Successful leaders tend to choose good role models. Those role models don’t have to be in the workplace: a branch manager in Arizona can learn quite a bit about crisis management from Angela Merkel; Michelle Obama embodies confidence, perseverance, strength of character, and grace under pressure in a way that anyone can learn from.

But we don’t just look to world events and historical figures for the leadership qualities we hope to cultivate in ourselves. Current leaders—those who occupy the positions we hope to hold in the future—make for compelling role models almost by definition.

And that can be a problem when those leaders are overrepresented by one group. Men, for instance. The traditional wisdom is that to get ahead, women must develop qualities that were traditionally only associated with men.

Women Hero

Recent research, though, suggests that in many respects women make more effective leaders than men. For one thing, they are considerably more entrepreneurial: The 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses report demonstrates that the number of women-owned businesses increased by 21% over the previous five years.

Their success as entrepreneurs is reflected in women’s measurable effectiveness as leaders in organizations of all types. Leadership development firm Zenger/Folkman conducted a study, published in the Harvard Business Review in 2018, of managers’ perceptions of their direct reports. The study asked managers to rate the competence of each of their employees in 19 areas proven to be predictors of leadership success. On aggregate, women outscored men in 17 of the 19 categories; this pattern was reflected in every major functional area and at every major hierarchical level.

If the evidence shows so conclusively that women are already at least as well (or even more) poised as men to excel in leadership roles, why does the bias that women are less suited to such work than men persist? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Women Success

The same Zenger/Folkman study shows that at the start of their careers, fewer than a third of women reported feeling confident about their leadership skills, while nearly half of men do. This confidence gap closes by the time each cohort reaches their 40s, and women over 60 reported significantly greater confidence than men. A similar pattern describes the differences between women’s self-assessment as leaders and that reported by men: an initial gap closes, this time by age 50, and flips at around age 60.

It seems that experience demonstrates to women executives what society at large is often reluctant to acknowledge: women begin their careers no less prepared than men to develop into effective leaders and succeed in what they pursue.