Thursday, July 21, 2011

#BUSINESS; "Women Leaders Take Heart: Times Are Changing"

More androgynous and transformational views of leadership are opening opportunities for women in management, despite the persistent cultural perception that masculinity is required for strong leadership.

Although strong leadership continues to be perceived as an overtly masculine character trait, progress is being made toward a more androgynous view, especially for middle managers. In addition, a transformational leadership style, which offers mentoring and gender-neutral rewards as incentives, may enable women to sidestep stereotypical prejudice, according to a new study by researchers at Northwestern University.

This new study’s results counter past perceptions. In fact, more than 68 studies on how women are perceived in leadership roles found that overall they are still perceived as poor business leaders due to cultural stereotypes. Women are especially disadvantaged by a double-edged sword. Namely, that they are assumed to be poor leaders unless they prove otherwise by deeds, but that when they do demonstrate strong leadership they are perceived as "masculine" and presumptuous.

Fortunately, times are changing, especially when compared to historical studies from the 1960s when Betty Friedan published her ground-breaking book "The Feminine Mystique," which was one of the first public expressions of how women are discriminated against for leadership roles in the business place.

Even today, however, women are often assumed to be poor leaders--unless they prove themselves with acts of strong leadership. And even though many will perceive them as masculine and presumptuous as a result, adoption of a transformational leadership style including mentoring and the use of gender-neutral rewards as incentives, can often mitigate prejudice and result in managerial advancement.

Middle management, in particular, has become more tolerant of androgynous leadership roles which women often fit well. Qualities, such as assertiveness and competitiveness are still associated with both strong leadership and masculinity, but women who express them are not automatically disadvantaged as was often the case in prior years.

The Northwestern University study found a change in perception. "Cultural stereotypes can make it seem that women do not have what it takes for important leadership roles, thereby adding to the barriers that women encounter in attaining roles that yield substantial power and authority," said Northwestern professor Alice Eagly. Nevertheless, a distinct shift toward more androgynous leadership roles is spreading in different parts of the world and within subcultures here in the United States. For instance, educational institutions often view leadership less as a masculine quality.
In the study, the researchers conducted new meta-analysis using three separate paradigms to provide independent tests on the validity of perceived leadership stereotypes. These paradigms are think-manager/think-male, agency-communion, and the masculinity-femininity spectrum.

Eagly, a faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, performed the meta-analysis with professors Anne Koenig at the University of San Diego, Abigail Mitchell at Nebraska Wesleyan University and Tiini Ristikari at the University of Tampere (Finland).

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