women boldest leaders in business

Who is the boldest (leader) of them all?

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the boldest leader of them all?

According to a study, when it comes to leadership, women are bolder than their male counterparts.

The study was conducted by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, the CEO and President, respectively, of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership consultancy business.

The study’s findings seem to challenge the way people have thought about men and women leaders.

It has always been thought that men tend to be bolder and take more risks, while women typically avoid risk-taking in the business world.

Zenger and Folkman involved 75,000 leaders from all around the world to conduct their study.

From that, they were able to conclude that women were bolder than men in leadership roles, after using 360 degree assessments of each leader to help compile a “boldness” index.


The index was based off seven different leadership behaviors:

  1. Challenges standard approaches.
  2. Creates an atmosphere of continual improvement.
  3. Does everything possible to achieve goals.
  4. Gets others to go beyond what they originally thought possible.
  5. Energizes others to take on challenging goals.
  6. Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed.
  7. Has the courage to make needed changes.

what makes good bold leader


In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Zenger and Folkman discussed what they found.

On average, women rank in the 52nd percentile on the boldness scale while their male counterparts rank in the 49th percentile.

While a three percent difference between men and women may not seem like a significant difference, Zenger and Folkman note that the difference is significant “because ‘men take more risks’ is so ingrained in social science.”


So, where are the boldest women in business?

Women who work in sales recorded the highest boldness score, while women who work in engineering and safety recorded the lowest boldness score.

In addition, women ranked higher than men in boldness in all business functions that were measured.

In female-dominated functions such as HR, the difference between men and women was minimal. However, in male-dominated functions (e.g. R&D, facilities, IT, and manufacturing), women were much bolder leaders than men were.

women better leaders than men


To take it a step further, Zenger and Folkman analyzed the top eight male-dominated functions and the top two female-dominated functions, to find out whether women were bolder from the beginning of their career or if the boldness developed over time.

They found that women who were 30 and younger in male-dominated professions were in the 62nd percentile on the boldness scales, while the same age group in female-dominated professions ranked only in the 42nd percentile.

Both Zenger and Folkman think the reason behind their findings is that being a younger woman in a male-dominated profession “requires a fairly bold personality — a willingness to challenge the status quo, push harder for results, and do something out of the ordinary.”

Published by

Michelle Tan - Senior Consultant, Sandbox Advisors

Michelle has years of experience as a multi-lingual lecturer/trainer and has worked with clients such as Marina Bay Sands, Resorts World Sentosa, Comfort Transportation and Nanyang Technological University. She has attained an impressive array of academic qualifications, including a Master of Science in Industrial Psychology and Management, Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics, Professional Diploma for Teachers and Trainers, Associate Degree in Japanese Linguistics & Culture, and a Diploma in Mass Communication.

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