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Gender and Leadership Style

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Management
Wordcount: 5227 words Published: 17th Jul 2017

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Leadership has had a great impact on the culture, history, and civilization of humankind, thus theoretical explanations for it have been extended throughout the history. Although the term leadership is mostly related with industry and business, it is important to education as well. Therefore it is vital to understand the role of leaders in education and to investigate the impact of gender on leadership style.

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Despite the large number of female teachers across all levels (i.e. primary, secondary, tertiary), leadership positions are still held mainly by men. Cooper et al. (2000) stated that qualified women educators provide important resource for meeting current and impending school leadership shortages but are often ignored. Meanwhile Young and McLeod (2001) identified that women’s entrance into educational leadership will depends on their career aspirations, their leadership orientations or styles, the particular exposure to transformational leadership, their experiences, and the support they gain when entering administration.

This section will include early leadership theories, the roles of school leader, relationship between leadership and gender, female leadership styles, differences between leadership styles of men and women, gender stereotypes, prejudice against female leaders and the summary of this chapter.

Early Leadership Theories

In the early 18th centuries, philosophers recommended a theory of leadership which was termed the ”Great Man” theory. According to Jani (2008), this theory assumed that leaders are born and not made. Whereby leaders usually were members from the aristocracy since they only got a chance to lead; hence, it was considered that good breeding contributed to great leaders. Besides that, this theory also states that when there is a great need, then a great leader arises, like Buddha, Jesus, Churchill and Eisenhower. During that era, women were not taken into account as possible leaders. Even from the name given to this theory illustrates that women were not perceived as leaders, and leadership research during this period were related solely to males.

Trait theories were introduced in the year 1904 and were well known up to 1947 (Bass, 1990). This theory assumed that people are born with inherited traits whereby some traits are particularly suited to leadership. It is believed that people who make good leaders have the right combination of traits. And once again, these traits were thought to be inborn, and unique to leaders.

Trait theories basically described traits in masculine terms, and these characteristics were considered crucial for successful leadership. In the 1900s, small numbers of women began to enter the workforce. However, only very small proportions of women took up leadership positions in the 1940s. Typically, women were seen as carers, assistants, teachers, or nurses rather than leaders during this period of time (Koziara et al., 1987). Therefore, females were not seen as appropriate in the role of leadership.

Soon after the 1940s, researchers began to propose that traits alone were not sufficient to explain effective leadership. They proposed that the interaction of leaders and followers, as well as other situational factors, may be a significant factor in effective leadership. At this stage, leaders were no longer considered to possess inborn characteristics and abilities hence Gardner (1989) proposed a new way of conceptualizing leadership. He said that men learn to lead therefore there is no one that are born to be a leader. This philosophy lead to the behavioural theories of leadership in the 1930s and the perspective began to move from a belief in the inborn characteristics of leaders, to a focus on behaviour which could be acquired or learned.

There were four main behavioural studies conducted in conjunction with this theory. Firstly, the University of Iowa researchers which isolated three behavioural dimensions; these were the democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire styles. Secondly, a study by Ohio State University in the 1940s and 1950s. They advanced this body of thought by dividing the behavioural theories into two dimensions which they termed ”consideration” and ”initiating structure”. Consideration was explained as being considerate towards followers’ ideas and feelings while initiating structure referred to structuring work relationship to meet job goals. The third study was conducted by the University of Michigan which described ”employee oriented” and ”production oriented” dimensions. The findings of this study concluded that employee-oriented employers promoted high group productivity and job satisfaction amongst their employees (Kahn and Katz, 1960).

These concepts were extended in 1964, when Blake and Mouton proposed a Managerial Grid. They proposed that by incorporating the two dimensions of concern for people and concern for production the most effective way of leading could be achieved (Blake and Mouton, 1964). All these behavioural theories were proposed in the early 1930s, but only achieved prominence in the 1960s at a time when the number of women in positions of power or authority in organisations were still low. The proportion of women in leadership roles in the USA in 1970, ten years after the behavioural theories were introduced, was only 16 per cent. Moreover, this percentage of women involved in a leadership role was reported to be constant for over a decade (Powell, 1999). However, during this period of research, there was an emerging recognition of the importance of concern for people in the behavioural theories as being an effective leadership quality. A concern for people could be seen as behaviour more typically associated with female.

Subsequently, the leadership theories moved on to embrace both individual traits and situational aspects of leadership simultaneously (Bass, 1990). Successful leadership was considered to be dependent on the leader’s consideration of situational factors in order for an appropriate leadership style to be chosen to cope with each situation. This theory assumes that the action of a leader depends on a number of situational factors, such as motivation and capability of followers, relationship between the leader and the followers, stress, mood, and etc. Yukl (1989) has identified six situational factors namely, subordinate effort, subordinate ability, organization of the work, cooperation and cohesiveness, resources and support, and external coordination. Situational theories would have predominantly been seen as applying to males in leadership roles because of the low profile of women in management during that time, and it can be assumed that the profile of women in management would not have been advanced in any significant way from this body of literature.

Additional theories began to be available with mostly focused on the specific leadership styles of leaders, in an attempt to increase the understanding of what constituted effective leadership. These concepts relating to leadership styles were introduced in 1938 by Lewin and Lippitt. They suggested that leaders vary in the way they led in organisations. They proposed three styles of leadership. Firstly, ”autocratic leaders” were originally described as leaders who used their power and their ability to persuade in leading their followers. An autocratic leader was also illustrated as a directive leader. The autocratic style of leadership was not been associated with female gender stereotypical characteristics.

The second leadership style was named ”democratic leadership”. This style was explained as a style whereby the leader pursued an open and follower oriented relationship. Leaders who take on this style encouraged followers to establish their own strategies, provided them with a perspective by explaining in advance the procedures for accomplishing the goals, and granted the followers independence to commence their own tasks and congratulating them if they succeed. According to Bass (1990), this leadership style originated from America, and leaders adopting this style were described as caring, considerate, and easy to compromise.

This is the first kind of research which was seen to be more favourably aligned to feminine characteristics as compared to masculine characteristics. However, as mentioned previously, during the era when leadership style theories reached prominence, there were still limited women holding leadership positions. As research on gender difference in leadership styles did not occur until 1990, it would appear that the theories on leadership styles would have been written to illustrate male behaviour in leadership roles. Nevertheless, it could be argued that the theories on leadership styles began to raise the profile of women in leadership. This early leadership research may have changed insights about the suitability of women in leadership positions, as a democratic style of leadership could be attributed to both male and female leaders.

The third leadership style was described as ”laissez-faire” leadership. The term laissez-faire means to let others act without interference or better known as the hands off style. Laissez-faire leaders were thought to have less confidence in their decision-making responsibility, or in their capability to manage, often avoiding meeting with their subordinates (Bass, 1990). Similar to previous theories, these researches was studied in a male context, probably because of the small numbers of women in leadership roles at that time.

In short, all of the theories reviewed portrayed leadership implicitly or explicitly as a male prerogative, and the small numbers of women in leadership positions during the respective periods confirms that the role of leaders was largely seen as a male domain.

Not unpredictably, all the researchers and writers on early leadership were men and hence the years of leadership research reflect a male dominance. Denmark (1993), reflected that ”by ignoring gender as a variable in studying leadership, researchers created many blanks in theoretical and research design”. However, gender has begun to be a consideration in the literature in the late 1970s. Gender difference research began to report on differences in behaviour, attitudes, and skills between males and females in general and was subsequently extended to consider abilities such as leadership.

The Roles of School Leaders

The role of the school leader in successful schools has gone beyond the traditional view of functional management, power, behaviour style, and instructional leadership. In the past, the job of school leader was considered as primarily managerial, however nowadays the realities of our global society have shifted the focus from management to leadership. According to Kowalski, (2003) “an effective school administrator typically must be both a manager and a leader”.

Today’s school leaders face more complex expectations. They face a very different student population. At a time when many view the schools as one of the few social organizations, students arrive with very different attitudes, motivations, and needs than students of today’s generations (Young and Kochan, 2004). International research indicates that successful schools have leaders who creates a productive and professional school culture (Stoll, 1999), have a clear vision (Fullan, 2003), are knowledgeable about teaching and learning (Wesson and Grady, 1993) and protect schools from demands that make it difficult for schools to operate on a professional basis (Normore, 2004).

As for school leaders in less successful schools, they seem to view their role to be more that of a middle manager. While leaders in highly successful schools perceive themselves as educational leaders (Normore, 2004) who contribute to school improvement and school effectiveness (Mortimore and MacBeath, 2001). Effective school leaders are vital to change and improvement, and are clear on expectations for student learning (Fullan, 2003). Expectations of nowadays school leaders include new knowledge and skill for instructional leadership, discipline, supervision, fundraising, and public relations expertise (Shuttleworth, 2003). More responsibility has been added to the job over the years causing some of the best school leaders to slow down until the extent that they have lost much of their leadership, rather than management quality (Normore, 2004; Shuttleworth, 2003; Simkins, 2003).

Relationship between Leadership and Gender

According to Oshagbemi and Gill (2003), the relationship between gender role and leadership style is the association of masculinity with task-oriented leadership styles and femininity with relationship-oriented styles. This relationship is not so precise for women. Jamieson developed the concept of femininity and masculinity in the year 1995 where behaving feminine is associated with incompetence and behaving masculine is associated with competency. If the masculine model represents the general and dominant model of leadership, women understand that in order to escalate the ranks they have to conform to it (Fernandes and Cabral-Cardoso, 2003). In other words, the same influence strategies that proved to be successful for men are continually used by women too. The main strategy is to develop behaviors feminine enough not to diverge from the gender role expectation, but masculine enough to gain credibility as professionals; in simple terms, women have to create their own leadership styles. As Gardner (1995) said “Leadership is never guaranteed; it must always be renewed”.

Female Leadership Styles

Earlier thinking emphasized that women who had reached leadership positions were imitators of male characteristics, but contemporary theories recognize feminine leadership styles. Like any new trend in traditional settings, it takes years to develop new styles until these styles are understood and well accepted.

Women face several barriers that prevent them from involving in leadership positions. Obstacles with this origin have been described as “the glass ceiling” as a metaphor that halts women in moving up the career ladder at a certain point (Oakley, 2000). Nonetheless, the increasing involvement of women in the labor market in the last half century, and their movement to managerial positions has changed the definition of leadership (Kark, 2004). Rosener (1990) believed that female leadership tends towards a style defined as “interactive leadership” that involves:

  • encouraging participation;
  • sharing power and information;
  • enhancing self-worth;
  • changing self interests for an overall good;
  • relating power to interpersonal skills; and
  • believing in better performance when feeling good.

Women leaders in education need to find the leadership styles that, without denying its feminine origins, result in efficiency. The redefinition of characteristics of an effective school leader, following the current trends of organizational leadership, will help erase gender stereotypes and focus on desirable characteristics that candidates (men or women) bring to the position (Logan, 1998).

Differences in the Leadership Styles of Men and Women

One possible explanation of gender gap in leadership is that women are deficient in the characteristics and behaviors that are crucial to effective leadership. However, contrary to the idea that women are less suited to leadership than men, Eagly, Alice H., and Marloes L. van Engen (2004) have described female leaders as having cooperative, interactive, and facilitative leadership styles that are more attuned to the needs of modern organizations than the leadership styles that of men.

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Empirical research has observed such claims about the typical leadership styles of men and women. To determine whether men and women differ in leadership styles, Alice Eagly and Blair Johnson (2004) carried out a meta-analysis of 162 studies that were conducted between 1961 and 1987. Most of these studies distinguished between task-oriented leadership (a style that emphasizes subordinates to follow rules and procedures, maintaining high standards of performance, and making roles explicit) and interpersonally oriented leadership (a style that emphasizes helping subordinates, looking out for their welfare, explaining procedures, and being friendly and available). Besides that, some studies distinguished between leaders who behave democratically and invite subordinates to participate in decision making, known as “participative” or “democratic” leadership, and leaders who behave autocratically and discourage subordinates from participating in decision making, known “directive” or “autocratic” leadership.

Eagly and Johnson’s meta-analysis found that the leadership styles of women and men were somewhat stereotypical. In these laboratory and assessment studies, women, more than men, tended to manifest relatively towards interpersonally oriented styles, and men, more than women, tended to display relatively task-oriented styles. In contrast, gender differences in task and interpersonal style were insignificant among leaders occupying managerial roles in organizations. These findings were consistent with the principle that gender differences are lower among managers because male and female managers are selected by similar criteria and subjected to similar organizational socialization. However, in all these studies, one difference did consistently appear: Women leaders displayed a somewhat more democratic or participative style and a less autocratic or directive style than men did. In the twenty-three studies comparing men and women on the democratic versus autocratic dimension, 92 percent went in the direction of a more democratic and participative style among women.

In the 1980s and 1990s, researchers identified a type of leadership style that is commonly known as “transformational leadership,” which is similar to contemporary models of leadership known as “visionary,” “charismatic,” and “inspirational.” The importance of these models is on the ability of the leaders to inspire, stimulate, and motivate followers and to nurture their ability to contribute creatively to the organizational goals. Transformational leadership are differ from transactional leadership, which is a more conventional style that stresses clarifying subordinate responsibilities and using rewards and punishments to encourage subordinates to meet objectives of the organization. Also acknowledged by some researchers is laissez-faire style that is characterized by a general failure to take responsibility for managing or better known as the “hands off” style.

To determine whether male and female leaders differ when evaluated in terms of these new distinctions, Eagly, along with social psychologists Mary Johannesen-Schmidt and Marloes van Engen, carried out a meta-analysis of 45 studies that compared male and female managers on the measures of transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership. These studies involved organizational leaders, mainly from business and educational organizations. The meta-analysis revealed that female leaders were more transformational than male leaders and also exceeded male leaders on one component of transactional leadership which is ‘contingent reward behaviors’, which consist of rewarding subordinates for doing a good job. Women also exceeded men on the transformational dimension of individualized consideration, which relates to developing and mentoring followers. In contrast, men were more likely than women to display two other aspects of transactional leadership which are active management by exception and passive management by exception. Active management by exception refers to attending to followers’ mistakes and failures to meet standards, while passive management by exception refer to waiting until problems become severe before attending to them. Men, more than women, also displayed laissez-faire leadership, which means they are uninvolved during critical moment.

In summary, research has established some small differences in the behavior of male and female leaders. Specifically, women tend to be more democratic and less autocratic than men, a difference that does not yield an overall advantage for either gender. More important for effectiveness are women’s tendencies to engage in transformational style and to deliver more rewards for followers’ good performance. These behaviors have been related with enhanced effectiveness across a wide variety of settings. Consequently, empirical research does not support the thought that the leadership styles of women account for their lesser success in rising into higher-level of leadership positions.

Gender Stereotypes

Women have traditionally been stereotyped as more socially sensitive and interpersonally competent than men (Korabik 1999). In various studies, the traditional stereotype of women included attributes such as being less competent and less effective in tasks that are required for work outside of home (Glick and Fiske 1999), nurturing, compassionate, considerate, weak, and subservient (Bem 1974), and emotional, subjective, tactful, aware of other’s feelings, and having feelings that are easily hurt (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, and Rosenkrantz 1972). Stereotypes linked with men, on the other hand, typically included traits such as leaders, dominant, aggressive, independent, objective, and competitive (Broverman, Vogel, Broverman, Clarkson, and Rosenkrantz 1972).

These gender stereotypes broaden into almost every facet of daily life for both men and women. People interpret communications and speech characteristics through gender stereotypes (Tannen 1990, 2001). Research has also demonstrated that gender stereotypes regarding communication patterns and styles develop early and continue on through adulthood. Other aspects of interpersonal interactions are subjected to gender stereotypes as well.

Eagly and Karau (1991) demonstrated that overall, men were perceived as being more capable and were more readily accepted as leaders when they acted in a confident and assertive manner. Although the nature of the task moderated this relationship, men were more likely than women to be thought of as leaders (Eagly and Karau 1991). For women, the same qualifications of assertiveness and confidence could be harmful when they are faced with traditional gender stereotypes. Carli and Eagly (1999) in their summary of the research on influence and leadership emergence highlighted the barriers that faces by women in leadership. Studies conducted in the United States have demonstrated that self-efficacy and self-promotion are beneficial in hiring and promotion practices for men. However, women who engaged in these behaviors as undesirable (Rudman 1998). Therefore, gender stereotypes play a critical role in limiting the opportunities for women to emerge as leaders by decreasing women’s access to leadership roles and increasing the obstacles they must overcome in order to become leaders (Eagly and Karau 2002).

When women and men leaders’ behaviors and styles are reviewed, typically one of these paradigms is employed. Eagly and Johnson’s (1990) meta-analysis research demonstrated that across studies, no difference was found in the perception of men and women leaders. However, they did report a small but significant finding in which women leaders were perceived as being more participative as compare to their men counterparts. They also highlighted that the source of the perception (self or subordinates) may play an important role on the results. In addition, factors such as the gender of the author, the type of study, and the date of the study had some moderating effects on the results.

More recently, Eagly and colleagues have reported meta-analytic results regarding the role of leader’s gender in transactional and transformational leadership styles (Eagly, Johannesen-Schimdt, van Engen, and Vinkenburg 2003). These studies found that women leaders, when compared to the males, were perceived as slightly but significantly more likely to engage in transformational behaviors. They also found that men leaders, when compared to the women leaders, were perceived as more transactional leaders. Therefore, it could be concluded that men and women are perceived somewhat differently due to the presence of traditional gender stereotypes.

Prejudices against Female Leaders

Prejudice against women as leaders is at least partly responsible for the lack of women in leadership positions. Prejudice arises because people’s common views about what a manager or a leader is like do not fit their ideas about women as well as they fit their ideas about men. This inconsistency can be examined in terms of social roles of women, men, and leaders. These role expectations are called “descriptive” because they indicate what behaviors members of a particular social category might display. Role expectations are also called “injunctive” because they include consensual expectations about what group members ideally should do.

Gender roles are understood as socially shared beliefs about the typical attributes of women and men. According to social role theory, these roles emerge from the societal division of labor between the genders. The underlying principle is that the perceivers infer that people’s actions tend to correspond to their internal dispositions, a cognitive process that has been labeled “correspondent inference” or “correspondence bias.” Specifically, the common, nurturing behaviors required by women’s domestic and child-care roles and by many female-dominated occupational roles favor inferences that women do possess and should possess common traits. Similarly, the confident, task-oriented activities required by many male-dominated occupations and the breadwinner family role create expectations that men do possess and should possess agentic traits, such as unselfishness, concern for others, and expressiveness, as well as traits such as masterfulness, self-assuredness, and instrumental competency.

In general, prejudice in the workplace may arise from the irregularity people perceive between particular workplace roles and the attributes attributed to individuals based on their group membership. Most leadership roles are characterized primarily by agentic attributes and are therefore different with the predominantly common characteristics attributed to women. Although it might seem that gender should be irrelevant in the workplace, it spills over to affect opinions of employees. The resulting incongruity of the female gender role and leadership roles leads not only to decreased prospect that women can be successful leaders, but also to less favorable evaluations of leadership when it is enacted by a woman compared with a man, as shown in many studies that were summarized by Eagly and social psychologist Steven Karau in 2002.

Several types of research have shown that women have fewer accesses to leadership roles than men do. Economist Joyce Jacobsen’s review showed that most studies of actual income and promotion supported the claim of discrimination against women in general and female managers in particular, albeit on a decreasing basis over the years. As shown in a meta-analysis by psychologists Heather Davison and Michael Burke, experiments in which participants evaluated female and male job candidates who were experimentally equated supported the narrower claim of prejudice as a disadvantage for women in relation to male gendertyped positions, which would include most leadership roles. Other studies, such as those by sociologist Martha Foschi, showed that women usually have to meet higher standard to be judged as being competent and possessing leadership ability. In addition, Eagly and Karau’s 1991 meta-analysis demonstrated that it is usually less likely that women emerge as leaders in groups, especially if the group’s task is not particularly demanding of interpersonal skill or is otherwise relatively masculine.

Research also has proved the prediction that women have more obstacles to overcome in becoming successful in leadership roles. Specifically, as demonstrated in a meta-analysis by Alice Eagly, Steven Karau, and social psychologist Mona Makhijani, studies of leaders’ effectiveness, it demonstrated that leaders performed less effectively when the leader role that they occupied was incongruent with their gender role. Women suffered diminished outcomes in roles given especially with masculine definitions, and men suffered somewhat diminished outcomes in roles given with more feminine definitions. As shown in a meta-analysis by Alice Eagly, Mona Makhijani, and social psychologist Bruce Klonsky, more definitive support emerged in an experimental research paradigm that removed possible differences in the leadership behavior of women and men by comparing this behavior. More ultimate support emerged in an experimental research framework that removed possible differences in the leadership behavior of women and men by equating this behavior. In these studies women fared slightly less well than men did. More important, just as in studies on leaders’ effectiveness, women fared less well than men did when leader roles were male dominated and when men served as evaluators.

In synopsis, pressures to female leaders come from two directions: Conforming closely to their gender role would produce a failure to meet the requirements of their leader role, and conforming closely to their leader role would produce a failure to meet the requirements of their gender role. The latter pressure can result in the prejudicial outcome of receiving lesser rewards for appropriate leader behavior than an equivalent man would receive. In this sense, female leaders face more challenges not encountered by male leaders, especially in leadership roles that are defined in relatively masculine terms.

Chapter Summary

In conclusion, the outlook for women’s involvement in leadership in the twenty-first century is promising as more women enter leadership roles in industrialized nations and thereby reduce the difference between people’s beliefs about women and about leaders. Furthermore, organizations gain from giving women equal access to leader roles, not only because evidence shows that women are at least as effective as men, but also because gender equality increases the pool of potential candidates from which leaders are chosen.


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