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Are Men Really Better Suited for Success Than Women?

There are lies, damn lies, and then there are opinion surveys. Well, it’s not really that bad. After all, Bentley’s Preparedness Study revealed some remarkable insights, including employers’ sizeable concerns over how unprepared the millennial generation is for the workforce.

But sometimes things may not be what they appear to be. Take, for example, the Preparedness Study’s findings about men being better suited for business success than women.

There appears to be little doubt until you stop and think.

Seven in 10 respondents say men are better suited to succeed in business. Even 63 percent of women think so. And yet . . . there’s no particular reason. Of those who think men are better suited, less than a quarter say it’s because of “better skills and abilities.” For those who think women are better suited, it’s 70 percent! Moreover, respondents (especially business leaders) think that women have better skills in areas that are critical for success — organization, communication and interpersonal relations. In one other area, decision making, there’s disagreement, each gender believing equally in its superiority. 

What may be more telling are two tested traits, as opposed to skills: leadership and entrepreneurial spirit, both of which are thought to be more present in men than women.

But can they justify the characterization of men as better suited when other indicators suggest the opposite? Indeed, when asked about the actual performance of recent hires, corporate recruiters and business decision makers say that women in fact were better prepared. Consider also that nine in 10 people see women who pursue careers as generally successful.

So, are men really better suited for business success than women? Women who are judged by 90 percent of respondents to be successful when they pursue business, to be better prepared for success in business, and to actually perform better in their first jobs?

Maybe “better suited” is not really what we’re talking about. But, if not, then what?

Let’s look at encouragement, opportunity, and “having it all.”

The survey, to generalize, reveals that a majority of respondents feel that women don’t get enough encouragement to pursue business, enough opportunities in business, or enough mentors to help in their career growth. But perhaps most telling is that fact that more than 80 percent of both men and women believe that women could be more prepared to “have it all.”

Is it any wonder that women, absent sufficient encouragement, opportunity and mentors, even while being judged as unprepared to “have it all,” are seen as less suited for success in business than men?  

You may wonder: Did we ask whether men could be better prepared to “have it all”? We did not, possibly because numerous studies, including Bentley’s, reflect the understanding that family and other constraints hold women back more than men. Even so, 60 percent of men feel it’s getting easier for women to “have it all.” Women are less sure: Half say it’s getting easier, half say harder.

So it would seem to come down to this: Women are prepared and successful. But the deck is stacked against them in some important ways. Leading to the question: What can we do about it?

That could be a problem. Because while majorities of respondents agree that not enough is being done for women in business and recognize that women need certain things that presumably would enhance their suitability for success, 71 percent of respondents say they already are personally vested in seeing women succeed. That figure actually increases when it comes to business executives, corporate recruiters and college professors. In other words, “I’m doing my part; it’s everybody else who has a problem.”

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that women are probably more suited — if suited means having all the tools — for business success than men. Admittedly, certain traits may trump certain skills and we looked more at skills than we did at traits. But there’s no doubt that women are seen as equally ambitious and, by the way, more loyal to their employer than men.

But were respondents possibly factoring in comparatively fewer opportunities, lack of support, and home life responsibilities when they answered the question about who’s better suited for success in business? And will things really get better as long as men and women alike continue to wear those rose-colored glasses when it comes to creating opportunity and offering encouragement to women? 

It’s unlikely, at least until both men and women, especially those in influential positions, honestly assess their own involvement. In some ways, as Bentley’s Susan Adams blogged this past week, it’s all about stereotypes. The PreparedU data show that women’s business skills are well recognized. The real question, then, is how we create environments and opportunities that will take advantage of just how well suited women are, in fact, for success.

Vic Schlitzer is director of brand and content marketing at Bentley. 

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Elephant in the room

41-year-old long-time management consultant here (Duke MBA). I saw this article on Digg and couldn't resist chiming in. Let's face it: Nobody in academia could *possibly* state that women are less "suited for success than men." It *had* to say that women are more suited for success, or else somebody (ahem, Vic) would be tendering his resignation right now, due to the torrent of assertions of misogyny flooding the school administration. But, of course, you can say the opposite and nobody cares. Here is the unpleasant truth that people don't like to face up to: Ya know how guys play more first-person shooters? And pay closer attention to sports rankings? And generally get into more physical altercations? Those are manifestations of aggression. Well, that aggression also manifests itself in more actively pursuing better jobs, negotiating for more money, taking extreme career risks (i.e., entrepreneurship) and more vociferously lobbying upon one's own behalf. (There are plenty of studies that demonstrate this.) I've met plenty of female entrepreneurs, and they are HARDLY typical women. Aggression matters, and men (thanks to testosterone) have more of it. To be sure, this isn't the only factor, but it's an ENORMOUS one. Aggressive people fixate upon making more money, and upon leading teams and projects. Since men have more, they have an enormous advantage. Indeed, women have advantages, too -- they work better in teams and collaborate more. But in the end, aggression trumps collaboration, in terms of career success. Oh, for the record, loyalty is a killer for women. I can't TELL you how many women I've known who passed up other jobs due to loyalty to their own company. In the modern workforce, there is little to distinguish "loyalty" from "complacency". Companies have little incentive to pay people more when they're not going anywhere, but have a HUGE incentive to retain key talent that's walking out the door. This is NOT to say that there aren't plenty of aggressive women out there. Aggression is like height: There are plenty of tall women out there, and even at 6'2", I've met many women taller than me. But, by and large, the average male is (in a statistically-significant sorta way) taller than the average woman. People might scowl at that, but can't really disagree. Anyway, that's the elephant in the room. Men are more aggressive. This is why more men end up in jail for assault, and is why most startups are also done by men -- there's both good and bad. But it's definitely a thing, and a big thing at that.