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Women In Power: Yes, They Are Different From Men

Male executives may have to swallow their pride when it comes to which of the sexes do a better job at running a company, according to a recent study.

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A report on global businesses called "Women Matter" by McKinsey & Company, suggests that the firms where women are most strongly represented at board or top management levels are also the companies that perform best in terms of growth and earnings.

The study concludes that "women provide a source of high quality talent in a competitive market and have a positive impact on organizational and financial performance."

"Women bring forward a passion that men may not have," says Leslie Wilkins, CEO of isABelt Ltd., a fashion-accessory firm that sells products in more than 1,000 stores.

"That passion is what enables us to not only start and run a business, but to balance it between home and work," explains Wilkins, who started her company five years ago. "I think that's what makes our business run as well or better than if a man did it."

Jacqueline Corbelli, CEO of the interactive television advertising firm Brightline, says the distinctions between male and female executives couldn't be more obvious.

"Women bring two things to the boardroom that some men do not," says Corbelli, who had a 15-year career in the financial services industry before launching Brightline in 2003.

"Women are good collaborators; we do it naturally," Corbelli says. "Even the most competitive women know how to create and motivate teams. Another thing I see is that working women who are mothers know how to get things done and move on to the next task."

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It's not just women who see contrasts in boardrooms.

"I think women are better execs in that they aren't so afraid to speak up," says Bretton Holmes, who head up his own media relations firm in Austin, Texas. "Women tend to shoot more from the hip, I've found, while guys wait sometimes and the opportunity to say something may pass."

As can be expected, there are those who contend any differences between men and women are just style over substance.

"I think it's personalities more than genders that bring something to the power table," says Charley Polachi, a partner and co-founder of the executive search firm Polachi. "Women may be more sensitive to subtleties, but I really don't see all that much of a difference on how they use power."

But just getting a place at the executive table has not been easy for women. While they make up 40 percent of the global workforce, they represent less than 14 percent of the corporate executives at top companies, according to a recent report by the research group, Catalyst.

The report highlights how women lag behind men in career advancement and compensation—trends the study says "imperil the leadership pipeline for women."

In a day and age when it seems like women should have an easier time getting into seats of power, the opposite may be true.

A 2010 report conducted by Mercersays that 71 percent of the all global companies do not have a clearly defined strategy or philosophy for the development of women into leadership roles.

Three Camps

When women do find themselves in power, not all of them display the characteristics that differentiate them from men, says Stephen Xavier, an executive coach and president and CEO of Cornerstone Executive Development Group.

"Women usually fall into three camps," says Xavier, who has worked exclusively with Fortune 500 executives. "There are those who go along for the ride to be accepted, those who become 'one of the boys' and those who are just themselves. The last group are the ones who do things differently and it shows up in better results."

Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report
Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report

Even if women are successful, acceptance among their male peers is not easy, argues Dr. Jean Lau Chin, Professor in the Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY.

"For some men, a woman CEO is a threat to the status quo and the historical dominance of men in these positions," says Chin, who has written a book on the topic of women in leadership roles. "This triggers negative reactions associated with loss of privilege or power. For others, the perceived lack of fit between "leader" and "woman" violates social beliefs about what is right or what is normal."

In the end, whether women use power differently than men is not really the issue, says Emma Sinclair, who is CEO of Target Parking, a three year old business in the United Kingdom that manages auto parking facilities.

"I don't think it's fair to stereotype in a business environment," says the 35-year-old Sinclair. "You've a vested interest in success. I think that styles across both sexes are pretty practical."

But Sinclair, who had a career in mergers and acquisitions before starting her own firm, acknowledges that no matter how accepted women are in business, a meeting with the male mind is hard to find.

"I recall being in a crowd of male bankers when I was a junior banker," explains Sinclair. "We were having snacks and they were talking about their big deals. I was inclined to say 'How are you' or 'What did you do on the weekend?"

Frustrated, Sinclair concluded it was difficult to bridge the gap with her colleagues.

"I thought it was unnecessary to chat about who was working the hardest," explains Sinclair. "Perhaps men are more inclined to assert their credentials whereas women feel less of a need to prove themselves and just get the job done."