Closing The Gap

Women-led companies have more engaged and inspired employees, new survey finds

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If you want to feel more satisfied at work, switching to a company headed by women might just be the antidote.

Organizations where women hold at least half of executive positions are more likely to have employees who believe in the company's mission, products and strategy, leading such companies to do a better job meeting the needs of its workers. That's according to a new survey of 57,483 workers conducted over four years by Peakon, an HR data platform that gathers and analyzes employee feedback.

Workers prefer female-led companies' approach to corporate strategy

The biggest difference the survey noted between women-led companies and similar male-led ones comes down to purpose. Workers at the female-headed firms felt more positive about their organizations' corporate strategy and mission, both understanding and agreeing with the overall strategy at a higher rate than did employees at companies with more male executives.

When workers rated how inspired they felt by the purpose and mission of their organization on a 10-point scale, women-led companies scored 0.8 points higher. That might seem like a small difference, but Peakon co-founder Kasper Hulthin told CNBC Make It that it is actually quite significant. Because of the survey's large pool of respondents, Hulthin says it very rare to see large differences between groups, and that a 1-2-point difference would be exceptional.

"The interesting thing here was all the questions related to strategy stood out for women-led organizations," adds Hulthin.

Workers at women-led businesses were also more likely to say that they felt the goals and strategies set by senior leadership were moving the company in the right direction. (Women-led companies scored 0.3 points higher on this topic.)

That difference might be explained by communication: The survey found workers scored female leaders 0.6 points higher than male leaders when it came to explaining and sharing the goals and strategies top executives had set for the company.

Engagement and worker autonomy rise at female-led companies

In addition to strategy, companies with a greater share of female execs tended to have more a more engaged workforce and fewer employees just collecting a paycheck. Their staffs were likelier to report feeling absorbed in and enthusiastic about their work and believe in the company. Women-led companies, for example, scored 0.6 points higher when it came to employees' willingness to recommend their company's products or services to family or friends.

Finally, women-led organizations appear to feature less micro-managing and more employee autonomy, allowing workers to complete tasks as they see fit and offering better remote work policies, according to the survey.

Hulthin says Peakon regularly surveys employees on a variety of factors, but did not find any areas where male-led organizations outshone women-led ones, instead the two groups were very similar on other workplace issues such as peer relationships, management support, compensation and rewards, employee growth, cultural fit, recognition and workload.

Women might not be the cause for the differences

While the data might suggest at first glance that the greater presence of women is the cause behind these positive changes in worker's engagement and commitment to their employer, Hulthin cautions against such a conclusion.

The differences seen between women and men-led companies could be due to that fact that industries that promote female leaders or attract top female talent might already be higher-performers when it comes to strategy and autonomy.

In other words: Female leadership might not be the cause of these findings, but the result.

That theory lines up with other research done on the topic, including a 2016 Gallup poll, which argued that men and women's job choices may explain the difference between their engagement levels.

Men were more likely to work in manufacturing and production jobs, which typically have lower worker engagement, whereas women were likely to hold professional jobs that have higher engagement levels. So women who work their way up to leadership roles may have positioned themselves at companies that had solid employee engagement levels to begin with, regardless of the gender makeup of their executive staff.

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