Sex differences in leadership

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Research has been undertaken to examine whether or not there are sex differences in leadership. Until recently, leadership positions have predominantly been held by men and men were therefore stereotyped to be more effective leaders. Women were rarely seen in senior leadership positions leading to a lack of data on how they behave in such positions.[1] However, due to current research and women becoming more prevalent in the workforce over the past two decades, especially in management and leadership positions, these stereotypes are changing and various conclusions about gender effects on leadership are being made. The data from the primary literature on this topic is inconclusive as the two main lines of research contradict one another, the first being that there are small, but nevertheless significant sex differences in leadership and the second being that gender does not have an effect on leadership.

It is difficult to determine which line of research has more validity as there is no conclusive evidence that supports one more than the other. More research needs to be conducted as more women are entering into higher level leadership positions and as better research methodology becomes available.

Studies that find gender differences[edit]

Alice Eagly, a frontrunner in the research on gender differences in leadership, found through multiple studies that differences between men and women are small and that the overlap is considerable. Nevertheless, these small differences have statistical significance in the way men and women are perceived in leadership roles and their effectiveness in such positions, as well as their leadership styles.[2] In early studies, from the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was found that women adopted participative styles of leadership and were more transformational leaders than men who adopted more directive and transactional styles of leadership.[1][2] Women in management positions tended to place more emphasis on communication, cooperation, affiliation, and nurturing than men as well as having more communal qualities.[1] According to these studies, men were seen to be more “agenic” and be more goal and task oriented.

These finding were supported by similar results in more recent studies conducted by Trinidad and Normure in 2005, Yukl in 2002, and a study conducted by Hagberg Consulting Group in 2000. Specifically according to Yukl, women have a “feminine advantage” because they are “more adept at being inclusive, interpersonally sensitive, and nurturing."[3] The study conducted by Hagberg Consulting Group also found women managers to be ranked higher in 42 out of 52 traits and skills measured, including teamwork, stability, motivation, recognizing trends, and acting on new ideas.[4] An explanation, proposed by Eagly and Carli (2007), attributes many of these findings not to average gender differences per se, but to a "selection effect" caused by gender bias and discrimination against women, whereby easier standards for men in attaining leadership positions as well as the fact that men make up the majority of executives results in a higher average of exceptionally skilled women than men in leader roles.[5]

A similar study conducted by the Management Research Group of 17,491 questionnaires found that out of common leadership competency areas surveyed, women were rated higher by their superiors in areas like credibility with management, future potential, insight, sensitivity, and working with diverse people. Men were ranked higher in business aptitude, financial understanding, and strategic planning, which the researchers note are seen to be critical to corporate advancement. No gender differences were found in competencies such as team performance, effective thinking, and willingness to listen and no differences were found in overall effectiveness.[6]

However, many of these studies on gender differences in leadership style rely on leader-only self-report data, which many leadership scholars describe as unreliable at best.[7]

Differences in perception[edit]

When studying perception and effectiveness of men and women in leadership, in multiple studies, Eagly found that men and women are perceived better by subordinates and are seen as more effective leaders when in positions in accordance to traditional gender roles. In a study conducted in 1990, it was found that women “lose authority... if they employ feminine styles of leadership in male-dominated roles."[8] A meta-analysis conducted later yielded similar results in which men and women are both perceived as more effective leaders in stereotypical roles and both are found ineffective in non-traditional roles.[9]

Studies that do not find gender differences in bias[edit]

In contradiction to Eagly’s findings of gender differences in leadership, multiple studies have also claimed that there are no significant differences and that both men and women can and will have differing and similar styles of leadership.

As recent as 2011, Andersen and Hansson conducted a study to determine if there were significant differences in leadership behaviors as claimed by previous studies and authors. Andersen and Hansen studied public managers on leadership styles, decision-making styles, and motivation profiles and found that the only differences were in decision-making styles, but none were great enough to be considered significant.[10]

Additionally, in a 2010 study, men and women leaders in a large German sample were found to be the same with respect to transformational leadership behavior.[11]

Cliff (2005) studied male and female business owners, who are free to manage as they see fit, as opposed to middle managers who are more constrained, and found that no significant differences exist in men and women's leadership behavior. According to the researchers, the findings "challenge the gender-stereotypic argument that a leader's sex plays an important role when it comes to organizational design and management."[12]

These studies correlate with other research cited by Vecchio (2002), Dobbins and Platt (1986), Gibson (1995), and van Engen et al. (2001), who all argue that no significant gender differences in leadership exist.[1][3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d as cited in Andersen, J. A. & Hansson, P. H. (2011). "At the end of the road? On differences between women and men in leadership behavior." Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 32 (5), 428-441.
  2. ^ a b Levy, P. (2010). Industrial organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York: NY: Worth Publishers, p. 372-373
  3. ^ a b Levy, P. (2010). Industrial organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York: NY: Worth Publishers, p. 374
  4. ^ Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2009). Management: A practical introduction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin, p. 443
  5. ^ Eagly, A. & Carli, L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: the truth about how women become leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press., p. 130-131
  6. ^ "The Glass Ceiling Revisited: Gender and Perceptions of Competency (2013)" (PDF). Management Research Group. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Hamori-Ota, V. E. (2007) Gender differences in leadership style: Predictors of level of agreement between leader self-ratings and supervisory ratings, peer ratings, and ratings by direct reports. University of Michigan, pp 288.
  8. ^ Levy, P. (2010). Industrial organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York: NY: Worth Publishers, p. 372
  9. ^ Levy, P. (2010). Industrial organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York: NY: Worth Publishers, p. 373
  10. ^ Andersen, J. A. & Hansson, P. H. (2011). "At the end of the road? On differences between women and men in leadership behavior." Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 32 (5), 428-441.
  11. ^ Kent, T. W. & Schuele, U. (2010). "Gender Differences and Transformational Leadership Behavior: Do Both German Men and Women Lead in the Same Way?." International Journal of Leadership Studies, 6 (1), 52-66.
  12. ^ Cliff, J. E. (2005). "Walking the Talk? Gendered Rhetoric vs. Action in Small Firms". Organization Studies 26: 63–91. doi:10.1177/0170840605046490.  edit

Bibliography[edit]

  • Andersen, J. A. & Hansson, P. H. (2011). "At the end of the road? On differences between women and men in leadership behavior." Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 32 (5), 428-441.
  • Eagly, A. & Carli, L. (2007). Through the labyrinth: the truth about how women become leaders. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press
  • Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2009). Management: A practical introduction (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin
  • Levy, P. (2010). Industrial organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (3rd ed.). New York: NY: Worth Publishers