Leadership remains a man’s world

NORTHWESTERN (US) — Still perceived as less qualified for leadership roles, women who engage in behavior necessary for positions of power, are usually seen as inappropriate and presumptuous.


Historically, communal qualities, such as being nice or compassionate, are associated with women while being assertive or competitive is associated with men.

Because men fit the cultural stereotype of leadership better than women, they have better access to leadership roles and face fewer challenges in becoming successful in them, according to a new meta-analysis published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

“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,” says Alice Eagly, professor of psychology at Northwestern University.

The meta-analysis incorporated studies from three different paradigms of research to examine the cultural masculinity of leadership stereotypes and the conditions under which such masculinity is more or less pronounced. The paradigms are characterized as think manager-think male; agency-communion; and masculinity-femininity.

Most of the data came from the United States, with some from Canada, Europe, and East Asia. Few studies of leader stereotypes were available from other nations.

Beliefs about leadership remain culturally masculine, but not as strongly as in the past, Eagly says. Also, the lean toward masculinity lessens somewhat for lower-level leadership positions and in educational organizations.

“Women’s experiences will differ depending on their culture,” Eagly says. “We would like to have more data from different nations, and also sub-cultural data within the United States that takes race and social class into account, but that’s something to look to in the future.”

Researchers from the University of San Diego, Nebraska Wesleyan University and the University of Tampere in Finland contributed to the study.

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