Corporate companies are increasingly aware of the positive impact women leaders have on company performance.  A recent study found that when Fortune 500 companies employ at least three female directors, several business-performance indicators improve: return on invested capital jumps 66%, return on sales goes up 42%, and return on equity increases by 53%.

Having said that, the Gender Forward Pioneer (GFP) Index discovered that only 11% of females at top companies are senior leaders.

It seems that a lot of corporate organisations still struggle to identify, nurture and develop female executive talent.  Whilst this percentage is easy to blame on historical mistakes in talent management, there continues to be a lack of understanding by companies around the unique challenges that women face in comparison to their male colleagues in ascending the corporate ladder.

According to Fortune, women reaching their thirties in the workforce are experiencing the most demanding work environment and the greatest challenges in advancing their career. As women gain more responsibilities at work and home, finding a balance that allows time for maximum impact at work can be extremely challenging.

Caliper, being one of the world’s top personality assessment companies, embarked on a study to see if female leaders possessed particular traits that could identify part of the reason for their success.  Personality either enables women or hinders them from overcoming the challenges and stereotype threat they will inevitably face in leadership positions.

This longitudinal study involved observing female leaders over a period of 10 years, and examining the key characteristics of female leaders, the obstacles that they face daily in a male-dominated workforce and the balancing of their family and work life.

What makes a woman successful in leadership?

Caliper found that successful female leaders demonstrate dynamics that help them overcome their unique challenges in relation to work or family. These challenges include dealing with gender discrimination in the workplace, facing a lack of support in their home life, juggling family and work roles, and facing a work environment that is catered more so to the needs of men.

From a trait perspective, Caliper found that successful women share many of the same characteristics as men in senior leadership roles.  The Caliper Profile identified that both sexes had higher levels of self-confidence, risk-taking, a forceful communication style and an ability to solve complex problems. However, Caliper identified some fascinating differences between male and female leaders.

Successful females presented higher scores in the traits of Resilience, Energy and Empathy.  These drivers allowed women to better understand their subordinates and colleagues, bounce back after failures or rejection, and persevere with their efforts for long periods of time despite consistent challenges.

How to identify and foster female talent

Companies must do their part to put more women in leadership positions given the clear benefits in doing so, but they must also be rigorous in their approach.  This means scouting for and nurturing both male female talent, with an awareness of the particular challenges women will face.

Using an assessment like the Caliper Profile to identify women with the highest potential of success, and then leveraging that information to assist in their development provides multiple benefits.  A company can identify which employees have leadership potential, and what traits are likely to be drivers or inhibitors for leadership performance. With this information, training and development can be customized to the needs of the individual, providing the greatest return on investment.

For female leaders, their Caliper Profile results can help them to gain an awareness of their natural tendencies, leadership style, and competency-based strengths and areas of opportunity.  This allows for an improved ability to adapt, develop and create a pathway to success.

To learn more about Caliper’s study, or discuss Caliper’s Women Leaders Program, contact us at