Obviously, both men and women can be leaders. That being said, most people in leadership positions are men. It has been found that certain stereotypes have created issues for women to move up into managerial roles. Being a manager isn’t something that is necessarily “masculine”, but being a manager is typically connected to a number of stereotypically masculine characteristics. This can be seen in Parks and Recreation with Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope.
As noted, a few preconceived notions regarding women and their leadership styles exist. Eagly et al. (1992) discuss that “women leaders tend to use participative styles (of leadership), while men use autocratic styles”. This can absolutely be seen when comparing Ron Swanson and Leslie. Ron Swanson, in a managerial role, simply tells people what they will do and how they will do it. Leslie, working underneath Ron, works in a democratic style in which she does her best to involve the entire team in major decision making processes. That being said, when a woman leads in a “masculine” autocratic style, they are seen negatively. Leslie typically doesn’t venture into the realm of autocratic.
Another study by Eagly, Karau, and Makhijani (1995) shows that females and males do not actually differ in effectiveness as leaders, which should go without saying. That being said, women with “masculine styles” are seen as being less effective leaders as compared to women who lead in feminine manners. In addition, women using these feminine styles are seen less effective than men. Therefore, it is Catch-22 to be a woman in this situation as a leader, in which you are seen as less effective than men regardless of actual effectiveness. Leslie is seen as less effective than Ron in some situations, in which people fear Ron and his leadership, regardless of if Leslie is (arguably) actually more effective in her leadership.
Essentially, if a woman is to act in a masculine manner, they are seen in a negative light due to the fact that they’re not conforming to gender roles. Though if a woman is too feminine in her leadership, she is not seen as effective. Hughes, Ginnet, and Curphy (2002) discuss that women are expected to be tough, but not “macho”. Leslie is remarkably tough, and this is actually noted by Ron in a few episodes. They must also be ambition, “but know they will not receive equal treatment”. Leslie works without expectations of recognition, and puts the good of society before herself. That shouldn’t be something that is necessary, and Leslie should get the recognition that she deserves as a great leader.
There are a few theories of why women (like Leslie) don’t reach managerial positions. Ragins, Townsend, and Mattis (1998) discuss that women lack the management experience. This holds the most weight in terms of the theories, but isn’t realistic in this situation. Leslie has significant managerial experience (about as much as Ron). Another theory is that women lack the self confidence necessary, though there is little evidence to support this.
Leslie Knope, working in a government position, may experience the fact that there is a general preference for men in certain managerial positions. Though Ron is also a strong leader, Leslie deserves more recognition in her position than she received. Perhaps she’s simply happy where she is, though moving upwards in a government sector would prove to be incredibly difficult for a woman.
Eagly, A, Karau, S., & Makhijani, M. (1995). Gender and the effectiveness of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 3-22.
Eagly, A., Makhijani, M., & Klonsky, B. (1992). Gender and the evaluation of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 125-145.
Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485, Lesson 13: Leadership and Diversity. Retrieved from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1975088/modules/items/25786919.
Ragins, B., Townsend, B., & Mattis, M. (1998). Gender gap in the executive suite: CEOs and female executives report on breaking the glass ceiling. Academy of Management Executive, 12(1), 28-42.