Women, Men and Leadership: Different Styles or Preferences Based on Stereotypes?

Is there a true need or preference for more women in leadership positions? Does labeling certain characteristics “feminine” inhibit or enable women seeking those leadership positions?
 
In a recent Forbes article Dorie Clark asks, “Do Male Leaders Need to Think More like Women?” The question comes from the new book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the World, in which 64,000 people surveyed in 13 countries indicated that “masculine” leadership was going out of favor. Likewise,  66% agreed the world would be better if men were more like women. 
 
Study respondents showed a strong preference for selflessness, empathy, and loyalty in their leaders, which respondents deemed “feminine values.” Considering the large gender gaps at the top levels of leadership across sectors, is there an unconscious yearn for “feminine” leadership or women leaders?
 
In another bit of research, Jack Zenger and Jospeh Folkman explore differences in men’s and women’s leadership styles as perceived by their peers, bosses, direct reports, and other colleagues. The 2011 survey rated the leaders on overall effectiveness and strength in 16 leadership competencies. While the survey confirmed that large gender gaps exist at top leadership levels and certain stereotypes, women were rated as more effective at overall leadership at all levels of leadership.
 
 
Yet, at the same time, a recent New York Times article, “The Tangle of the Sexes,” addresses current research that found little evidence that women and men are fundamentally different. Instead, their preferences and traits were plotted along a continuum. Analyzing 122 attributes in more than 13,000 individuals, men and women overlapped, even in stereotypical traits like assertiveness and valuing close relationships. 
 

If men and women are so similar, is there a real difference in the leadership styles, or are preferences for men or women based on stereotypes others hold? 

 


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