June 2004:Gender Differences in Leadership: Current Social Issues and Future Organizational Implications
Gender Differences in Leadership: Current Social Issues and Future Organizational Implications
June 17, 2004
"More women are entering the workforce on a worldwide basis (Gibson, 1995). This increase is accompanied by unprecedented increases in the diversity of the ethnic and national origin demographic makeup of organizations. Blum, Field, and Goodman (1994; as cited in Luthar, 1996) note a relational increase in the presence of women in management and leadership positions. As more women gain the work experience and education necessary to qualify for leadership positions, the supply of capable women grows. Organizations are subsequently called on to re-establish and expand their notions of what constitutes effective leadership as it relates to gender, stereotyping, and role expectations. These efforts are supported by the estimate that women will outnumber men in management roles by the year 2030 as more women are earning Bachelor level degrees and participating in graduate level education programs (Girion, 2001).
The relative scarcity of women in top leadership roles is not a new phenomenon and can be demonstrated both in national U.S. and international terms. The percentage of women in managerial roles ranges from 25% (Germany) to 43% (Australia) while the percentage of women in positions at the senior level is between 0.3% and 5% (Japan and Germany, respectively) and 15% (Australia) with the U.S. 10% (Gardiner & Tiggemann, 1999). Regarding management level women workforce percentage is approximately 40% but with women in this group holding onto only 0.5% of the highest paid management positions. In 1997, there wee only two female CEOs amongst the leadership of Fortune 500 companies and only five in the next 500. Corporate board demographics continue this trend. Four years ago, only 10% of corporate board positions were help by women with 150 of the Fortune 500 companies reporting no women board members whatsoever (Oakley, 2000).
What accounts for these discrepancies? There are several arguments and a growing knowledge base of research attempting to explain these discrepancies, ther epidemiology, and their potential impact on both social and organizational grounds. Boatwright and Forrest (2000) point to a phenomenon known as the 'glass ceiling' as one reason for any numerical differences in leadership positions. Patterns of discrimination and stereotype may also account for the historically low count of women leaders. Oakley (2000) argues that gender equity in organizational leadership roles is a matter of business ethics.
As women become more and more prevalent in leadership roles, research respective to gender differences in leadership behaviors becomes more important (Carless, 1998). One obvious reason is to further understanding and design intervention/prevention strategies to discover and eradicate any gender bias that may impact perception and rewarding of women's performance in the workplace (Luthar, 1996). A second reason surrounds changes in organizational structures towards flattened hierarchical, team-based structures.
To date, research regarding the issue of gender differences in leadership may leave something to be desired if organizations are to utilize the knowledge base to modify their practices and successfully incorporate the complexities of diversity in their human resource management strategies. Current leadership research has been conducted within the context of a Western industrialized culture that has been predominately characterized as idealizing individualism, follower duty, and rational thoughts over emotions (House & Aditya, 1997). These ideas may contribute to the valuing of masculine leadership styles and subsequent stereotyping of a more feminine style as 'less then.'
Several theoretical models have been utilized in the study of gender differences in leadership behavior. Bolman and Deal (1991 and 1997; as cited in Thompson, 2000) conceptualize organizational dynamics as consisting of four distinct characteristics: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. Quinn (1988; as cited in Thompson, 2000) outlines organizational dynamics against a structure of competing values with successful leadership manifesting from adequate analysis and balance of the values. Social theory (Carless, 1998) describes individual behavior as driven by societal expectations. Boatwright and Forrest (2000) further this description using attachment theory. Similarly, relational theory contributes to these views by arguing that a primary human striving is to develop and maintain relationships (Boatwright & Forrest, 2000). Several organizational theories can also be used to illustrate and argue against gender differences in leadership.
The impact of gender socialization on differences in leadership behavior began to scratch the surface of how a context or environment can impact how one behaves in an organizational setting. With the advent of new technologies and organizational globalization, distance and national boundaries begin to fall away. Within these new organizational contexts manifests different national cultural differences. Countries whose cultures value masculine styles may value leadership behaviors that are more competitive, valuing and strong, and holding up male norms as 'best practice.' A study conduct by Gibson (1995) sought to illustrate these concepts using four different countries paired along like cultural dispositions for masculinity. Each country was assessed in terms of leadership behavior, gender differences, and style preferences. Norway and Sweden were compared as a pair to the United States and Australia. Leadership was measured in terms of goal emphasis, interaction facilitation, work facilitation, support, and personnel development. The results of the study described Norwegian and Swedish organizations in terms of involvement, community, expected uncertainty, minimized inequality, employee interdependence, accessible superiors, and decreased aggressive or confrontational behaviors. Conversely, U.S. and Australian organizations were characterized by increased individualism, clearly defined and separate sex roles, high initiative, decreased group interdependence, increased focus on individual achievement and self-interests, and increased valuing of planning and prediction.
Another study by Charles and Davies (2000) highlights the leadership expectations of Wales, United Kingdom as compared to the gendering of senior management positions in other sections of the U.K. The author argued that because of Wales' economic history driven by largely male-dominated industry, the associated relations and stereotypes might manifest in decreased numbers of women in leadership roles.
What does all this mean for individual gender differences in leadership behavior? National culture has been argued to have significant influence on leadership behavior according to gender socialization and the expectations determined by that culture (Gibson, 1995). From a systemic view, cultural gender expectations may result in organizational cultural characteristics that are also gendered. In fact, feminine and masculine styles may be less biological imperatives and more related to tacit understandings and learned behaviors driven by various social and national constructs (Rosenthal, 2000). The effects of the 'gendered organization' and its culture have been presented in research. Eagley and Johnson (1990; as cited in Carless, 1998) argued that female leaders were less likely than their male counterparts to be interpersonally oriented or use participative leadership styles (two characteristics attributed to women leaders in research literature) when they worked within a male-dominated organization or industry.
Cultural variants can especially be demonstrated through group dynamics in organizational settings. Emergent leadership situations have been used to study how and when gender differences might naturally manifest in group organizational settings. In studying leadership as a dynamic social process, emergent leadership occurs when someone in a group setting adopts the role of 'leader' where ther had not been one originally identified (Moss & Kent, 1996). In a study of emergent leadership in group settings, Sapp, Harrod, and Zhao (1996) sought to demonstrate any differences in male and female group and leadership roles.
Cantor and Benay (1992; as cited in Boatwright & Forrest, 2000) hypothesize that women leaders may respond to stereotypes by suppressing normative gender behaviors or acting 'similarly to men' in order to rise through the ranks in an organization. The perception of the 'successful leader' as male or exhibiting masculine traits may also influence hiring or promotion practices. Some researchers argue that job or task-oriented leadership is quickly being replaced by employee or person-centered leadership and that this shift underscores the importance of studying employee preference for leadership styles (Boatwright & Forrest, 2000).
In study of gender differences in organizational superior perception, Carless (1998) found that superiors may rely more on gender stereotypes and assumptions in describing and rating male and female leadership effectiveness and performance. Gardiner and Tiggemann (1999) also found that women leaders suffered negative evaluations when their behaviors did not confirm evaluators' expectations or stereotypes of gender. In an article regarding the interplay of cultural and organizational roles, Lorenzen (1996) attempted to provide reason for the apparent 'catch-22' for gender differences in leadership and perception driven by stereotype. Where gender is perceived within the social status, female leaders may be perceived more negatively than male leaders (Lucas & Lovaglia, 1998). Organizational culture and ideals may also influence employee and leadership perception of self and others. Within certain organizations, women leaders may be expected not to perform as well as their male counterparts, resulting in more favorable perceptions when they are successful.
In 1990, Eagley and Johnson (as cited in Gardiner & Tiggemann, 1999) conducted a meta-analysis of gender leadership research to assess the significance of gender differences in leadership styles. Their opinion was that the research to date demonstrated some reliable, but small differences in style where women in leadership emphasized personal relations versus men' focus on task accomplishment. Several more studies have attempted to further define these differences in leadership style. A study by Carless (1998) seeks to describe leadership styles within the confines of the definition of transformational leadership. Maher (1997) and Oakley (2000) describe women's leadership style as more transformational in both traditional and nontraditional organizational contexts. A study by Daewoo (1996) confirms gender differences in leadership along tasks and relations themes for decision-making. Rosenthal (2000) also argues for gender differences in terms of conflict-resolution styles driven by socialization.
Gender differences in leadership can be accounted for through a variety of rationale. From interpersonal relationships to social role expectations to differences in perception and styles, men and women may indeed lead differently in addition to being 'followed' differently. The successful organization of the future will not only understand leadership in terms of gender but also its contribution to workforce and organizational effectiveness (Stelter, 2002, p. 88-99)."
Reference: Stelter, N.Z. (2002). Gender differences in leadership: current social issues and future organizational implications. The Journal of Leadership Studies, 8, No 4.
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Created: 2007-11-13, Updated: 2009-02-17