Gender and Leadership
No matter which industry a woman finds herself in, she is burdened with an onus to defy gender stereotypes, especially if she is in a leadership position. According to a meta-analysis of organizational studies, women perform as well as men but obtain fewer promotions and less income, especially in prestigious and male dominated positions (1). This result begs the query: where does the gender parity arise?
For the past few decades, studies have revealed that men are more inclined towards certain characteristics, such as risk-taking (2). Nevertheless, upon evaluation of leadership styles and consideration of only 'essential traits', similar-sized majorities believe that such attributes are equally true of men and women. Across most industries, it is evident that there is no singular ideal "leadership prototype"; however, both men and women believe that outstanding leadership entails the rejection of autonomous decision-making. According to Pew Research Center, of the 57% of respondents who believe that men and women have different leadership styles, 61% of them think neither approach is better (3).
The political realm is one where women are vastly underrepresented compared to their share of the population. A 2014 study has found that the disproportionate gender representation in elected offices is not due to public distrust, as 75% of Americans say that men and women are equally good political leaders. The disparity arises when gender and partisanship are considered in conjunction: 27% of Republican men believe that men make better leaders than women, while only 11% of Democratic men hold that contention (3).
There is no unequivocal answer as to which leadership style is best for a woman to effectively lead. In the book, "The Nature of Leadership," the author maintains, "Gender roles cause people to expect and prefer women to be communal, creating a double bind for female leaders, who must demonstrate exceptional competence to be seen as equal in ability to men and must also avoid threatening other with dominance and lack of warmth. (1)" This phenomenon is evident from adolescence: girls who demonstrate assertiveness and other stereotypical "masculine" characteristics are seen as "bossy".
Anyone who has ever been in a leadership position can attest to the importance of how they are perceived by their team members. An effective leader needs to rely on the respect and cooperation of those working under them. Consequently, negative stereotypes can be deleterious to the success rate of a team project where the leader is subject to biased scrutiny. In light of the fact that the competency of women in leadership is on par or exceeds that of their male counterparts, it is paramount that industries foster a culture that is conducive of diverse leadership prototypes to make space for nonconformist leaders.
(1) Antonakis, John, and David V. Day. The Nature of Leadership. SAGE Publications, Inc., 2018.
(2) Sundheim, Doug. “Do Women Take as Many Risks as Men?” Harvard Business Review, 7 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2013/02/do-women-take-as-many-risks-as.
(3) “What Makes a Good Leader, and Does Gender Matter?” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, 30 May 2020, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/01/14/chapter-2-what-makes-a-good-leader-and-does-gender-matter/.
About the Author: Alyaa Elkhafif is a mechanical
engineering major at Stevens Institute of Technology.
Her interest in STEM is coupled with a passion for
politics and social issues. As such, she hopes that her
internship with EWAAB will provide her with the
resources to help other women succeed in both higher
education and the professional world. In the future,
Alyaa aspires to work in the sustainable energy sector. As of right now, she is pursuing
a minor in social science and serving as the president of College Democrats at Stevens.