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Business Journal

What Strengths Tell Us About Men and Women

What Strengths Tell Us About Men and Women
by Jane Miller and Amy Adkins

Story Highlights

  • Women and men share four of five top CliftonStrengths themes
  • Women rank higher than men in certain Relationship Building themes
  • The best companies give all employees the tools to develop their strengths

Are men and women really different?

This is an age-old debate. In Gallup's report, Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived, we examine the answer to this question by looking at men's and women's talents and strengths.

All people have a unique combination of talents, knowledge and skills -- strengths -- that they use every day to do their work, achieve their goals and interact with others. Gallup has been studying the science of strengths for five decades, and we have accumulated data from more than 14 million individuals worldwide who have completed the CliftonStrengths assessment.

We have found that when people understand and apply their strengths, the effect on their lives and work is transformational. Individuals who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life. Workers who receive strengths feedback have higher levels of employee engagement and performance, and they are less likely than other employees to leave their organizations.

As leaders and managers, when you think about strengths in the context of employee development, remember that strengths are individualized -- each person has unique talents and strengths. However, Gallup's aggregated CliftonStrengths data can help paint a picture of general strengths profiles for men and women.

Women and Men Share Four of Five Top CliftonStrengths Themes

Of 34 possible CliftonStrengths themes, women lead with Responsibility, Input, Learner, Relator and Empathy. Looking at this combination of themes, we can say that, generally, women take psychological ownership for what they do and commit to completing projects and tasks (Responsibility). They have a strong desire to expand their knowledge (Learner) and seek out new information (Input). They also enjoy close relationships (Relator) and naturally understand other people's feelings and perspectives (Empathy).

There is little variation in the data between working and nonworking women. We find a similar order and similar intensity in the 34 CliftonStrengths themes across both groups.

We also find parallels in the strengths makeup of men and women. Like women, men collectively lead with Learner, Responsibility, Relator and Input. But for women, Empathy rounds out the top five, and for men, Achiever -- described as a strong drive to accomplish something every day -- is the fifth theme.

Men and Women Share Four of Five Top CliftonStrengths Themes
Women's top five themes Men's top five themes
1. Responsibility Learner
2. Input Responsibility
3. Learner Achiever
4. Relator Relator
5. Empathy Input
Gallup

Women Rank Higher Than Men on Relationship Building Themes

While men and women are more alike than different in their strengths rankings, they do diverge on a few points. Women rank higher than men do on the Developer, Discipline, Includer and Empathy themes. They are more likely to focus on planning, routine and structure (Discipline). Women are also more apt to accept others and understand where they are coming from (Includer and Empathy). And they have a higher propensity for recognizing and cultivating the potential in people (Developer).

Men rank higher than women do on the Context, Analytical, Ideation, Deliberative, Competition and Strategic themes. Men are more likely than women to seek out an explanation of why things are the way they are, look for reasons and causes, and explore new ideas (Context, Analytical and Ideation). They are also more likely to assess risk and take time to make decisions, considering all possible scenarios (Deliberative and Strategic). Men are more keenly aware of how other people are performing and how their own performance compares with others' (Competition).

These variances in strengths ranking can help explain differences in men's and women's behavior and their approach to work and life. Women typically rank higher on Relationship Building themes (Developer, Includer and Empathy), while men generally rank higher on Strategic Thinking themes (Context, Analytical, Ideation and Strategic).

Gallup's findings suggest that, compared with men, women are generally more inclined to focus on groups or teams and gather collective voices. Women tend to be more sensitive and intuitive about what is going on with the people around them. Men, on the other hand, are more prone to gather external data and internalize their decision-making. Rather than naturally asking for feedback from others, men tend to look for answers from within.

Again, it is important to note that these discoveries apply to men and women in general and do not apply to individual men and women. Differences are much greater within genders than between genders.

Understanding the general similarities and differences between women's and men's strengths has important implications for the workplace. Compared with men, women may naturally be better at cultivating relationships, perhaps helping to explain why they lead more engaged teams as managers. They also may be more intuitive about the emotions of those around them and invested in those people's success. Women get and give energy through collaboration and bring great value to organizations because of their team orientation.

Identify, Develop and Celebrate Individual Strengths

The best organizations give all employees the tools to understand and develop their strengths, and they often see impressive results. In a global study of companies that have implemented strengths-based management practices, 90% of the groups Gallup studied had performance increases at or above the following ranges:

  • 10% to 19% increase in sales
  • 14% to 29% increase in profit
  • 3% to 7% higher customer engagement
  • 6% to 16% lower turnover (in low-turnover organizations)
  • 26% to 72% lower turnover (in high-turnover organizations)
  • 9% to 15% increase in engaged employees
  • 22% to 59% fewer safety incidents

The good news is, focusing on what people do right rather than on what they do wrong is not difficult. Gallup has consistently researched and documented the advantages of strengths-based development. We've found that strengths-based cultures benefit employees professionally and personally, and they help create better business outcomes, including improved productivity and employee engagement.

Focusing on strengths also gives managers a powerful method for understanding, developing and celebrating their individual employees. When managers know what their team members do best, they can better match employees with projects that are a fit for their strengths, incorporate strengths into performance reviews and conversations, and reward and recognize employees for what they do well.

Some managers tend to reward and recognize employees for accomplishments that can be easily documented, such as meeting a sales goal or completing a big project. A focus on strengths ensures that people who are "stronger" in Relationship Building themes also get praise and recognition for their accomplishments, whether they're leading a team or taking time to invest in the development of a new employee.

Learn more about what it takes to attract, engage and retain a gender-diverse workforce. Download Women in America: Work and Life Well-Lived.

Gallup


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