• Wednesday, December 06, 2023
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BusinessDay

The leadership style that breaks the bias

How to facilitate leadership succession in your organisation

The invisible bias that prevents women from reaching the upper echelons of leadership have been referred to as the “glass ceiling,” a metaphor that continues to resonate among women more than 30 years after the term was coined.

Research consistently shows that female leaders and aspiring leaders often face challenges that men do not, particularly in domains historically dominated by men. One of the most well-documented challenges to women’s upward mobility in these areas is the persistence and pervasiveness of stereotypes that portray women as not having “what it takes” to be good leaders.

People’s beliefs about the characteristics of men and women tend to be organised along two general dimensions: agency and communion. Agency comprises attributes such as achievement orientation (e.g., able, successful), assertiveness (e.g., dominant, forceful), and autonomy (e.g., independent, self-reliant). In contrast, communality denotes consideration for others (e.g., caring, helpful), affiliation with others (e.g., sociable, likeable), and emotional sensitivity (e.g., tender, sensitive).

…a large body of evidence demonstrates that exposure to individuals who strongly defy their group’s stereotypes can lead to a revision of people’s stereotypes about that group

These dimensions constitute the core content of gender stereotypes, which depict men as agentic and women as communal. Despite the many successes that women have made over the previous decades, women continue to be seen as more communal and less agentic than men.

However, a large body of evidence demonstrates that exposure to individuals who strongly defy their group’s stereotypes can lead to a revision of people’s stereotypes about that group. For example, positive interactions with an individual from a negatively stereotyped group have decreased prejudice toward the group as a whole. Similarly, observing someone succeed in a counter-stereotypical domain can dampen perceivers’ stereotypes and attenuate negative attitudes toward the group.

So, due to greater women’s involvement in workplaces, the study of gender differences has become of great interest and importance to researchers. It is believed that “gender consists of much more than socio-demographic gender. It is a multidimensional and multilevel phenomenon with many aspects, including intra-psychic perspectives such as gender schemas and stereotypes; gender-role identity and gender-role traits, attitudes, and values.” The gender stereotypes, based on past roles, often lead to a considerable bias against women and present a major problem for those trying to function as leaders in organisations.

Stereotypes have their effects on behaviour. We expect women to be more submissive, so we have trouble taking orders from women, no matter what they are like individually. Women leaders themselves are in conflict when facing divergence in what is expected from them in their roles as managers and in their roles as females, but do these stereotypes reflect reality?

Experts describe a culture dimension labelled Masculinity versus Femininity. Here, masculinity implies principal values in a society that stress assertiveness and being tough, the possession of money and material objects, and not caring for others, the quality of life or people. In feminine cultures, values such as affectionate social relationships, quality of life, and care of the weak are emphasised. All these dimensions are explicitly linked to gender differences.

Hence, research has shown that successful managers are stereotypically viewed as more similar to men than women on characteristics considered critical to effective work performance, such as leadership ability, self-confidence, objectiveness, assertiveness, and forcefulness. Again, higher standards are likely imposed on women to accomplish leadership roles and perhaps maintain them.

High societal masculinity characterises societies where men are expected to be self-assured and tough, while women are expected to be modest and affectionate. In contrast, low masculinity (or high femininity) distinguishes the societies where both men and women are expected to be modest and affectionate. Achievement motivation and an acceptance of “machismo style” management are greater in societies high on masculinity than in those low on masculinity.

Read also: How strategic is your leadership?

Thus, the masculine and feminine cultures create different leader hero types. The heroic manager in masculine cultures is influential, self-assured, and aggressive. In feminine cultures, the “hero” is less noticeable, seeks consensus, and is spontaneous and cooperative rather than tough and influential.

Also, women usually tend to exhibit a social-emotional or relational orientation in interactions with others, whereas men tend to exhibit a more independent and unemotional orientation.

Since leadership is all about influencing people to get the work done through inspiration rather than using coercive powers and authority, women’s leadership style and influence are consistent with the transformational leadership style. In contrast, men’s leadership style is compatible with the transactional leadership style, where men use power and authority themselves. In comparison, women tend to share power and are supportive and encouraging. Thus, this article focuses on the fact that the transformational leadership paradigm is a natural inclination for women because it is premised on the relationship of leaders with their followers rather than the authority element.

In most organisational situations, transformational leadership styles are remarkably effective. And there is a tendency for women to have a more transformational style than men could be a sign of the selection of women who have met the higher standard that is obligatory on women.

Such women may also exhibit more effective contingent reward transactional behaviours and fewer ineffective transactional behaviours (i.e., passive management by exception) and laissez-faire behaviours.

In addition, consistent with the assumption of a double standard, women who manifested these ineffective styles and thus performed inadequately may be deselected from leadership more quickly than their male counterparts.

Hence, the proposition is proven accordingly that leadership styles vary due to gender differences and differently affect organisational and employee performance.