Culture’s Effect on Gender and Leadership
*This coming Monday, September 12th, I will guest moderating the Twitter chat, #UsGuysChat during which we will discuss culture, gender and leadership. The #UsGuysChat will start at 3pm ET/12pm PT/8pm BST. I hope you can join us and add your perspective to this conversation. This is part 2 of a discussion started in “Does Gender Matter In Business Leadership?”
If culture had nothing to do with gender and leadership, Lois Frankel wouldn’t have a job. Ms. Frankel is the author of the Nice Girls Don’t Get…” series. Whether you agree or not with her recommendations about how women should act in the workplace, she highlights the cultural/gender tension embedded in the workplace. Let’s be very clear…there are expectations about men and women that are set in social norms exhibited in the workplace. In a recent meta-analysis from Northwestern University, it was noted that leadership is less tied to masculine qualities now but still women face two perceptual obstacles.
- There is a prejudice that they are less able than their male leader counterparts.
- The personality characteristics of leadership are masculine and therefore inappropriate for women to exhibit.
Alice Eagly is quoted in this article about the study as saying, “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.” Given all this, it can be challenging to find an authentic leadership style and make gender as unimportant as the color of our hair.
You may be harboring stereotypes learned in childhood
Take a moment to consider your childhood years. Where did you grow up? What did you do during your playtime? What were you “allowed” to do? How were you parented? While the messages are less delineated now than say 30 years ago, girls and boys are acculturated to accept stereotypes as facts. If you aren’t sure about this observation, try arguing with a 4 year old about how girls can have short hair and still be girls. Have you ever noticed which toys are designed for boys or girls? Notice which ones are active versus passive. What colors are used to decorate the toys? How are movies marketed to boys or girls? It’s even possible that your national educational system may be more geared to favor one gender over another.
This stuff seeps into our belief system and stays there until we flush it out.
As C.S. King has noted in her research, “…sex roles and gendered roles are institutionalized as a part of a culture and reflect important aspects of the culture itself.” If you come from a society with clearly defined roles for men and women, you may have to accept or reject which behaviors fit your leadership style. Indeed, not paying attention to where you come from could be a blind spot.
And yet, are things changing?
Just this week was the news about Carol Bartz and how she was fired by Yahoo. This is a woman who doesn’t mince words at all. Although there are some people writing about how she is a powerful female leader, there is far more commentary on her job title, her performance at Yahoo and how she revealed the process of being fired. In reading the comments on various posts, there are themes about how she is admired and bitterness that resulted from some of her decisions at Yahoo. There are very few comments about her gender.
It’s interesting to note that there is far more explicit research on women, culture and leadership than there is about men. There are some that would say that this is because men are considered the default for most of what we know about culture and leadership. Given the changes exhibited by both genders across the globe, this may be in flux.
To encourage more thought and discussion, consider these questions:
- How can we support each person to become an authentic leader and fit in an organization?
- What are real examples of women hitting obstacles because of patterns they adopted or organizational expectations?
- If women perceive “male” behaviors reflect poorly on them, how should they respond?
- Are there times to openly recognize gender style differences?
- Conversely, are there times to ignore gender style differences?
- Does Carol Bartz’s famous strident style exemplify ideal leadership? Is it different because of gender?
Please consider yourself invited to join in this conversation on the Twitter chat, #UsGuysChat on Monday, September 12th at 3pm ET/12pm PT/8pm BST. We’d love to have you share your thoughts on this topic.