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic. In their global survey they also found that 85% of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that “A diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation.”

Forbes noted that women are still underrepresented in US technology leadership. In the last five years, gender representation has improved at every level in the corporate pipeline. Despite this, women still occupy less than a quarter of current C-suite positions.

The technology industry has witnessed several high-profile cases of incompetent male management decisions which severely dented the bottom line of large companies. Former Blackberry chief executive Thorsten Heins was roundly criticised by technology commentators for exacerbating the mobile phone makers decline through a series of poor management movesiIn addition to struggling to communicate well to the media. The media criticised that if this situation was overseen by a female leader, the communal traits associated with females would have recognised the requirement of handling the media. Yet, Heins found himself in deep water trying to revive the company’s fortunes in the face of fierce competition from Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy. Failing to accelerate the development of BlackBerry’s own smartphone, Heins was eventually fired in November 2013, with its stock slumping by almost 60% during his tenure.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology uncovered that incompetent men will always dominate over competent women when put in positions of power, even if the situation requires cooperation and empathy. It found that this phenomenon occurred in traditionally male-dominated workplaces and even in places where women made up most of the population.

The participants in the study had to choose which leader they thought would be more competent overall. The self-perceived ability was found to be a key factor. People believed that they could tell which leaders were more capable based on their own abilities. But women rated themselves lower than men did, thus causing them to not perform as well in leadership roles. We can therefore assume that incompetent men will always dominate positions of power.

Incompetent is also another word for inept, unskilled, amateurish, or stupid. Acknowledging our own ineptitude may give an idea of why incompetent men often succeed ahead of women. Women are more aware of their limitations, which makes them hesitate to become leaders, thus promoting some incompetent men instead. Competence can be seen as overconfidence, egotism, and narcissism—all traits that are highly valued in our patriarchal society.

So, such studies answer why this kind of gender discrimination may be to blame for the glass ceiling effect. Despite more women than men graduating from college, they still face more difficult hurdles on their way up the career ladder.

To summarise, there is no denying that the path for women to leadership positions is paved with many barriers including a very thick glass ceiling. But the drawback is that there is a lack of career obstacles for incompetent men. The fact that we tend to equate leadership with the psychological features that make an average man a more inept leader than the average woman.

Campaigns such as ‘The 50 Women in Engineering’ was launched in 2017 by the Women's Engineering Society to recognise the achievements of influential women in the engineering and technology sector. The campaign's objectives were not only to raise the profiles of women in engineering and tech, but they also wanted women to achieve more senior boardroom positions, where they are even more scarce. This is a wonderful way of identifying high achievers and these women will continue to be visible to the next generation of future engineers.

There has been movement in the progression of women in the engineering and technology sector becoming leaders. Schneider Electric, the global specialist in energy management appointed Tanuja Randery, former President of Strategy, Marketing and Transformation at BT Global Services, as its UK & Ireland President in 2015, and in August 2021 she joined Amazon Web Services as Managing Director, EMEA.

Schneider Electric, the global leader in power management has also adopted a hiring policy to ensure gender equality in the workplace. Their 2025 ambition includes a 50/40/30 model, which means women must comprise 50% of all hiring, 40% of frontline managers, and 30% of senior leadership.

Andrew Raymond, Director of Redline Executive comments: ‘It is still embarrassingly rare, the frequency with which we experience female leadership in the engineering and technology sector especially when discussing executive search and senior management appointments. When we do see it, we are always keen to engage as we know without variance that the person has attained their role through tenacity and merit and against probability. For a woman to succeed in this massively male-dominated environment speaks volumes about their character and resilience. Women often must work twice as hard to achieve half as much, and that the effort must be applied constantly throughout their careers is an imbalance created by the male ego that I would be the first to applaud an end to.’

We need to fix the way we approach leadership. If we focus on talent we will end up with better leaders and more female leaders, because the truth is women are often more competent leaders than men.

It takes competence to spot incompetence in leaders and leaders may think they can spot talent when they see it, but it is down to specialist executive search businesses and HR partners to ensure robust talent identification systems are in place to solve this problem.

Redline Executive offers an extensive portfolio of executive search services and strategic planning, assisting high-technology and engineering businesses to build world-class teams. For more information or to continue the conversation you can contact Andy Raymond, Director on +44 (0)1582 878907 or email ARaymond@redlinegroup.com.

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