Could Professor Higgins’ song Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ in the musical ‘My Fair Lady’ provide a hint why the glass ceiling still seems entrenched throughout cross sections of society, and why male leaders far outweigh their female counterparts?

In my time running Women in Technology, I have hosted numerous networking events to not only assist women further their careers, but to also increase their confidence when operating in the largely male dominated IT industry. And what has become increasingly apparent is that there is a feeling – at least amongst some – that in order to succeed and overcome the gender barrier, women need to act ‘more like a man’. Take the recent portrayal of Lady Thatcher in the box office hit, The Iron Lady, in which Meryl Streep suggests that Thatcher was a leader who, in order to rule, toned down many of her female attributes.  But should this be the case? Surely women should succeed due to their skills and experience, without having to resort to this? After all, high profile business leaders such as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, PepisCo’s Indra Nooyi, and Google’s Melissa Mayer seemed tohave managed quite well without making this final compromise.

Research carried out in 2005 by management consultancy Caliper summarised women’s leadership traits. Their research suggests women have different yet equally as successful behaviours such as:

  • Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts
  • When feeling the sting of rejection, women leaders learn from adversity and carry on with an “I’ll show you” attitude
  • Women leaders demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of problem solving and decision making
  • Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks

Females, it appears, promote the vision of shared leadership, inclusion and nurturing.  This is quite at odds with the typical characteristics found in some male leaders – domineering, a desire for conflict and the need to be ruthless.  Evidence suggests that women and men make equally good leaders, so perhaps the reality is that gender doesn’t matter, and rather each individual ought to play to their strengths in order to succeed. But  the real question we are then left with is: can women’s leadership characteristics coexist with men’s, and if not, does this go some way in shedding light on why men far outweigh the number of global leaders?

Pictured: Karima Delli, a French member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance, is disguised as a man to mark International Women’s Day as she takes part in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Maggie Berry is the Managing Director of Women in Technology, an organisation and network committed to increasing the number of women working and achieving in the UK’s technology profession. She is an expert in gender diversity within IT, helps firms to attract and hire more female technologists and is heavily involved in professional networking for women in IT. She is honoured by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2012.