As society attempts to adapt to the ever-changing perspectives of tolerance that we Americans have increasingly become aware of, it’s no surprise that there has been some resistance along the way. Whether it be expressed needs of diversity, political correctness regarding race, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs (or lack thereof) etc., we’ve encountered biases of the ‘old way of thinking’ that has prevented progressive developments of acceptance and tolerance the times are calling for. One particular area is gender-roles. In society, in the home, and in the workplace, gender-roles and societal expectations of these roles are changing and regardless of how far we might have come to implement changes, the biases of the ‘old days’ still remain.
Northouse (2016) notes that role congruity theory creates standards that favor men with specific manly traits required for fulfillment of successful leadership within the workplace. As a result, women and the traditional traits they are brought up to display such as warmth, friendliness, agreeableness, and expressive behavior (Moss, 2016), tend to create a double-edged sword for women in leadership or in addition, create a barrier to those who wish to be in leadership roles (Northouse, 2016). Traditional perspectives of leadership see masculine traits such as assertiveness and authoritativeness (just two of many masculine traits associated with traditional perspectives of leadership) as more appropriate for leadership roles (Northouse, 2016). Yet, when women display the traditional, masculine traits of leadership, they’re perceived as being less efficient and judged as not behaving in a femininely enough way (Northouse, 2016). So how can we overcome these more traditional, older lines of thought and bias to allow women to find equality and step into leadership roles if they so desire?
Northouse (2016) noted a few paths to change, one being for men in leadership to learn to overcome their biases and their tendency to “succumb to homosocial reproduction,” meaning they need to overcome their desire to choose their replacements in leadership roles to be other men with the same lines of thought and beliefs as well as traits, behaviors, and even looks (pp.405-406). To help them overcome these biases, women can attempt to battle the double-edged sword by combining their “communal qualities such as warmth and friendliness with agentic qualities such as exceptional competence and assertiveness” (Carli, 2001; Rudman & Glick, 2001; as cited in Northouse, 2016, p.408). Northouse (2016) suggests that recent research has suggested that by doing so, women have helped shift leadership from the traditional perception of it needing masculine traits and behaviors to more androgynous, gender-fluid traits and behaviors.
Other ways these biases related to gender in leadership can be addressed are by increasing tolerance–seeing leaders as human rather than specifically of one gender or another, each “as deserving of respect and consideration as [the] other;” implementing policies and values, mission and vision statements that encourage dismissing the thoughts and beliefs that gender differentiates effectivity and ability to perform; and to remove the fallacy of gender wars and limited resources between genders, “[deconstructing] the narrative of limited good, or the idea that in order for women to gain ground, men must lose out” (Dzubinski & Diehl, 2018, p.59). Both men and women have the tendency as human beings to display both feminine and masculine traits and qualities within one single individual. We need to encourage the coming generations of leaders to embrace each other, learning to accept our differences as assets which contribute to a more diverse and collectively solid workforce capable of putting our differences aside and striving for greatness. We need to turn our focus towards greater successes as a team, transforming what has divided us in the past into successes for the future. We all have our differences, for once, let’s use them to our benefit and change our world as we know it.
Carli, L.L. (2001). Gender and social influence. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 724-741. As cited in Northouse, P.G. (2016).
Dzubinski, L.M., & Diehl, A.B. (2018). The problem of gender essentialism and its implications for women in leadership. Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 12 (1), 56-61. Accessed November 19, 2018, from https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/doi/full/10.1002/jls.21565
Moss, S. (2016). Social role theory. Sico tests. [website]. Accessed November 19, 2018, from https://www.sicotests.com/psyarticle.asp?id=77
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice, (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE.
Rudman, L.A., & Glick, P. (2001). Prescriptive gender stereotypes and backlash toward agentic women. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 743-762. As cited in Northouse, P.G. (2016).