Author:Pafford, Sherrie


Regardless of the relationship that exists between gender and societal roles, there is still a disconnect into how they function in a business environment. There is a struggle to understand what characteristics women need to possess and model to be successful leaders. In August of 2016, women filled only 19.9% of board positions, with 4.6% being Chief Executive Officers (CEOs; Catalyst, 2016; Warner, 2014). The percentage of women in executive manager roles has only had minor changes over the past 40 years, from 5% in the 1970s to 14% in the 2014 and 19.9% in 2016 (Schein, 1973; Warner, 2014; Catalyst, 2016). Estimates indicate that given the rate of change in management positions, it will be 2085 before women reach parity (Warner, 2014).

This is contrary to articles posted as recent as January 16, 2017 in the Washington Post, where Sallie Krawcheck talks about what women can do to improve their careers (McGregor, 2017). Krawcheck believes that women should not be more like men and continue to bring their relationship skills, collaboration and deliberative decision-making approaches to the work environment (McGregor, 2017). Telling women to be themselves in the workforce is contrary to years of the think manager-think male paradigm toted since the 1970s (Schein, 1973).

Krawcheck pushes the envelope and wants women to question the pre-established societal roles that favor masculine characteristics over feminine characteristics for managerial positions. However, historical trends show an apparent notion that there is a perception of women to be less effective leaders when adopting male characteristics (Coder & Spiller, 2013; Duehr & Bono, 2006; Gherardi & Poggio, 2001; Ingols, Shapiro, Tyson & Rogova, 2015; Schein, 1975). An examination of the movement in gender perception of women in leadership roles adopting male characteristics (i.e., agentic) due to societal changes can guide and update business practices (Duehr & Bono, 2006; Ransdell, 2014).

Females in corporate leadership make up a small but important subset of the larger population of women within business. Both male and female managers perceived men to be more likely to have the characteristics associated to be successful managers, which supports the concept that acting male in leadership positions garners better support and following (Schein, 1973; Schein, 1975). Women are faced with a unique challenge when in management positions because they are viewed negatively when adopting perceived male characteristics that help in leadership and management success (Brandt & Laiho, 2013; Eagly & Karau, 2002).

To add to Krawcheck's national conversation on women in the professional world, the understanding of role congruity theory is paramount to access change. Role congruity posits that perceptions that are more favorable exist when the characteristics an individual exudes closely align with the social roles assigned to the group/gender (Eagly, 1987). Women have become more androgynous in leadership style while men have changed very little (Snaebjornsson & Edvardsson, 2013). Think manager-think male appears to be in direct opposition to social and role congruity theories. Gender stereotypes can be damaging to women since masculine stereotypes are considered more essential to management/leader success but judged more harshly when utilized (Brandt & Laiho, 2013). Thus, women who espouse stereotypically male characteristics face preconceptions because incongruities arise between the characteristics linked with the gender and those linked to societal role or gender stereotype (Eagly & Karau, 2002) leading to inauthenticity and breakdown of effective leadership.

The extent leadership effectiveness is linked to gender is not known. For several decades, studies on gender perceptions and differences in leadership have been conducted in business. However, the questions focus on whether there are key differences in the perception of women and men as leaders (Duehr & Bono, 2006; Schein, 1973). Not knowing the extent to which leadership effectiveness and gender are linked is due to the unequal representation of females in upper-level management positions (Ignatius, 2013). Additionally, business managers continue to define senior management roles in masculine terms (Heilman, 2001; Kyriakidou, 2012). Research is deficient in ascertaining what characteristics are deemed needed by women to be successful as leaders. However, there is conflicting information about perceptions of characteristics adopted by women to try to be successful in leadership positions.

Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, noted the specific problem for women is the likability gap (Ignatius, 2013). The likability gap shows how there is a positive association for men and a negative one for women when adopting stereotypically masculine traits in management positions (Ignatius, 2013). The problem skews farther when the societal roles, identities and behaviors keep changing and no longer align with preconceived perceptions (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Ignatius, 2013). Personal characteristics, both innate as well as learned, influence the strategic choices of senior executives as demonstrated in Hambrick & Mason's (1984) seminal work on the upper echelon theory. Innate characteristics would include cognitive based capabilities as well as values, while learned characteristics would include education, career experience and socioeconomic background, to name a few.

In a 2014 interview with PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, she stated "I don't think women can have it all" (Friedersdorf, 2014). She continued with "We pretend we have it all" (Friedersdorf, 2014). Every day there is a balance where women have to decide on job, wife, or mother. It is difficult to join other mothers and be in a meeting when groups meet during business hours. In addition, Nooyi has said women have to find a way to cope with the guilt of not being able to have it all or women will die from the guilt of it (Forbes, 2014). A major problem is that the career clock and biological clock are at constant odds with each other and to be good at one you have to forfeit the other (Forbes, 2014). Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, dedicated a whole chapter in Lean In (2013), as to how the myth of having it all is a detriment to men and women, but especially women as it appears we fall short in both work and home life balance.


Eagly & Karau (2002) developed a theory addressing the prejudice toward females as leaders, or more succinctly role congruity theory. Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders (a.k.a., role congruity theory) proposed that the incongruity between the societal role assigned to women and those characteristics assigned to leaders created a prejudice against female leaders (Eagly & Karau, 2002). Eagly's (1987) social role theory was the root of Eagly & Karau's role congruity theory, in that it maintained that societies cultivate descriptive and prescriptive gender role perceptions of individual's behavior due to the social gender roles they are presumed to fill and emulate. Heilman (2012) said it very distinctly: Descriptive equals what women and men are like and prescriptive equals what women and men should be like. Men have traditionally filled higher status, breadwinner roles which often times require agentic behaviors and characteristics like being assertive, aggressive and independent, while women have historically filled lower level, caregiving roles, which require communal characteristics like being sympathetic and nurturing (Eagly, 1987; Eagly & Karau, 2002). Simply stated, males are believed, expected and perceived to possess more agentic traits than women and women are believed, expected and perceived to be more communal than men. Eagly & Karau added the layer of leadership roles to social role theory to expand the understanding of how the differences in perception lead to prejudice and the moderators that can influence congruity perception.

Role congruity theory contends that there are differences in the perceived lack of congruence of females in leadership roles, because of stereotypes applied to women or due to job definitions that leverage male gender terms, should in turn influence the degree and frequency of gender bias that results. Gherardi & Poggio (2001) stated how organizational cultures are not genderless and therefore do not define things as genderless. In fact, quite the opposite can hold true. Businesses will provide specific gender characteristics to a role or position and often times it is ambivalent or contradictory to women's societal roles (Gherardi & Poggio, 2001). Women are rated more favorably and perceived to be more effective leaders when leadership roles and gender societal roles are congruent (Brandt & Laiho, 2013). However, harsh ratings surface when women use autocratic styles and/or manage similarly to male counterparts (Brandt & Laiho, 2013). The immense body of literature analyzing gender and leadership offers other hypotheses that differentiate from some of the role congruity theory's hypotheses regarding which moderators play a role in gender differences of leadership effectiveness (Eagly & Karau, 2002). An example of a different moderator is personality (Brandt & Laiho, 2013).

Note that men also receive disapproval when not following the societal and business norms that belong to men and leaders; however, it is not as detrimental to work evaluations, perception of job success, or follower mentality as it is for women (Heilman, 2012). When men ask for family leave or work life balance, they are seen to not have the same work ethic as other male employees and if in a field that is stereotypically a women's job they are deemed wimp y and passive (Heilman, 2012). Nevertheless, men still hold a comparative advantage and are evaluated less harshly and "men continue to benefit from being men, even in...

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