Leadership Lessons on How Women Trust & Build Successful Trusted Relationships 

 June 1, 2023

By  Jane Frankland

Most people understand that trust is foundational to successful leadership, collaboration, and overall business operations. Building on last week’s blog, and considering the growth of women leaders and the visible roles women are increasingly occupying within larger organisations, I thought you might be interesed to understand more about the differences of how women build and gain trust while operating within fast-paced corporate environments.

I believe that paying attention to these nuances not only benefits women but unifies all individuals regardless of their sex and gender who work together toward a common goal. It helps us create a stronger foundation for success both inside and outside of the workplace through awareness, understanding, and a celebration of our uniqueness as human beings.

In this blog, I’ll be examining a few sex and gender differences in trust and trustworthiness, and different approaches employed by experienced women on their rise in leadership roles. I’ll be also offering valuable insight into retaining a sense of balance throughout various stages of growth as well as continuing to strive for progress through unified effort by empowering one another.

A Definition of Trust and Trustworthiness

The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as being a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something. It defines trustworthiness (noun) as being the ability to be relied on as honest or truthful.

Understanding Sex and Gender Differences in Trust and Trustworthiness

Trust, as you and I know, is an essential aspect of any relationship, whether in personal or professional settings. Understanding sex and gender differences in trust and trustworthiness can provide valuable insights into how trust is developed and maintained between individuals of different sexes and gender identities in today’s complex workplace. Whilst complex, by recognising these differences, you will improve communication, build stronger, more trusting relationships, partnerships, and better collaborations, as well as the well-being of your team, and profits.

In brief, here’s what the research and the data tells us…

  • Research has shown that men and women have different trust-building behaviours. For example, women place greater emphasis on emotional connection and communication. Men on the other hand, tend to rely more on reputation and status.
  • Women and men also have different interpretations of what it means to trust someone. Research has identified two distinct behavioural dimensions of trust in work relationships: disclosure-based trust and reliance-based trust (Gillespie, 2011). The disclosure dimension represents an individual’s willingness to share sensitive personal and work-related information, such as genuine thoughts, feelings, or concerns. The reliance dimension captures an individual’s willingness to depend on another’s skills, knowledge, or judgments, for example, by delegating or granting autonomy.
  • Disclosure-based trust is associated with higher relationship quality and wellbeing, and in relationships, women value and engage in self-disclosure behaviours – sharing personally sensitive information, thoughts, and feelings – more than men, (Dindia and Allen, 1992, Rose, 2002; Shulman, Laursen, Kalman, & Karpovsky, 1997).
  • Women are more sensitive to kindness when forming interpersonal trust judgments. They are judged on work-related altruism more than men too, receiving poorer evaluations and recommendations when withholding altruistic citizenship behaviour at work.
  • Women are generally less predisposed to trust than men.
  • When it comes to trustworthiness, people appear to be influenced by a gender pairing bias – women trust women more than men, and men trust men more than women (Barker, 2022).
  • Contextual and most likely cultural factors affect studies. For example, in one study (Zhao and Zhang,2016) which looked at how a person’s gender impacts trusting behaviour, they found that in mixed-gender scenarios, people trusted strangers of the opposite gender more than strangers of the same gender. In another study (Barker,2022), researchers investigated if knowing a spouse’s gender influences trust and trustworthy behaviour. According to their findings, gender information has a minimal influence on trust behaviour but it showed a significant gender interaction in terms of trustworthiness, both at the aggregate and individual levels. The proportion returned is substantially greater when the trustor and trustee are of the same gender, showing a gender pairing bias in trustworthiness. Then, in a meta-analysis of the trust game and the gift-exchange game, men are more trusting in the trust game but there appears to be no significant sex difference in trust in the gift-exchange game. Regarding trustworthiness, researchers have found no significant sex difference in the trust game, and they found men to be more trustworthy in the gift-exchange game. These results suggest that men send more money than women do when their money is going to be multiplied, thereby creating an efficiency gain. This so-called “male multiplier effect” may be explained by a stronger psychological tendency in men to acquire resources.

Strategies to Foster More Trust

For women leaders, gaining the trust and respect of colleagues is crucial for career advancement and overall workplace success. While trust is important for all leaders, research indicates that women face unique challenges when it comes to building and maintaining trust, particularly in male dominated workplaces.

Thankfully, there are several strategies that women can employ to foster more trust as they navigate their career, some of which I’ll share with you shortly.

First, I want to introduce you to Joanna Barsh, director emeritus McKinsey & Company and author of Centered Leadership and How Remarkable Women Lead, as she says trust boils down to four elements:

  1. Reliability – does this person deliver,
  2. Congruence – does this person do and say what they believe,
  3. Acceptance – does this person accept you for who you are or do they judge you,
  4. Openness – is this person honest and direct with their communications, and do they share their intentions with you so you know what they’re thinking, feeling, and where they are coming from.

Like me, she believes you must compassionately examine the trust relationship you have with yourself, as well as how you act with others at work and home. Often, you’ll find trust behaviour discrepencies.

Now let’s look at a few of those strategies.

Belonging to a Network of Supportive Women

Women benefit from having different types of networks especially when they include a women’s network. In fact, the impact of having a group of women who are supportive, encouraging, and providing a safe space to express yourself cannot be overstated. Surrounded by women who inspire and motivate each other, share similar goals and passions, enables women to find themselves in a unique position to grow and learn from each other. Whether it’s leaning on each other for career advice, bouncing business ideas off one another, sharing personal experiences, a network of supportive women provides an invaluable support system and a way to positively impact the lives of others.

Here’s what a study by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University revealed: women who have a solid support group of other women are more likely to attain high-ranking leadership positions.

The study looked at the link between students’ graduate school social networks and placement into leadership positions. They followed 700 former graduate students from a top-ranked U.S. business school as they were accepted into leadership-level positions. Then they looked at the size of each person’s social network, the proportion of same-sex contacts, and how strong their network ties were.

They found that more than 75% of high-ranking women had strong ties to a female-dominated inner circle or at least strong ties to two or three women whom they communicated with frequently. Those women with a wide network and a female-dominated inner circle had an expected job placement level that was 2.5 times greater than women with small networks and a male-dominated inner circle. 

For men, if they had a large network, regardless of gender, they were more likely to earn a high-ranking position. Women who had social networks that resembled that of their male counterparts were more likely to hold low-ranking positions.

Sharing your Vision, Mission and Values

Sharing your vision, mission and values with your team, partners, and clients is an effective way to build trust. When everyone is on the same page in terms of goals and expectations, it’s easier to collaborate and work together towards a common goal. A shared vision creates a sense of belonging among team members, which strengthens their commitment to each other and the company. Sharing your values sets standards for behaviour and conduct within the workplace, too, ensuring that everyone is held accountable, and teamwork improves.

Being Accountable and Transparent About Expectations

Establishing clear guidelines and having open conversations with your team will help ensure everyone understands what is expected of them. It’s important to take responsibility for mistakes and be honest and open when issues arise. Having a formal process for reviewing progress, challenging assumptions, acknowledging successes, and giving feedback will help ensure that people are held accountable to their work.

Leveraging Inclusivity

Building and maintaining trust shouldn’t be challenging when you embrace inclusivity. By creating a culture that values and respects the differences of your team members, you open the door to better communication, collaboration, and understanding. It enables you to see things from different perspectives, which, in turn, helps you make more informed decisions, and build trust, both internally with your team and stakeholders, and externally with your customers and clients.

Prioritising Respectful, Clear Communication

Respectful clear communication is the cornerstone of any healthy and successful workplace. It’s more than just polite interactions – it’s about creating an environment where all colleagues feel valued and heard. Prioritising respectful clear communication means actively listening to others, being mindful of your own language and body language, showing appreciation for diverse perspectives, setting clear boundaries, and ensuring what you are asking for is understood. When respectful, clear communication is at the forefront, trust and respect are fostered, leading to improved teamwork, collaboration, and ultimately, increased productivity. By prioritising respectful communication, you can build a workplace culture that is supportive, inclusive, and empowering for all team members.

Using Empowerment Amongst Colleagues

In the professional world, trust amongst colleagues is one of the fundamental building blocks of success. When you trust those you work with, you’re more likely to collaborate with them effectively, communicate openly, and ultimately achieve your goals together. But how do you do this in a high-pressure work environment where everyone is focused on their own objectives? The answer lies in empowerment. By empowering team members and giving them a greater sense of autonomy and ownership over their work, you can foster a culture of trust and collaboration where everyone feels valued and supported. When you trust your colleagues to take ownership of their work and make decisions, you build a strong foundation for success.

Leading by Example

Trust is built when people witness and experience trustworthiness. As a leader, you need to be mindful of the example that you set for your team. So, always lead by example and demonstrate trustworthiness in all areas of your business. From how you manage conflict to how you communicate with colleagues, every action should be based on the values of trust, respect, and inclusivity. When you demonstrate trustworthiness, it sets the tone for the entire team and helps foster a culture that is based on mutual trust and respect.

To end…

To achieve success at work and in life, trust must be established. Trust increases optimism, happiness, health, self-confidence, communication, decision making speed, meaningful connections, productivity, and profitability. Every person has the opportunity to build trust and better lead themselves and / their teams by understanding the sex and gender differences in trust and implementing the strategies I’ve written about.

Finally, please remember that building trust isn’t about what you say. It’s about your actions and how you show up every day. Demonstrating trustworthiness through consistent behaviour, open communication, and a commitment to doing the right thing will help you create an environment of respect, inclusion, collaboration, wellbeing, and profits.

Now I want to do this..

If you’re a leader who wants to improve your results or your team’s, let’s talk! Book a discovery call and learn how my company can help you or your team do better.

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Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


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