Yet, the leader role itself exerts similar pressures on women and men. A president, for example, is expected to “act presidential” and proceed with a certain dignity and competence—a norm that applies to men and women alike.

Beyond how they lead to where they lead

There is another way in which women lead differently from men: They tend to have somewhat different priorities for what they want to accomplish. Here’s how Hillary Clinton suggested her own life would influence her understanding of Americans’ concerns and how to address them:

My life experiences, what I care about, what I’ve been through just make me perhaps more aware of and responsive to a lot of the family issues that people are struggling with whether it’s affording child care or looking to get their incomes up because everything is increasing in cost. I really do feel that my preparation for being president puts me very strongly on the side of helping American families and that’s at the core of my campaign.

Studies of people’s attitudes and values have shown, on average, that women tend to be more compassionate and other-oriented than men, and generally have a more egalitarian ideology. Men, in contrast, tend to be more oriented than women to personal power and achievement. On numerous social policy issues, women favor helping disadvantaged groups more than men do, and these groups include not only women but children, racial minorities, and the poor.

In legislatures, women, especially women of color, are more likely than their white male counterparts to advocate for compassionate policies that promote the interests of women, minorities, children, families, and the poor, and that support the public good in areas such as health care and education.

These trends in legislative behavior are weaker among Republican than Democratic legislators in the US. Most elected women align with the Democratic Party (76 of the 104 women now serving in Congress are Democrats, while 28 are Republican); and recently elected Republicans tend to be very conservative, be they women or men.

Other studies have looked at the gender composition of corporate boards in relation to companies’ efforts to enhance social outcomes—things like good community relations and environmental sustainability. A large meta-analysis of this research found that companies with a greater share of female directors demonstrate more corporate social responsibility and engage in more activities that build a positive social reputation.

Women as corporate directors and company owners are also associated with fewer worker layoffs during economic downturns. Women’s business leadership thus appears to be less single-mindedly concerned with shareholder value and more attentive to a wider range of stakeholders—especially employees and communities. These priorities are consistent with women’s relatively other-oriented and compassionate attitudes and values.

Madam versus mister president

All in all, what do social scientific studies tell us about how the nation—and the world—would be different if women were equitably represented in leadership? It’s difficult to predict given that we are such a long way from women holding 50% of the positions of power—in Congress or in C-suites. Today, women are only 4% of the CEOs in the Fortune 500, though they account for more than a quarter of all chief executive officers in the US.

There’s no guarantee that decision-making would quickly become more effective by incorporating more women into the process. Reaping the benefits of diversity requires learning to work well with people who are different. The most likely outcome as women gradually gain more power is a shift in priorities toward more social equality.

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