Engagement in the Workplace

By Maggie Cely

At Plum Alley, we have long believed in the benefits of women founding and investing in companies. Now, there is evidence to say that women remaining in those companies as part of the leadership is beneficial for the bottom line.

“A highly engaged workforce means the difference between a company that thrives and one that struggles. When employees are engaged, they are passionate, creative, and entrepreneurial, and their enthusiasm fuels growth.”

Gallup’s article Q12 Employee Engagement concluded with this resounding statement on the correlation between engagement and financial growth. It makes sense – employees that receive acknowledgment for their triumphs, have open communication with their superiors, and are encouraged to grow are productive members of their team and, therefore, company.

One would presume that American companies would be partial to this variety of leadership to drive profits, encourage growth, and improve efficiency.

Statistically, the managers with the highest level of engagement are women; however, women only make up one-third of all workplace leadership roles in the U.S. Apparently, efficiency is no match for gender bias.

Entrepreneur magazine summarized findings from a series of Gallup studies regarding the state of managers and employees in the workplace, finding that women excelled at 11 of 12 categories of employee engagement over men. They broke down the information into 5 digestible ways women employ these engagement tactics to improve employee performance, number one being that women are generally more engaged themselves. Inspiring personnel development, offering regular feedback and praise, and an overall strong moral compass were additional reasons named.

Gallup also looked into who worked best under whom – does a male work most effectively under a man or woman?

It turns out that men and women varied most at engaging their own gender, yet the co-ed teams were relatively consistent. Men engaged their male employees at a rate of 25%, and females at a rate of 35% with female employees. These figures are a bit puzzling, given that the most engaged team dynamic, a female boss with female employees, is the least prevalent.


Another strong note was the study of preference and how attitudes have changed over the past 60 years. In the 50’s, an overwhelming majority (two-thirds) of Americans preferred a male boss, 5% a female boss, and 25% claimed ambivalence. In 2014, one-third of Americans preferred a male boss, 20% preferred a female boss, and the majority (46%) had no preference.

PreferenceOfBossGender-R2_Leadership (1)

In regard to preference, working underneath a specific kind of human no more shows a gender bias than choosing to work at a startup shows a size prejudice. It’s merely preference, what works for you as an employee.

The major issue is that having a female boss is substantially less likely than having a male boss, so employees are forced to work within the confines of structural inequality that stems from promotional bias. In other words, you can have a preference, but you can’t really have a preference.

Notwithstanding these findings, progress is on the horizon. COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg just unveiled a training program to recognize and challenge unconscious bias in the workplace, beginning with her own team. Dozens of organizations that promote women in tech and other male-dominated industries are growing in popularity and prevalence (see Tech Ecosystem Infographic).

How do we continue the trajectory towards change? Literature on the subject alone is not enough to change perceptions. Rather, infusing women’s entrepreneurial ventures with capital, encouraging women to invest and to be involved in investment decisions, diversifying teams, and promoting staff with the credentials to perform and the ability to engage are imperative initiatives to change the landscape and stimulate growth, financial and otherwise.


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