Women face more challenges and unique challenges in the workplace compared with men, which is one reason women are underrepresented in top business leadership roles. But some women do manager to get to the top and talent-management firm Caliper set about to explore the personality traits shared by successful women as well as the most common hurdles that must be navigated.

Caliper’s study involved 85 women in senior leadership positions (vice president or higher). This group was 89% Caucasian and clustered in the 40-to-54 age group.

These women were measured with the Caliper Profile, a work-focused personality assessment. They generally scored highest on Assertiveness, Ego-Drive, Abstract Reasoning, Urgency and Risk-Taking. Where they scored lowest was on External Structure, Thoroughness and Cautiousness. When self-rated performance was linked to personality, the traits associated with higher performance ratings were Empathy, Aggressiveness, Stress, Tolerance, Ego-Strength. Assertiveness and Energy.

“These traits are reflective of a person who has a straightforward communication style, is resilient and able to handle stress, stays focused on her work tasks and is able to relate to and understand others,” the Caliper study concludes.

The barriers that caused the highest negative impact (“frequency” and “stress ratings multiplied) were:

  • Feelings of guilt for not spending enough time with family because of work;
  • Family responsibilities interfering with work;
  • Resistance from other current leaders;
  • Having to outperform male leaders to be considered effective;
  • Lack of support in the household when work is demanding.

On conclusion reached is that “Our results show that personality traits of women leaders closely match what are universally considered to be ‘male leadership’ traits. In general, these women are straightforward in their communications style, action-oriented, risk-takers, and are skilled at solving complex problems. Although these traits may have traditionally been considered to be ‘masculine,’ we have found that they are, in fact, universal leadership traits that are embodied by successful women leaders as well as men.”

What is needed to support women leadership in business is training, coaching and role-modeling to increase self-discipline and action orientation, “both of which have proven to be helpful in overcoming barriers.” Additionally, the report calls for “open discussions and sharing ideas on effective techniques for overcoming barriers.

GlassCeiling.com is such a place where discussions can take place and ideas can be shared. Share your thoughts about the Caliper study’s conclusions.

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One Response

  1. Kris

    Interesting that 3 out of 5 of the barriers are related to home life. As a professional woman with some fantastic experiences running my own businesses and working in demanding and exciting corporate roles, I know that’s the elephant in the room: It’s not the work itself that keeps women out of leadership roles; it’s that we just can’t stomach the cost to our personal lives. All the training in the world won’t fix that. Closing the “skills gap” for individual women leaders is trivial compared to the challenge of reshaping leadership roles to accommodate the crucial job of raising children. That’s the conversation I’d like to see beaten to death in the press.


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