Customers and Employees Top Female CEO Priority Lists

Dec 08, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

A new study by Babson College’s Center for Women’s Leadership says that, when it comes to business priorities, female CEOs put customers and employees at the top of their list.

According to the survey of female executives running companies in Massachusetts, 97 percent cited customer satisfaction at the top of their lists followed by employee satisfaction
at 92 percent.

Lower down on the priorities of the women responding to the survey were more traditional business concerns, such as profitability (64 percent said it was very important or important),
sales growth (48 percent) and market share (41 percent).

“Typically, what’s taught in many business schools, including ours, is you think about profitability first, and that shareholders come first,” said Nan Langowitz, director of
Babson’s Center for Women’s Leadership and an associate professor of management at the school.

“It’s not that they don’t care about those things,” she said, “but it’s … that putting the people first will get them to those business objectives.”

While the Babson research seems to suggest that women take a kinder, gentler route to running companies, female executives are no less driven to excel than their male counterparts.

When asked why they sought a leadership role or chose to start a company, more than three out of four (77 percent) said they were motivated by the need for a challenge and personal

“A common myth is that the reason women get into business careers is because they have to, either out of economic necessity or they have no choices,” said Prof. Langowitz. “What
you’re seeing in this data is that women have pursued these business leadership opportunities for their own personal satisfaction and because they are seeking a challenge,” she

Many of the CEOs participating in the study shared in their refusal to be deterred by the so-called glass ceiling that limits opportunities for advancement by women in business.

“I don’t want to say that the glass ceiling is not a real issue. I think it is for many women,” she said. “But for these particular women who sought the top leadership jobs,
either they just don’t let that affect them or they have never perceived that to be their particular issue.”

Moderator’s Comment: In your experience, do women executives take a different approach to management and leadership than their male counterparts? In
what ways is this demonstrated?

George Anderson – Moderator

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6 Comments on "Customers and Employees Top Female CEO Priority Lists"

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Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
15 years 3 months ago

If Babson has conducted this study before, it would be interesting to know whether the percent of men and/or women putting the customers first increased since the last survey. With an increased emphasis on consumer-centric business processes and consumer demand, there should be an increased emphasis on providing customer value. If your consumers are not loyal and stop buying your products or services, you won’t make a profit. The women appear to have more focus on how to achieve profitability as opposed to just making profitability a goal.

Mark Lilien
15 years 3 months ago

Traditionally, retailing, compared to many other industries, has been an industry offering greater rewards to women. I’ve worked with many women executives over several decades in retailing. I found management style very strongly influenced by the corporate culture, not gender. Also, I agree with Race that what people report is not necessarily what they do. If Stalin was alive today, he’d probably say that he’s a “people person.”

Race Cowgill
Race Cowgill
15 years 3 months ago

This study surfaces, in my view, an important question. The women in this study SAY they put customers and employees higher in priority than traditional concerns, but is that how they really run their businesses — do they REALLY? Our firm has seen many times in our own studies executives state something about themselves and their behavior, but then their actual behavior is quite different, sometimes even the opposite.

I suspect almost everyone who responds to this discussion topic might have an anecdote or logical argument about women being more or less like this study suggests. This doesn’t seem all that useful. What I think would be more valuable would be to explore validated statistical data that ACTUALLY MEASURES how women run businesses.

David Livingston
15 years 3 months ago

Women executives do take a different approach to management and leadership compared to their male counterparts. The article describes it perfectly. Since women tend not to put profits and shareholders first, that is probably why there are so few CEOs. If more women were raging greedy lunatics who would put profits and shareholders first, I guarantee you we would have more women CEOs. However, this is not going to happen because men and women are just wired differently. But if it did happen, men would have to get more competitive, because it would intensify the competition for higher level jobs. And competition is always a good thing.

Michael Tesler
Michael Tesler
15 years 3 months ago

I submit that having customers and employees as top priority is the single best way to deliver profits, sales growth and market share, so primary objectives have not changed. This isn’t about gender, it is about progressive and intelligent management practices and maybe newer managers, with more pressure to perform, are less likely to be locked in to the old approaches that do not work so well.

Gwen Kelly
Gwen Kelly
15 years 3 months ago

Many of my comments have been captured in the previous posts, however, here’s a postscript. Since this was a survey of women executives in Massachusetts only, perhaps Babson’s next survey should look at how women executives in geographically diverse parts of the country respond when questioned how they are running their businesses. And to Camille’s point, add in the male factor to see how results contrast to the leadership styles of the women executive’s male counterparts. I wonder if we’d see a different picture.


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