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Business Intelligence Women in leadership: personality characteristics and leadership style

Women in leadership: personality characteristics and leadership style

by Hart Consulting February 29, 2024


In order to understand more about the psychological characteristics of women and men in leadership positions, at Hart Consulting we use Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), an instrument for personal evaluation, used also by companies in Top 500 Fortune. HPI describes how we relate to others when we are at our best. It gives us valuable insight into how people work, how they lead, and how successful they will be in an organization.

Analyzing the data, we found three reasons for lack of women in C-level positions:  

  1. Discrimination

Women who apply for leadership roles are rejected more often than men. Therefore, they apply for fewer leadership roles, reinforcing the idea that women do not want to be in positions of leadership.

  1. Gender stereotypes

Women who are more assertive, more self-confident tend to be viewed as aggressive and in a more negative light when compared to male counterparts. Women are often encouraged to step in, speak up, but when they do show more self-confidence they are often penalized. Therefore, female leaders find themselves in a double bind: women are penalized for not matching those preferred masculine qualities, but when displaying masculine behaviors, they are also penalized for violating social norms about how women are expected to behave.

  1. Work environment

Working long hours and networking after hours are more difficult for many women. Work-life balance is an increasingly popular concept, but women with families and children still find it more difficult than men to strike a fair balance.

Using Hogan Assessments scientific and predictive instruments, we analyzed the data at global level for a representative sample, composed of following 3 groups:

  • non-managerial population
  • managers
  • executives.

We found out that men score higher on Ambition (social dominance, self-confidence, assertiveness), while women higher on Interpersonal Sensitivity (warm, agreeable, conflict adverse). This difference was muted for executives compared to the general population: all executives, regardless of the gender, scored lower on Interpersonal Sensitivity, but an important gender difference remained. This gives women an important advantage in terms of being more natural at building inclusive environments, being more focused on maintaining long term relationships, but it is also a potential point of attention when it comes to balancing getting ahead vs getting along, managing conflicts or difficult conversations, making unpopular decisions.

We also concluded the following:

  • Women executives are distinguished from women in general by their higher Ambition. This may show up in women executives being more assertive and driven than women in general.
  • Moving from non-managers to managers to executives, the populations do get more homogenous indicating less variability as people get ahead in organizations which support the idea of societal biases about what attributes are looked for in leadership positions.
  • Women are generally less emotionally adjusted than men; they tend to be more self-critical, tensed, to worry more, but they are more empathic, self-aware, have a good sense of urgency and learn quickly from their errors.
  • Too much self-criticism, too much modesty, internal rumination and anxiety can act as a glass ceiling for women who may become hesitant to step up into the next career role.
  • The biggest difference is that women executives score lower on Inquisitive but higher on Prudence and Learning Orientation. This pattern suggests that women may be better with organization, managing details, managing risks and structured problem-solving, and men may seem more visionary, strategic, risk taking and flexible.

In the end, we can conclude that good leadership is about being able to build and maintain high performing teams. Women are complementary to men leaders but as good as them at performing this role.

High effective leaders are self-aware, and they know about their personality, their strengths, potential gaps, strengths overused and biases. They also keep their radar open to read correctly the situational context they lead and operate in.

For more details about how can you understand in depth your workforce, contact us at

Article provided by Hart Consulting, authorized distributor of Hogan Assessments since 2006.

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