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Want more women in leadership roles? Recognize their accomplishments

27 Apr 2020 10:46 AM | Melissa Ledesma (Administrator)

Authored By: Caitlin Mullen, Bizwomen contributor

When women’s achievements at work are publicly recognized, it can fuel their desire to lead. 

That’s according to recent research out of the University of Exeter Business School in the U.K. 

In conducting an experiment with university students, Jingnan Chen found that highlighting a woman’s successes greatly increases her willingness to lead, even if the work environment is male-dominated. And when these women lead, their teams have a greater likelihood of performing well, per Science Daily. 

When students were broken into teams and researchers increased the number of men in mixed-gender teams, it led to a drop in women’s interest in leading, particularly if tasks were viewed as stereotypically male. There was a mitigating effect, however, when women’s abilities and accomplishments were publicly recognized. 

Chen argues that drawing attention to women’s specific achievements at work — like sales figures or projects completed — will inspire more women to pursue leadership opportunities. It’s especially important in male-dominated fields, she told Science Daily.  

“There are so many capable women, but many do not feel encouraged in their workplace, and this leaves them feeling they shouldn’t put themselves forward for leadership positions,” Chen said. “There is not enough attention paid to the efforts of high-achieving women, partly because they are less likely than men to self-promote their abilities, but it is very important that their work is equally recognized.” 

Notable: When the achievements of men in all-male groups were recognized, those men being recognized were more inspired to lead. The opposite was true for women in all-female groups, because women wanted to seem fair and cooperative. It was in mixed-gender groups that recognition for their work inspired women to lead. 

Per HR Dive, a survey last year showed the number of offices using workplace recognition programs grew between 2015 and 2019, but so did the number of offices with no recognition policies. Just half of senior managers polled said recognition is a good investment.

But recognizing workers' efforts can be meaningful for business. Expressing gratitude at work can lead to more motivated employees and benefit mental health, a recent Paychex survey determined. Another study found even small gestures can increase workers’ confidence in their performance and ability to handle work tasks. 

The study adds to those that have illustrated numerous benefits to women holding leadership positions, including that employees at female-led organizations are more engaged and more strongly believe in their companies.


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