Masculine models of leadership prevail

A new report by Northwestern University, Chicago, shows that both men and women still see women as being less qualified or less “natural” in leadership roles.

According to the university’s meta-analysis – an integration of a number of studies on the same issue, published this month in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin – women may also be seen to be presumptuous or acting inappropriately when they adopt culturally masculine behaviour that is expected or required for such roles.

It is rather depressing to find that reactions to female leaders remain so entrenched in gender stereotyping. Previous research studies have found that behaviour such as being nice or compassionate is associated with women, while dynamic qualities such as being assertive or competitive are associated with men. It is these latter qualities that both men and women associate with successful leadership – therefore, men are believed to make more natural leaders.

Alice Eagly, professor of psychology at Northwestern University and co-author of the study, told Science Daily, the US-based online research news aggregator: “Cultural stereotypes can make it seem that women do not have what it takes for important leadership roles, thereby adding to the barriers that women encounter in attaining roles that yield substantial power and authority.”

But is the problem more about what it takes to be a great leader in the first place?

A few years back, for a Pew Research Center study titled Men or Women: Who’s the Better Leader?, 2,250 adults were surveyed about the traits they considered most important to leadership. For five out of the top eight traits – honesty, intelligence, compassion, outgoingness and creativity – women were rated higher than men. Only for “decisiveness” did men score higher than women, and the genders were tied for “hard-working” and “ambitious”.

The good news, for both genders, is that the leadership analyses indicate a shift towards a more androgynous model of good leadership. A less restrictive model benefits everyone, as it ensures that the broadest possible range of talents and management styles are brought into the C-suite.

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