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(Wo)men in leadership — breaking down the gender stereotypes.


(Wo)men in leadership — breaking down the gender stereotypes.

A lot has been written already on female leadership, and many hypotheses have been formulated to explain why there are (still) so few women leaders. Even today, there is still a striking imbalance between the number of men and women in leadership positions. The University of Antwerp and Hudson have explored this question together and came to a clear conclusion.

Some stereotypes

In days of yore, you might have argued that this simply reflected the fact that more men were working or that more men had a college or university degree. Nowadays, with as many women obtaining a university degree as men, this can no longer be the case. In fact, on average, female graduates obtain higher grades and take less time to graduate.

Some people believe that women should be occupying leadership positions because they believe that women are more cooperative and people-oriented than men and that they bring a different set of competencies to the table. This can lead to the point of view that the best way for women to achieve a leadership position is by adopting a different approach than men and to highlight their uniquely feminine skills.

But do we really want to put women in a leadership position simply because they are women with ‘women like’ competencies? If you think about it, are female leaders so different from their male counterparts?

Not so different after all

The University of Antwerp and Hudson have explored this question. They concluded that men and women in leadership roles have more in common than you might think. The study reveals that women in non-leadership roles scored slightly lower than men on personality traits linked to extraversion, assertiveness and emotional stability. They scored slightly higher on aspects of altruism and conscientiousness.

However, when we look at men and women in leadership positions, these classic differences in personality are much less obvious! Both men and women leaders tend to demonstrate an archetypical ‘leader personality’ focused on assertiveness, high-level strategic thinking, and decisiveness.

Even after several decades with an increasing female presence in the workplace, the same stereotypically masculine traits seem to predict the fact if women will climb the career ladder. As more men than women possess the traits associated with striving for and obtaining leadership, it could be argued that explains, at least for a part, the scarcity of women in management roles. Therefore, helping women develop more stereotypically masculine traits could be one way to enable them to advance to the higher organizational echelons.

The stereotype backlash

One problem with this solution is that many studies have confirmed that women often face a backlash when they display stereotypically masculine traits in the workplace. They run a higher risk of being perceived as bossy, arrogant, cold, “shrill,” or unfeminine. Another study showed that female bosses are judged more harshly than their male counterparts when they are being insensitive or disrespectful. And this also works the other way around: men who display high levels of ‘communal’ traits (such as sensitivity, understanding and warmth) are often evaluated as weak or overly sensitive.

Towards a cultural change

For these reasons we feel that, instead of focusing on changing women to excel in the existing male-dominated hierarchies, organizations can strive to counter gender-related stereotypes and biases. If a cultural change were introduced, people with different personality profiles, including those who display stereotypically ‘feminine’ traits, might attain leadership roles more often.

Read more about this research? Click here.

Julie Warnez - R&D Consultant





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Hudson’s InTALENTgence blog is a qualitative source of HR-knowledge. Read and share interesting stories with insights on current HR issues and trends. Blog posts are written in Dutch, French or English.
 
 

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Hudson has more than 35 years of experience and is the undisputed market leader in the HR consultancy sector. Every day, the Hudson HR experts use all their specialist knowledge regarding the recruitment, interim management, development, coaching or compensation of employees to support our customers so they can achieve their ambitions.

HUDSON

Hudson has more than 35 years of experience and is the undisputed market leader in the HR consultancy sector. Every day, the Hudson HR experts use all their specialist knowledge regarding the recruitment, interim management, development, coaching or compensation of employees to support our customers so they can achieve their ambitions.