The number of women occupying Fortune’s annual World’s 50 Greatest Leaders list continues to climb year-over-year.
This year women claim 21 spots on the list. That’s up from 19 spots in 2016 and 13 in 2015.
The woman to appear highest on the list this year at No. 4 is Melinda Gates, who’s being praised by the publication for her foundation’s promise to make birth control available to 120 million women around the world by 2020.
So what’s behind the sudden surge in recognition for women in power?
There may be a few reasons for that.
According to a 2014 study by Øyvind Martinsen, head of Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at the BI Norwegian Business School, women tend to make better leaders than men in the workplace.
For his research, Martinsen narrowed down five key traits of successful leaders that were found in literature, and then assessed the personality and characteristics of 2,900 managers.
- Ability to withstand job-related pressure and stress, meaning leaders have a high degree of emotional stability.
- Ability to take initiative, be clear and communicative. This means leaders are outgoing and extroverted.
- Ability to innovate, be curious and have an ambitious vision. They are effective leaders who have a high degree of openness to new experiences.
- Ability to support, accommodate and include employees – effective leaders who show a high degree of sociability.
- Ability to set goals, be thorough and follow up and tend to be very methodical.
The survey, Martinsen says, is based on the theory of human personality, which defines personality as stable response patterns related to thinking, emotion and behaviour.
From his findings, Martinsen found that women often outperformed men in four of the five characteristics (characteristics No. 2-5).
“The results indicate that, as regards to personality, women are better suited for leadership than their male colleagues when it comes to clarity, innovation, support and targeted meticulousness,” Martinsen said in a press release. “Disregarding the worrying (emotional stability), it could be legitimate to ask whether women function better in a leadership role than their male colleagues.”
Companies with the greatest number of women in leadership roles tend to deliver better financial results compared to companies led by more men, a 2014 study by DDI reports.
The human resources consulting firm looked at 13,000 leaders and 1,500 human resources executives at 2,000 organizations in 48 countries.
After looking over 13,000 leaders and 1,500 human resources executives at 2,000 organizations in 48 countries, the report found that of the 20 per cent of companies that top financial performance, 27 per cent of them were led by women.
However, the number of women heading Fortune 500 companies is dipping.
According to a Fortune Knowledge Group study, the rate of women CEOs in the U.S. in 2016 was only 4.2 per cent – that’s a 12 per cent dip between 2015 and 2016.
Some industries, though, are more likely to achieve gender diversity than others, the study says. Among them are household and personal products, hotels, restaurants and leisure and apparel.
“The top companies stand out, in part, because they pay greater attention to hidden roadblocks that women face throughout their careers,” Rama Ramaswami, executive editor of Fortune Knowledge Group, said to the Independent. “They employ assertive gender diversity performance and hold themselves accountable.”
The companies that see the most success with their female workers, she says, often have certain characteristics: an open and inclusive mindset, flexibility and a willingness to accept and support change at all levels.
And while Canada was lagging behind in previous years in terms of women heading companies, things seem to be slowly improving now.
Of the 532 executives who hold top positions within Canada’s 100 biggest publicly traded companies 48 are women, Rosenzweigh & Company reports. While that is significantly less compared to men, that’s six more women than the year before, and more than double than in 2006.