Emotional Intelligence: Are Women Just ‘Too Emotional’ For the World of Business?

In the highly competitive world of tech start-ups, and the emerging growth business sector, it would seem that a healthy dose of testosterone and an aggressive posture are core tenants for success.

This may hold true for American business in general. Are these the reasons why women are so significantly under-represented in the tech sector? What’s behind the lack of women in the ranks of senior management in American business?

Gender Bias in the Workplace

Gender bias may be one of the culprits behind the lack of women in tech and senior management jobs.

The “Elephant in the Valley” survey conducted by Women in Tech, a professional association for women in the tech industry, details the gender bias issues facing women in the tech workplace.

Some stats from the study that stood out:

  • 47% of women have been asked to do lower-level tasks, like take notes and ordering food, that men are not asked to.
  • 66% of women have felt left out from important networking events because of their gender.
  • 75% of women were asked about their family lives, marital status and children in interviews.

One type of workplace bias is known as “descriptive stereotype” that ascribes certain characteristics to women, or men. A study conducted in 2013 led by Ernesto Reuben of Columbia Business School concluded that stereotyping contributes to the low number of women in mathematics and science careers. The study found that without provision of information about candidates other than their appearance, men are twice more likely to be hired for a mathematical task than women.

The second major form of gender bias is “prescriptive.” In this case, women who do break through and claim a traditionally male position are seen to have violated their prescribed norms.

Here’s where the woman who should be compassionate acts forcefully and instead of being called decisive gets labeled “brusque” or “uncaring.” One study showed that women who negotiate for higher pay (violating passivity) can be penalized.

Last year McKinsey & Company issued a study entitled “Women in the Workplace.” The study concluded that, “Women see a workplace skewed in favor of men” and they are almost four times more likely than men to think they have fewer opportunities to advance because of their gender.

The study also concluded that 74% of companies report that gender diversity is a top CEO priority, but the message is not reaching the majority of employees. Less than half of workers believe that gender diversity is a top priority for their CEO, and only a third view it as a top priority for their direct manager.

Leanin.org is an outgrowth of the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg. It focuses on encouraging women to pursue their ambitions, and changing the conversation from, “What we can’t do” to, “What we can do.”

The site names “performance attribution bias” as the impactful adversity for women in business. Here, women are less prone to claim (and to get) credit for success. Lean In observed, “Because women receive less credit — and give themselves less credit — their confidence often erodes and they are less likely to put themselves forward for promotions and stretch assignments.”

Can Women Offer Competitive Advantages?

Do the traits of kindness, sensitivity and compassion often associated with women provide any advantage to businesses? Absolutely.

It’s reported that the addition of even one woman to a meeting or to a decision making process can deliver improved group dynamics, when competition gives way to cooperation. Women typically work differently than men in how they solve problems and build relationships.

A 2014 Gallup study showed the business benefits of gender diversity. The study of more than 800 business units from two companies representing tow different industries – retail and hospitality – found that gender-diverse business units have better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender.

An early study by Catalyst 353 Fortune 500 companies connected better corporate performance with gender diversity. More recently, a study by Boston-based Quantopia showed that women-run Fortune 500 firms showed that 80 women CEOs over a 12-year period produced equity returns 226% better than the S&P 500.

Earlier this year, Forbes identified “Four Reasons Women Make Great Executives” based on research from the likes of McKinsey and offered the following:

  • Women see and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • Women build strategic connections that strengthen organizations.
  • Women are holistic problem solvers.
  • Women are strong relationship and network builders.

The Credit Suisse CS Gender 3000 study showed a higher return on equity for companies with at least one woman on the board of directors. The study identified three main obstacles to achieving greater gender diversity: cultural bias, workplace-related bias and structural/policy issues.

The Lean In website has created a set of “tips for managers” designed to help address gender bias, and in turn, leverage the full talents of a population (women) who can provide a competitive advantage. In essence this guide helps battle gender bias and stereotypes.

So are women too emotional for business? Quite the contrary, the evidence appears clear that if gender bias issues are overcome, women can and will continue to make significant contributions to business success. Even if they will not tend to boast about it, as can be more common with men.

Profile photo of Neelam Brar
Neelam Brar

Neelam is an accomplished female entrepreneur, financier, and start-up adviser. She is the founder and CEO of District CoWork, one of the hottest hub for innovation in NYC and Empress, an empowerment platform designed to mentor and support women. Neelam founded Empress to unite the strongest stakeholders behind the economy: Women. Empress is the nexus of content, community and capital. With a dual MBA from Columbia Business School and London Business School and experience raising capital and advising growth companies throughout the US, Canada, Singapore, Mumbai and Hong Kong, she has tremendous first hand insights on several topics relevant to entrepreneurship and innovation. Neelam did investment banking and private equity for over a decade raising billions of dollars of capital and advising on high profile M&A transactions in the domestic and international markets across industries. She is a veteran deal maker and growth advisor with proven entrepreneurial experience and a firm commitment to support the progress of women.