Leadership, Gender and Diversity

Study Unit Aims

• Introduce and understand key issues on gender and leadership

• Introduce and understand key issues on diversity and leadership

Research on Gender Difference

• One of the most popular questions of the 20th century in relation to gender and leadership has been: Does gender have any relationship to leadership style/ effectiveness?

• Research into this question has explored both male vs. female and masculine vs. feminine differences

• Though not strong or consistent, some findings have shown some gender differences:

– Some suggest women lead in a more democratic/ participative manner than men (Eagly and Johnson, 1990)

– Some suggest women can be devalued compared with men when leading in a masculine way e.g. autocratic/ directive (Eagly et al., 1992)

– Some suggest women are more transformational than men and tend to engage in more contingent reward behaviours than men…all aspects that predict effectiveness (Eagly and Carli, 2003)

Research on Gender Differences

• Male leaders judged on assertiveness and action-orientation, female leaders judged on their ability to create and maintain positive interpersonal relationships (Peters and Kabacoff, 2002)

• Common stereotype of women – communion – (affectionate, sympathetic, warm, sensitive, emotional etc.) (Sczesny, 2005; Sczesny and Bosak, 2007)

• Common stereotype of men – agency – (dominant, active, self-confident, aggressive, rational etc.) (Sczesny, 2005; Sczesny and Bosak, 2007)

• Traditional stereotypes about leaders are predominantly masculine in their emphasis (Eagly and Sczesny, 2009)

• Think Manager – Think Male! (Collinson and Hearn, 1996; Schein, 2001), sometimes expressed as the stereotypical leader (e.g. Sczesny and Bosak, 2007)

A Feminine Advantage?

• More recent research would suggest that in leadership roles women have become indistinguishable from men on agentic qualities but exceed men on communal qualities (Carli and Eagly, 2011; Vecchio, 2003)

• Transformational leadership appears to be generally aligned with communal than agentic qualities (Carli and Eagly, 2011)

• For example, women display more Transformational Leadership and less Transactional Leadership than men (Bass, Avolio and Atwater, 1996; Eagly et al., 2003))

• Transformational Leadership = Leadership

• Transactional Leadership = Management

Laissez-faire Leadership = Non-leadership

• Think Leader – Think Female!

Structural Power: Glass Ceiling

An invisible barrier that hinders women and other minorities from reaching elite leadership positions despite their qualification

• Although more women are now in managerial positions, there is still an absence of women in higher positions, a continued pay gap and still fewer opportunities for women to enter social networks (Hoyt, 2007; Carli & Eagly, 2011)

• The glass ceiling also affects other nondominant groups, e.g. non-white, non-middle class, non-heterosexual etc.

• Reasons for the persistence of the glass ceiling: human capital differences, gender differences and prejudice (Hoyt, 2007)

Exploring the Glass Ceiling

• Human Capital Differences: relatively lower level of education, training and work experience of women compared to men

– A key issues is the culturally, socially and legally ingrained notion of child bearing and rearing responsibilities

– Women seem to naturally take more time out of work, seek less full-time employment, drop out of employment more often and find re-entry into employment more difficult than men in many countries

– Yet, numbers of female graduates are rising in many countries and so is the active choice of women not to have children

• Gender difference and prejudice:

– Women’s weaker access to key informal mentoring relationships and general development opportunities

– Women tend to be stronger represented in organisational roles and departments that do not naturally lead to top leadership positions

– Bowles and McGinn (2005) show a relative hesitance by many women to identify themselves and promote themselves as leaders

Glass Cliff

•Haslam and Ryan (2008) have explored a different problem for women in top hierarchical positions – the glass cliff

– Female leaders get promoted to elite positions in time of crisis and are subsequently associated with existing organisational failures out of their control that then impact their careers negatively

• Ford (2010) further highlights the historically masculine definition of what is deemed to be effective leadership

Gendered construction of leadership

• Dominant ideal images of leaders continue to be male and masculine  due to underlying (cultural) assumptions about “appropriate” forms of leadership

• Organisations historically created largely by men: work practices, rewards systems, structures, power relations and norms tend to reflect masculine values

• Women numerically under-represented in senior management

• Many early leadership theories based on research conducted with male western managers

Think Point

• What do we make of this…. A common view?

Representations of Female Leadership…

Persistence of the masculine leadership discourse (Ford, 2010)

“Connotations of leadership in the literature frequently take the form of the masculine competitive, aggressive, controlling and self-reliant individualist and thus the question as to whether leader ship is critical in our organizations may hinge on whether we perceive a need to continue to support notions of aggressive, manipulative, logical masculine practices. The whole notion of leader ship is arguably constructed through a leader–follower pairing, with the followers being the (sub – ordinated) other to the leader’s (dominant) position, which implies that followers are placed in a feminized position.’”(Ford, 2010, p. 49)

Critical views on gender research

• Billing and Alvesson (2000) have critically reviewed the suggestions of a feminine advantage

• They argue that constructing leadership as feminine may create a misleading impression of women’s orientation to leadership and reproduce stereotypes and traditional gender division of labour

• They also criticise gender studies for taking a too simplistic view and argue that we need to recognise the constantly changing and culturally constructed nature of what is feminine and masculine and how this is linked to biological notions of gender


A problem to be resolved remains: how do we define gender or are our attempts to define gender perpetuating stereotypes rather than getting rid of them?

Diversity beyond gender (Yukl, 2010)

• Forms of diversity:

– Race, ethnic identity, age, gender, education, socioeconomic level, sexual orientation

• Greater diversity may bring:

– More diverse perspectives

– Greater creativity

• Yet diversity may also lead to greater distrust and greater conflict due to weaker shared social identity and values

Diversity and Leadership

• Fostering appreciation and tolerance (Yukl, 2010)

–Diversity training programmes raising self-awareness of stereotypes and educate on cultural differences

–Structural mechanisms for gender and diversity, e.g. appraisal criteria, advisory committees, hotlines etc.

• Critical Views:

–Diversity agendas dominated by organisational HR strategy (quota systems) and pure lip service – reinforcing stereotypes?

–Dominant leader image excludes non-white, non-male, non-middle-class, non-heterosexual etc. (Collinson, 2011)


• Bass, B.M., Avolio, B.J., and Atwater, L. (1996). The transformational and transactional leadership of men and women. International Review of Applied Psychology, 45, 5-34.

• Billing, Y. and Alvesson, M. (2000) Questioning the notion of feminine leadership: a critical perspective on the gender labelling of leadership. Gender, Work and Organization, 7(3): 144-157.

• Carly, L.L. and Eagly, A.H. (2011) Gender and Leadership. In A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson and M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Leadership. London: Sage, 103-117.

• Collinson, D., & Hearn, J. (Eds.). Men as Managers, Managers as Men. London: Sage.

• Eagly, A. H. and Johnson, B. T. (1990) Gender and Leadership Style: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 108 (2), pp.233 – 256

• Eagly, A. H.  And Carli, L. L. (2003) The female leadership advantage: an evaluation of the evidence. Leadership Quarterly, 14, pp.807 – 834

• Eagly, A.H., and Sczesny, S. (2009). Stereotypes about women, men and leaders: Have times chaged? In M. Barreto, M. Ryan and M. Schmitt (Eds.) Barriers to Diversity: The Glass Ceiling After 20 Years. Washington, DC: APA Books.

• Ford, J. (2010) Studying leadership critically: A psychosocial lens on leadership identities. Leadership, Vol. 6(1), pp. 47-65

• Haslam, S.A. and Ryan, M. (2008) The road to the glass cliff: differences in the perceived suitability of men and women for leadership positions in succeeding and failing organizations. The Leadership Quarterly, 19: 530-546.

• Peters, H & Kabacoff, R. (2002). Leadership and gender: a new look at the glass ceiling. MRG Research Report, Management Research Group, Portland ME.

• Schein, V.E. (2001). A global look at psychological barriers to women’s progress in management. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 675-688.

• Sczesny, S. (2005). Gender stereotypes and implicit leadership theories. In B. Schyns and J. R. Meindl (Eds.). Implicit Leadership Theories: Essays and Explorations. IAP, pp159-172.