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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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.