Why Obama & Romney Aren’t Connecting With Women

Women’s votes could swing the presidential election, yet both President Obama and Gov. Romney don’t get the benefits of feminine—and inclusive—leadership styles.

Does Barack Obama, Mitt Romney's Leadership Style Exclude Women?

Women’s votes could swing the presidential election, yet both President Obama and Gov. Romney don’t get the benefits of feminine—and inclusive—leadership styles. 

By Barbara Frankel

With all the talk about women being the key factor in determining the presidential election, I am flabbergasted that both candidates went for the ultimate male leadership style of dominance and bullying in this week’s debate.

Both President Obama and Governor Romney clearly had been advised to be assertive and forthright. Nothing wrong with that, and President Obama’s passive responses in the first debate definitely impacted his poll numbers. But there’s a real difference between being assertive and being a bully who doesn’t listen. And both of them crossed that line.

If you aren’t a dog owner, I apologize for the analogy, but both candidates appeared to be trying to show the world they are alpha males. Their posture, their circling each other, their refusal to let the other speak—honestly, it reminded me of two male dogs marking territory.


There is a difference between male and feminine styles of leadership. The most effective leaders, like Jim Turley, chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, combine the best of both styles. That means they actually listen to their employees instead of just issuing orders; it means they accept constructive criticism gracefully; and most of all it means they create inclusive workplaces. There are several CEOs on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list who also embody this inclusive leadership style, including  Bob Moritz of PricewaterhouseCoopers, André Wyss of Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Clay Jones of Rockwell Collins, John Stumpf of Wells Fargo, John Strangfeld of Prudential Financial, John Bryant of Kellogg Company, Arne Sorenson of Marriott International and John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly and Company.

Women leaders—and male leaders who have male AND feminine styles of leadership—don’t posture themselves this way. They send messages that they are listening (even if their chief rivals are speaking) and that they haven’t made up their minds before anyone else says a word.

Turley told DiversityInc this recently: “The firm has become less masculine. I would say it’s become more neutral and more balanced. It’s become a lot less of a macho organization, a lot more of a ‘Let’s challenge each other and make the right decisions.’ One of the learning experiences was a board meeting where a couple of our women said something and then our men said something, and I picked up on it when the men said it. … One or two of the women on the board tackled me. The second half of the story is that it hasn’t happened again. That’s how you learn.”

By the Numbers

As we learn from studying diversity management, organizations that have equitable representation are more inclusive of other’s views and different leadership styles. An examination of the approximately 50 top campaign advisers for both President Obama and Governor Romney shows each have approximately 10 percent women, including a handful in key jobs—deputy campaign managers, national political director (Obama), communications directors, etc.

If we look at Fortune 500 companies, we still see a lack of women in key positions. Women CEOs account for only 4 percent of the Fortune 500. By contrast, women CEOs are 6 percent of The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Women also make up 24 percent of the senior level of DiversityInc Top 50 Companies (CEO and direct reports), up 33 percent from five years ago, and 80 percent higher than the average for the Fortune 500.

What’s the difference between the companies with more women in senior roles and those without? Frequently, it’s the tone and tenor of the management style. Beth Mooney, chairman and CEO of KeyCorp and the first woman to lead a top 20 U.S. bank, told DiversityInc this last year: “Part of the difference is that we led not with differences but by trying to be a part of the team. Diversity has found its way to the C-suite by doing so.”

For more stories on feminine leadership, please click here.

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  • I find this article very interesting as you notice the writer only named male ceo’s. Are there no female leaders who can be used as exemplars of effective leadership? Hmmm…some women leaders are the best exemplars. Re the debate, the male characteristics on display are applauded by our male-dominated society. I agree that sometimes, this behavior is necessary to make the point. In particular, with the republican candiddate!!! He got everything he deserved…period.

  • I object to the dichotomy of “masculine-feminine styles of leadership.” I’ve had female supervisors who were obsessed with power and control.

    • Unfortunately, women in power tend to copy the male ways of leadership: authoritative, stubborn, biased, and power-hungry. But women add the worst of them: they are emotional, manipulative, backstabbers, inconsistent, grudge-holders, insecure, and talk too much without acting timely. Women confuse fear with respect.

      • Luke Visconti

        The person posting this is a woman who works at a federal agency. I completely disagree with her overgeneralized observations. However, I will say that I’ve seen FAR more dysfunctional behavior among federal-agency senior executives (male and female) than in corporate America. I’ll never forget being ushered into the office of the CHRO at one federal agency—elaborately done up in pink with “cute” signs like “Make Way for the Queen.” Pompous, haughty, brittle, out-of-touch. CREEPY. I actually witnessed another senior federal executive (in a wheelchair) tell an audience that she couldn’t figure out how the agencies under her considerable scope of authority could hire more people with disabilities. (How about: “They exist—find them or I’m going to find someone else to find them”?) The only industry that I’ve observed having as high a percentage of psychotic behavior as federal-agency executives are folks in investment banking, one giant defense contractor (not on our list) and technology companies (not IBM). Even oil companies behave more normally than federal agencies. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • I am a woman, and I’d never accept a female as a boss. Most of them never have their heads screwed on straight.

    And I don’t know any women who aren’t connecting with Obama … famous, not so famous, infamous, and downright unknown.

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