Dr. Alford's Research

 Home Page |  Dr. Alford Research Home Page

Women in Leadership

According to Hughes, Ginnet and Curphy (2001), leadership is a “complex phenomenon involving the leader, the followers, and the situation” (p. 28). Until recently, the study of women and leadership was relegated to conflicting topics and in a largely dismissive manner (Flood, 2007; Gordon, 2007; McCartney & Campbell, 2005). Leadership has been addressed in literature as a predominantly male endeavor (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2004), with much debate being focused on gender comparisons as opposed to the impact of gender organizations as whole (Korac-Kakabadse, et al., 1998). Korac-Kakabadse, et al. (1998) argued that women in leadership is a topic that is often addressed from the point of view of sex/role socialization theory, which focuses more on the traits and behaviors of women in leadership than the context of the leadership application. Greenlaw and Kohl (1996) confirmed that women face considerable challenges in attaining leadership positions in the workplace.

Luzadis, Wesoloski, and Snavely (2008) explored the phenomena of gender in organizations and found that “decision makers use different norm expectations as the basis for making decisions involving female and male job candidates” (p. 469). The path to leadership for men and women can be considerably different (Ahuja, 2002; Carter, 2007; Dainty & Lingard, 2006). Dalton and Kesner (1993) argued that the phenomenon of “glass and concrete ceilings highlight the challenges and blockages which women experience in pursuing promotion and being professionally and upwardly mobile” (Korac-Kakabadse, et al., 1998, p. 382). Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt (2001) stated that “from the start, gender influences perceptions formed about men and women in leadership positions despite actual behaviors” (p. 171). Alvesson and Due Billing (2009) purported that support for gender equality in organizations is high by males when the leader is a woman far removed from the individuals’ daily work life. However, Alvesson and Due Billing (2009) argued that male attitudes turn negative when the female leader becomes a direct manager of the male.

Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt (2001) explored gender perceptions in leadership within organizations and developed classifications of leadership as communal and agentic. Agentic behaviors are typically associated with men because of their masculine and assertive characteristics and communal behaviors are generally associated with women as a result of their nurturing characteristics (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001). Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt (2001) wrote that early research suggested that men have natural leadership qualities and women must develop skills in leadership. Young and Hurlic (2007) stated that with the stereotype of men being natural leaders, women run the risk of entering an organization with a negative perception before they attain or are considered for a leadership position (Young & Hurlic, 2007).

Olsson (2001) wrote that the underlying theme in gender-related research on organizations is the under-representation of women at the highest-level positions. Women are evaluated less favorably than males in performance reviews and the actions of females are subjected to greater scrutiny than males (Olsson, 2001). Miller and Karakowsky (2005) explored the contrasting perceptions of leadership capability of men and women by organizational leaders, finding that both males and females adjust their “feedback-seeking” behavior based on the make-up of the reviewing audience. Miller and Karakowsky (2005) examined the agentic and communal impact of influence strategies used with managers. The study confirmed that men that used communal strategies and women that utilized agentic strategies received less positive outcomes than those that adhered to tradition societal expectations of gender behavior (Miller & Karakowsky, 2005). Olsson (2001) suggested that women also contribute to the stereotype by frequently comparing themselves to other women. Olsson (2001) suggested that this phenomena results in a lowering of their expectations for rewards, thus contributing to their lack of attainment of leadership roles in their respective organizations.

Fitzpatrick (1996) argued that women are socialized into values representing concern for others, whereas men have values contrary to concern for others. Bernardi and Guptill (2008) examined the relationship between gender and social desirability. The authors found that women frequently over-report favorable behavior on surveys when asked questions about available resources, fairness at work, care and concern, employee trust, and company reputation (Bernardi & Guptill, 2008). The authors stated that this suggests that women are more conscious of the impact of a negative rating and tend to compensate by scoring themselves higher as a group than men. Cohen and Martinov-Bennie (2006) stated that it is possible that women provide more favorable personal responses as a group because of what they perceive as social consensus and a low level of consequence for a misleading answer.

Eagly and Karau (1991) explored male and female leadership in groups and found that women are more social leaders than males, who are more task oriented. Rodan and Galunic (2002) suggested that organizations will benefit from a diverse social network. A strong social network will also help a leader in the execution and implementation of tasks (Rodan & Galunic, 2002). On the other hand, the absence of a strong social network negatively impacts minority groups seeking support of their projects (Ibarra, 1995).

Rozier and Hersh-Cochran (1996) argued that the career attainment levels of women are related to their attitudes. The authors reported that men and women differ in their drive to pursue higher ranked positions, resulting in men securing higher level positions than women (Rozier & Hersh-Cochran, 1996). Ibarra (1995) argued that social network bonds are strengthened when an affinity exists between those in the network. Lincoln and Miller (1979) posited that intimate and informal networks are generally shared by those that have commonalities in race, gender or status. Homophily, as this phenomenon is known, results in a smaller proportion of intimate network bonds for women when compared to males (Ibarra, 1995). Ibarra (1995) reported that minority managers do not have effective networks because “they are less politically savvy” (p. 677) in the ways of the organization. According to Hekman, Aquino, Owens, Mitchell, Schilpzand, and Leavitt (2010), women are minorities in comparison to “high status” (p. 240) groups of whites and males. In order to achieve success in their aspiration to attain leadership roles, women must adopt the norms of the dominant group in the organization (Dainty & Lingard, 2006; Donleavy, 2008; Nicholson, et al., 2007) because the majority group has more access to power and influence in the organization (Ibarra, 1995; Hekman, Aquino, Owens, Mitchell, Schilpzand, & Leavitt, 2010).

According to Luthans and Peterson (2002), self-efficacy is “an individual’s beliefs about his or her abilities to mobilize cognitive resources and courses of action to successfully execute a specific task” (p. 379). Schermerhorn, et al. (2000) stated that self-efficacy is an individual’s perception of his or her ability to successfully perform a task. Schermerhorn, et al. (2000) suggested that individuals with self-efficacy believe they have the ability and opportunity to perform a particular task. Self-efficacy has been linked to work performance and is a major part of behavior, training and performance (Eylon & Bamberger, 2000). Although the work environment is generally beyond the control of the individual, those with high self-efficacy believe they have control over what it takes to successfully perform the task (Luthans & Peterson, 2002). Luthans and Peterson (2002) stated that positive self-efficacy results in improved attitudes towards work performance. Young and Hurlic (2007) argued that evidence exists that self-efficacy is a combination of an individual’s personal belief and how the individual feels others perceive them. According to Young and Hurlic (2007), “stereotypes and expectations are formed about the work-related behavior of men and women” (p. 171). Women frequently “act in ways incongruent with those expectations” (p. 171), which frequently results in negative consequences associated with perceptions of leadership capability and performance.

Blakely, Andrews, and Fuller (2003) argued that self-monitoring, or self-awareness, is another phenomena that has implications on job satisfaction, stress and organizational behaviors. Individuals with the ability to self-monitor readily identify external cues and adjust their behavior accordingly (Schermerhorn, et al., 2000). Different from self-efficacy, individuals with high self-awareness can quickly assess a situation and adjust their behavior to provide the appropriate response (Blakely, Andrews, & Fuller, 2003). Young and Hurlic (2007) suggested that gender-related behavior is a consideration for individuals with high self-awareness. Young and Hurlic (2007) argued that gender orientation plays a great role in the hiring and promotional activities of organizations. Heilman, Block, and Martell (1995) investigated the stereotype that women are less competent than men. The authors found that the descriptions used to explain decisions to not promote or hire a female candidate include words like independence, competence and rationality, all of which are masculine terms (Heilman, Block, & Martell, 1995).

Mainiero (1994) argued that the key difference between women that achieve top leadership positions and those that do not is political skill. Luthans (1988) differentiated between leadership attainment and success. The author stated that women that are both successful and effective in organizations are so because they have a combination of communication, networking, management and functional skills (Luthans, 1988). Women leaders obtain political skills as a result of their progression and maturity throughout the process of obtaining a leadership role (Mainiero, 1994). This thought is contrary to early stereotypes that describe women as having no interest in power and, if obtained, the reluctance of women to use power (Flood, 2007). Flood (2007) argued that recent advances into leadership roles by women are evidence that “the stereotype of women and leadership is gradually transforming” (p. 21). Ridgeway (2001) stated that women must take seriously the importance of hierarchical status because women of lower status positions are not seen as legitimate.

Women differ from men in both their values and their influence strategies (Fitzpatrick, 1996). Fitzpatrick (1996) stated that young women are conditioned to imitate femininity and young men are taught to avoid the construct. These two conflicting views impact male and female relationships, cultural interactions and leadership aspirations (Rozier & Hersh-Cochran, 1996). Women “tend to be relational, collaborative and intuitive; their actions lead women to empower, while men open prefer to maintain their power” (Fitzpatrick, 1996, p. 23).

A review of the literature (Flood, 2007; Hays, 1999; Rodan & Galunic, 2002) found that women prefer transformational and collaborative approaches to leadership. Hays (1999) statesd that collaborative leadership approaches favor shared vision and systems thinking, which are leadership styles that are natural for women (Flood, 2007; Rodan & Galunic, 2002). However, Thomas, Bierema, and Landau (2004) argued that the career development of women is different from men and requires additional support for women to achieve comparable levels of success. Flood (2007) argued that little institutional support has been provided to women to develop skills that will place them on a path for high visibility leadership roles in an organization. Boaden (2006) argued that leadership development training is necessary for women and it makes a difference in personal development and management preparedness.

Vinnicombe and Singh (2003) studied six female and six male directors at a leading telecommunications company in the United Kingdom. The authors found that although both men and women face the same barriers to career advancement, men have a distinct advantage over women as a result of challenges women face with work/life balance (Vinniecombe & Singh, 2003). Vinniecombe and Singh (2003) argued that the careers of women are frequently “interrupted by pregnancy, child care, and periods of reduced availability” (p. 326). Vinnecombe and Singh (2003) found that each of the six women not only had mentors, but attributed mentoring as the key to their success.

Literature Reviewed

Site Call to Action