Men vs. Women: Personality Traits Similar, but Job Success Differs

Men and Women Who Share Personality Traits Have Sharply Different Success Rates at Work

By Charlene Laino
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 9, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) -- When it comes to job success, men still have the edge over women.

Researchers surveyed 106 men and women who made at least $100,000 a year, about half of whom were millionaires or multimillionaires. They found the two sexes are remarkably similar in terms of personality traits, childhood experiences, and work and leadership styles.

However, women were overwhelmingly more likely to say they have experienced sexism on the job: 77% vs. 6% of men.

They were also more likely to report taking care of everything at home, from housework to the kids to sick family members: 44% vs. 4% of men.

Men, on the other hand, more often reported being the primary earner in the family: 94% vs. 59% of women.

"Both men and women agree there are specific obstacles to overcome for women to be successful -- due mainly to childbearing, greater family care responsibilities, and sexism," says study head Jude Miller-Burke, PhD, an executive coach and owner of JAMB Consulting in Phoenix.

She presented the findings here at the American Psychological Association's annual meeting.

Men and Women: The Similarities

Still, Miller-Burke says that she was more struck by the similarities between high-achieving men and women than their differences. "Overwhelming, and this is one of the most striking similarities, was a transformational leadership [style]," she tells WebMD.

Translation: They had a vision, motivated people to achieve that vision, and rewarded people for taking steps to achieve that vision.

Other findings that point to similarities between men and women:

  • On a scale of 1 to 7, both men and women had an average score of over 5 points when it came to arguing a point to conclusion.
  • About eight in 10 men and women said that communication skills, both oral and written, are critical to climbing the corporate ladder.
  • About two-thirds said they think integrity, honesty, and confidence in their managerial skills are key to success.
  • Most also reported high self-esteem, although such a survey doesn't reveal which came first, the self-esteem or the wealth.

But men said they work more hours: nearly 54 a week vs. 49 for women.

Most, but women substantially more than men, were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths. About 32% of the women and 17% of the men said they came from low-income homes and 52% and 42%, respectively, from middle-class households.

"While there's an image of wealthy, successful people coming from wealth, in truth many come from poverty," Miller-Burke says.

And 45% of women and 72% of men owned their business.

So what can women and men do to be more successful on the job?

Get a mentor or coach, Miller-Burke says. They can help you to communicate better and to resolve conflict, among other skills.

"The higher you are in the hierarchy, the more resolving problems becomes part of the job," she says.

Workshops, educational seminars, and books can you help learn a transformational leadership style, she says.

Psychotherapy can also help you do a better job, Miller-Burke says.

For women, things may be a little harder. For starters, it may be difficult to get your partner to take over more of the household and family chores.

As for discrimination, Miller-Burke is planning another study to address how women overcome sexism to achieve success, as so many did in this survey.

She believes the solution could involve fighting "stereotype threat," a phenomenon coined by social psychologist Claude Steele, PhD, to describe the strong harmful effect that being the target of a negative stereotype can have on performance.

In his keynote address at the meeting, Steele, the outgoing provost of Columbia University, said that recent research shows stereotype threat can be overcome by helping people feel like they belong.

"Small interventions can have big effects in reducing the impact of stereotype threat," Steele says.

The new survey involved 56 women and 50 men from 19 states in the U.S. and Canada aged 37 to 74. The vast majority were white (95%), and most were married (83%), had children (86%), and reported having either "very good" (41%) or "excellent" (33%) health. They worked in a diverse range of industries, including health care and medical, banking and finance, mental health counseling, and education.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the peer review process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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SOURCES: American Psychological Association's 119th Annual Convention, Washington, D.C. Aug. 4-7, 2011.Jude Miller-Burke, PhD, executive coach, JAMB Consulting, Phoenix.Claude Steele, PhD, outgoing provost, Columbia University, New York. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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