Does gender affect innovation?
New evidence from female Chief Technology Officers says it does
Over the past two decades, the number of women in corporate top management teams has markedly increased. As shown in Figure 1 below, a 2020 study noted that women held 26.8% of senior leadership positions in the S&P 500. As more and more women take senior roles, researchers are providing valuable updates on the impact women have when they reach senior positions. A forthcoming paper from Qiang Wu (Hong Kong Polytechnic), Wassim Dbouk (AUB), Iftekhar Hasan (Fordham), Nada Kobeissi (Long Island University), and Li Zheng (General Electric) follows this line of inquiry in a novel way. Their forthcoming paper looks at the impact women have on one of the least studied C-suite positions: the Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Figure 1: Catalyst, Pyramid: Women in S&P 500 Companies (January 15, 2020).
The CTO is a relatively new role. It is an evolution of the Research & Development leader that has a long history, and it arose more or less in tandem with the rise of the Internet and the wave of innovation it unleashed. As the authors note, the growing clout of CTOs "has been mainly driven by the increasing strategic importance of technology and innovation for corporate survival and competitive advantage.” CTOs’ responsibilities generally include monitoring new technologies, evaluating their fit for commercialization, assessing potential new products, as well as overseeing research new projects to ensure that they meet the innovation needs of the company. Especially because of this last responsibility, CTOs play an important role in shaping overall innovation strategy.
In framing their study, the authors observe that research has shown that male leaders tend to favor a "transactional" leadership style that is "top-down, command and control, and task-oriented." Women, however, tend to favor a "transformational" leadership style that is more democratic and stresses communication, collaboration, and cooperation. In simple terms, the "transformational" leadership style inspires and motivates followers to go beyond self-interest to work for the good of the organization.
Other research has shown that the transformational leadership style has four interrelated components: idealized influence (charismatic role-modeling), inspirational motivation (articulating an appealing and/or evocative vision), intellectual stimulation (promoting creativity and innovation), and individualized consideration (coaching and mentoring). As noted earlier, studies have shown that female executives tend to favor this approach, as well as seeing themselves as less hierarchical, more collaborative, and more democratic. Importantly, the authors note, women are also more likely than men to combine feminine and masculine leadership styles in an “androgynous” style that is predominantly transformational.
Given both the rise in the number of female CTOs and the different approaches they bring to the role, the authors set out to understand their impact on innovation output. In other words, with all else being equal, do female CTOs make companies more innovative? If so, how?
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