skip to main content
Women's Engagement Advantage Disappears in Leadership Roles

Women's Engagement Advantage Disappears in Leadership Roles

by Camilla Frumar and Anna Truscott-Smith

Women are more engaged employees than men across nearly all levels of an organization, Gallup research finds -- a valuable differentiator when nearly 80% of employees worldwide are still not engaged at work. Despite women almost universally exhibiting higher levels of engagement in the workplace than men, the dynamic changes when women ascend to senior leadership. At only the most senior leadership level, the gender engagement gap closes, and organizations are more likely to lose star female employees.

Here’s what the gender engagement gap looks like, why it exists in leadership and how it can limit a company.

The Data

At the managerial level, women’s engagement outpaces men’s by eight percentage points. These highly engaged employees are actively invested in their role, are enthusiastic about their work and positively affect their organization. Women are similarly more engaged than men in project manager and individual contributor roles.

However, this trend takes a turn as women climb the corporate ladder.


Upon reaching top leadership positions, female employees’ engagement advantage disappears, as it’s nearly the same as male employees’ engagement at the same level. At all other levels, women are more engaged -- and losing their engagement advantage at the senior leadership level has significant implications.

As women’s engagement slows, men’s elevates. The empowering nature of leadership, high development and ownership over one’s work may be what unlocks engagement for men. The disappearance of the gender engagement gap may also signal that leadership presents challenges for women due to a complex range of factors.

Why does the engagement gap close for women when they assume leadership responsibilities?


Root Causes

While women excel in many capacities in the workplace, Gallup research shows that women may have some psychological needs that suffer as they ascend to senior leadership roles. Leadership positions often come with prestige and influence, but they can also be isolating. Women who top the corporate ladder may find a shortage of the camaraderie and emotional support that strong workplace friendships provide.

Once women ascend to leadership roles, they’re less likely to feel as though others are listening to them, and they’re staying in these roles for shorter periods of time than their male counterparts, according to Gallup’s analysis of data from a subset of 52 company participants.

This disparity in tenure highlights the engagement discrepancy, which not only affects women’s retention in senior positions but also may underscore broader issues surrounding workplace satisfaction -- or how women perceive the rational elements of roles such as compensation.

Cultural Interventions

Women in leadership face unique challenges that can affect their engagement relative to men. Some ways to improve engagement include introducing flexible work arrangements without compromising pay or penalizing career growth, overcorrecting bias in pay discussions, and establishing transparent diversity goals.

Diversity goals should run in tandem with providing inclusive leadership opportunities. Successful companies Gallup has studied have introduced mentorship and listening programs, inclusive language and negotiation training, and senior-level women’s networking groups. These options can empower women to assert their worth, ascend to senior roles and stay in them.

Engaged leaders foster engaged teams, and organizations shouldn’t forgo the enthusiasm, ability and drive all employees can bring to leadership roles. Empower women to succeed in corporate upper echelons with a comprehensive audit of your organization’s gender parity. Commit to creating an empowering culture that can enable not just your female leaders, but all employees, to thrive.


Learn how to empower your female leaders with initiatives like Gallup's Women in Leadership Learning Journey.


Camilla Frumar is a Senior Consultant for Gallup in Sydney.

Anna Truscott-Smith is a Senior Research Consultant for Gallup in London.

Rachael Yi contributed to this article.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030