Leading Organizations


PowerPoint business brief presentation on chapter 14 (Gender and Leadership) on Northouse's interactive Book on Leadership. Explain how it adds to leadership studies.


Use textbook and outside reference (2022 sources)


Stefanie Simon

Crystal L. Hoyt

Women are significantly underrepresented in major leadership positions. The barriers women encounter on their leadership journey have been dubbed the leadership labyrinth. Removing these barriers will help ensure equal opportunity, access to the greatest talent pool, and diversity, which have been linked to organizational success.


While academic researchers ignored issues related to gender and leadership until the 1970s (Chemers, 1997), the increasing numbers of women in leadership positions and women in academia brought about by dramatic changes in American society have fueled the now robust scholarly interest in the study of leadership and gender.

Scholars started out asking, “Can women lead?”—a question that is now moot. In addition to the increasing presence of women in corporate and political leadership roles, we can point to highly effective leaders who are women, including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan), former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia), and former prime minster Indira Gandhi (India), and current world leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand (featured in Case Study 14.3). Beyond politics, there are many examples of highly effective female leaders including YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki, Anthem’s CEO Gail Boudreaux, General Motors Company’s CEO Mary Barra, retired four-star general Ann E. Dunwoody, and U.S. Supreme Court justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The primary research questions now—“Do men and women lead differently?” and “Are men more effective leaders than women?”—are often subsumed under a larger question: “Why are women underrepresented in elite leadership roles?” This chapter explores empirical evidence related to these issues of gender and leadership by discussing the gender gap in leadership and prominent explanations for it, and by addressing approaches to promoting women in leadership.

The Glass Ceiling Turned Labyrinth

Evidence of the Leadership Labyrinth

Although the gender gap in leadership has improved significantly in recent decades, there is still a long way to go. Women now earn 57% of the bachelor’s degrees, 60% of the master’s degrees, and 53% of the doctoral degrees acquired each year in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2018), and as of December 2019 (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), women made up more than half of the U.S. labor force (50.03%; Kelly, 2020). However, women are still underrepresented in the upper echelons of America’s corporations and political system. Women represent only 5.8% of S&P 500 CEOs and hold only 21.2% of S&P 500 board seats (Catalyst, 2020). On the political front, 2018 was a noteworthy year for women in U.S. politics, particularly for women of color in the House of Representatives (Warner, Ellmann, & Boesch, 2018). In addition, Senator Kamala Harris, a daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, became the first woman of color selected as a U.S. vice presidential candidate on the Democratic Party ticket. However, women currently occupy just 127 of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress (26% in the Senate and 23.2% in the House); women of color occupy 48 seats (Center for American Women and Politics, 2020a, 2020b). As of June 2020, the United States ranked 83 out of 193 countries in women’s representation in national legislatures or parliaments (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2020).

The invisible barrier preventing women from ascending into elite leadership positions was initially dubbed the glass ceiling, a term introduced into the American vernacular by two Wall Street Journal reporters in 1986 (Hymowitz & Schellhardt, 1986). Even in female-dominated occupations, women face the glass ceiling, whereas white men appear to ride a glass escalator to the top leadership positions (Maume, 1999; C. Williams, 1992, 1995). Eagly and Carli (2007) identified limitations with the glass ceiling metaphor, including that it implies that everyone has equal access to lower positions until all women hit this single, invisible, and impassable barrier. They put forward an alternative image: a leadership labyrinth, conveying the impression of a journey riddled with challenges all along the way—not just near the top—that can be and has been successfully navigated by women. Related, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg proffered the metaphor of a jungle gym in her book Lean In (2013).

Understanding the Labyrinth

The gender gap in leadership is a global phenomenon whereby women are disproportionately concentrated in lower-level and lower-authority leadership positions compared to men (Powell & Graves, 2003). Discussions of women’s underrepresentation in high-level leadership positions generally revolve around three types of explanations (Figure 14.1). The first set of explanations highlights differences in women’s and men’s investments in human capital. The next category of explanations considers gender differences between women and men. The final type of explanation focuses on prejudice and discrimination against female leaders.

Human Capital Differences.

One prominent set of explanations for the labyrinth is that women have less human capital investment in education, training, and work experience than men (Eagly & Carli, 2004, 2007). This supposed lack of human capital is said to result in a dearth of qualified women, sometimes called a “pipeline problem.” However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that women are indeed in the pipeline, but that the pipeline is leaking. As already discussed, women are obtaining undergraduate degrees at a far higher rate than men, and women are earning professional and doctoral degrees at a rate greater or nearly equal to that of men, but women are still vastly underrepresented in top leadership positions. In the domain of law, women earn 50% of all law degrees and make up 46% of associates, but they make up only 22.7% of partners (American Bar Association, 2019). And even though women represent about 40% of those graduating with MBAs (Hess, 2019), their representation in the upper echelons of American business pales in comparison.


Figure 14.1 Understanding the Leadership Labyrinth

Women do have somewhat less work experience and employment continuity than men, driven largely by the disproportionate responsibility women assume for child rearing and domestic duties (Bowles & McGinn, 2005; Eagly & Carli, 2007). Although men’s participation in domestic labor has increased in recent years (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008), women continue to do the majority of the child care responsibilities and household chores (Belkin, 2008; Craig, 2006; Pailhe & Solaz, 2006). Furthermore, it appears that in times of crisis, working mothers are hit the hardest. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were more likely to lose a job and take on extra domestic labor as schools and day cares closed around the nation (Cohen & Hsu, 2020). Economists have noted that this disruption to women’s careers could set women back significantly as women who drop out of the workforce to take care of children have trouble reentering and making up for lost time (Cohen & Hsu, 2020).

In normal times, women must respond to work–home conflicts and do so in a variety of ways (Bowles & McGinn, 2005). Some women choose not to marry or have children, others choose to become “superwomen” and attempt to excel in every role, and others take leaves of absence, take sick days, or choose part-time employment to juggle these work–home conflicts (Hewlett, 2002; Nieva & Gutek, 1981). Antiquated workplace norms make it difficult for women to rise in the leadership ranks: Those who take advantage of workplace leave and flexibility programs are often marginalized, and those who take time off from their careers often find reentry difficult, returning at a lower level than the level they left (J. Williams, 2010). A related explanation for the leadership gap is that this culturally prescribed division of labor leads women to self-select to take themselves out of leadership tracks by choosing “mommy track” positions that do not funnel into leadership positions (Belkin, 2003); however, research does not support this argument (Eagly & Carli, 2004; J. Williams, 2010).

Despite their presence in the workforce, women have fewer developmental opportunities at work than do men. Many of these gender differences in developmental opportunities may be driven in part by the prejudice women experience in the domain of leadership. In addition to having fewer responsibilities in the same jobs as men, women are less likely to receive encouragement, be included in key networks, and receive formal job training than their male counterparts (Knoke & Ishio, 1998; Morrison & Von Glinow, 1990; Ohlott, Ruderman, & McCauley, 1994; Powell & Graves, 2003). One important developmental experience that affects career success is effective mentor relationships (Ensher & Murphy, 2005), and women confront greater barriers to establishing informal mentor relationships than men do (Powell & Graves, 2003). Additionally, women are disproportionately represented in business positions that are less visible, have less responsibility, and do not lead to top leadership positions (Bowles & McGinn, 2005).

Relatedly, when women are promoted to leadership positions, they may be more likely than men to be placed on a “glass cliff”—in other words, appointed to precarious leadership situations associated with greater risk and criticism (Mulcahy & Linehan, 2014; Ryan, Haslam, Hersby, & Bongiorno, 2011; for a recent meta-analysis, see Morgenroth, Kirby, Ryan, & Sudkämper, 2020). Ryan and Haslam (2005) first coined the term glass cliff based on a pattern of women being appointed to corporate boards of companies in the United Kingdom only after those companies were experiencing poor performance. Setting women up for failure by placing them in these precarious leadership positions can reaffirm preconceived notions that women are not effective leaders. However, women may be placed on a glass cliff at times because they are seen as being more fit to handle a crisis situation (Ryan et al., 2011; Ryan, Haslam, & Postmes, 2007).

Recent research has put this proposition to the test by comparing outcomes in U.S. states led by male versus female governors during the COVID-19 pandemic, a grave societal crisis. Using publicly available data on COVID-19 deaths in the United States, Sergent and Stajkovic (2020) found that states with female governors had fewer COVID-19 deaths compared to states with male governors, and female governors expressed more empathy and confidence in their briefings. While there are many reasons for differences in COVID-related deaths across the United States, these data suggest that female governors may have handled this particular crisis more effectively than male governors. A similar pattern of women’s leadership effectiveness during COVID-19 seems to be appearing more globally. For example, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has been credited for leading her country effectively and quickly through the COVID-19 crisis (Cave, 2020).

In sum, there is scant support for the notions that women receive less education than men, that they quit their jobs more often than men, or that they opt out of the leadership track for the mommy track. There is support for the notion that women have less work experience and more career interruptions than men, largely because women assume significantly more domestic responsibility. Women receive less formal training and have fewer developmental opportunities at work than men, both of which likely are related to prejudice against female leaders. While women at times may be set up for leadership failure on a glass cliff, they may also be quite effective as leaders in crisis situations.


Other arguments attempting to explain the leadership gap revolve around the notion that women are just different from men. This line of reasoning reflects more general views about a stark dichotomy between men and women in American society. While the term gender refers to the social meaning ascribed to biological sex categories (male and female), the perceived differences between men and women are often assumed to be natural consequences of innate differences (Eagly & Wood, 2013). One argument in this vein is that women’s underrepresentation in elite leadership positions is a result of differences in leadership style and effectiveness.

Increasingly, writers in the mainstream press are asserting that there are indeed gender differences in leadership styles, and that women’s leadership is more effective in contemporary society (Book, 2000; Helgesen, 1990; Rosener, 1995). Rather than explaining the leadership gap, these assertions make the gap that much more perplexing. However, academic researchers have a greater diversity in their views; indeed, many argue that gender has little or no relationship to leadership style and effectiveness (Dobbins & Platz, 1986; Kaiser & Wallace, 2016; Powell, 1990; van Engen, van der Leeden, & Willemsen, 2001).

Meta-analyses of research examining style differences between women and men found that, contrary to stereotypic expectations, women were not found to lead in a more interpersonally oriented and less task-oriented manner than men in organizational studies. One robust gender difference found across settings is that women led in a more democratic, or participative, manner than men (Eagly & Johnson, 1990; van Engen & Willemsen, 2004). It is important to consider these results in conjunction with findings from a large-scale meta-analysis of the literature on evaluations of female and male leaders showing that women were devalued compared to men when they led in a masculine manner, when they occupied a typically masculine leadership role, and when the evaluators were men (Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992). These findings indicate that women’s greater use of democratic style appears to be adaptive in that they are using the style that produces the most favorable evaluations.

More recent research has examined gender differences in transformational leadership (Bass, 1985; Burns, 1978; see Chapter 8). A meta-analysis by Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, and van Engen (2003) found small but robust differences between female and male leaders on these styles such that women’s styles tend to be more transformational than men’s, and that women tend to engage in more contingent reward behaviors than men. Although these styles predict effectiveness, recent findings suggest that the devaluation of female leaders by male subordinates has been shown to extend to female transformational leaders (Ayman, Korabik, & Morris, 2009).

Recent research also points to potential gender differences in leaders’ values that may impact the way men and women lead (Eagly, 2013). For example, women tend to emphasize social values that promote others’ welfare to a greater extent than men (S. Schwartz & Rubel, 2005), a difference that has been shown among CEOs and board members (Adams & Funk, 2012). This difference in emphasis on social values may influence leadership behaviors, such as company philanthropy (R. Williams, 2003) and corporate responsibility (Boulouta, 2012).

In addition to leadership style and leadership values, the relative effectiveness of male and female leaders has been assessed in a number of studies (Jacobson & Effertz, 1974; Tsui & Gutek, 1984). In a meta-analysis comparing the effectiveness of female and male leaders, men and women were equally effective leaders, overall, but there were gender differences such that women and men were more effective in leadership roles that were congruent with their gender (Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995). Thus, women were less effective to the extent that the leader role was masculinized. For example, women were less effective than men in military positions, but they were somewhat more effective than men in education, government, and social service organizations and substantially more effective than men in middle management positions where communal interpersonal skills are highly valued. In addition, women were less effective than men when they supervised a higher proportion of male subordinates or when a greater proportion of male raters assessed the leaders’ performance.

In recent years, new research on leadership effectiveness that has come from analyzing 360 evaluations made by peers, bosses, and direct reports that rate a leader’s overall effectiveness has shown that women are viewed as better leaders (Zenger & Folkman, 2012, 2019). These 360 evaluations judge competencies on 16 traits most important to leadership effectiveness, such as how good the leader is at taking initiative, developing others, and motivating others. At every level of leadership, women were rated by peers, bosses, direct reports, and other associates as better overall leaders than men, and this gap in effectiveness grew wider at higher leadership levels (Zenger & Folkman, 2012). In a recent replication of these findings, Zenger and Folkman’s results (2019) again demonstrated a leadership competence advantage for women in leadership roles.

Beyond what a leader’s peers think of women in leadership roles, social advocates often make a “business case” for increasing the representation of women on corporate boards of directors by claiming that it would positively affect financial outcomes for those organizations (Eagly, 2016). This research would suggest boards with women are more effective than boards that are made up of men only. While a bottom-line argument would provide a potentially convincing reason to increase gender diversity of board memberships, research has demonstrated that the effect of gender diversity of boards on an organization’s financial outcomes is often nonexistent or very small (Eagly, 2016).

Boards that are comprised of more women, however, can have other positive consequences for organizations. An analysis of the S&P 500 companies from 2009 to 2013 demonstrates that gender pay disparities among top executives decreased when women served as the chair of the organization’s compensation committee but did not decrease when women were added to boards in general (Cook, Ingersoll, & Glass, 2019). Fortune 500 companies with gender-diverse boards also tend to have stronger business and equity practices (Glass & Cook, 2018), offer more LGBT-friendly policies (Cook & Glass, 2016), and appoint women as CEOs (Cook & Glass, 2015). Thus, when looking beyond the effectiveness of a single leader to the effectiveness of a leading body, a gender-diverse board can at times result in more positive outcomes for an organization but not necessarily impact the bottom line.

Another oft-cited barrier to women’s advancement is the presumed gender difference in commitment to employment and motivation to lead. However, research indicates that women show the same level of identification with and commitment to paid employment roles as men do, and both women and men view their roles as workers to be secondary to their roles as parents and partners (Bielby & Bielby, 1988; Thoits, 1992). Empirical research does indicate that women are less likely than men to promote themselves for leadership positions (Bowles & McGinn, 2005). For example, women are more likely to take on informal, as opposed to official, leadership roles, and use terms such as facilitator or organizer instead of leader (Andrews, 1992; Fletcher, 2001). A meta-analytic review of the research literature on leader emergence revealed that although women were less likely than men to emerge as group leaders, they were more likely to serve as social facilitators than men (Eagly & Karau, 1991).

Why are women less likely to emerge as leaders? Recent research suggests that it may be because women do not expect to have much influence in groups where the majority of the members are male. In a series of studies, Goodwin, Dodson, Chen, and Diekmann (2020) demonstrated that women expected to have a lower sense of power when applying for a majority-male leadership committee compared to a committee that is gender-balanced. This lower sense of power explained why women expressed a lower desire to lead and lower intentions to apply for a committee position compared to men.

Furthermore, men are more likely than women to ask for what they want (Babcock & Laschever, 2003). Reaching elite leadership positions is not done in a vacuum; people must negotiate with others to access the right positions, experiences, opportunities, resources, and assistance in both the professional and domestic spheres. Not only are women less likely to negotiate than men (Small, Gelfand, Babcock, & Gettman, 2007), but the negotiations needed to ascend the leadership hierarchy often are unstructured, ambiguous, and rife with gender triggers (factors that prompt gender-related behavioral responses)—exactly the type of situation that particularly disadvantages women (Bowles & McGinn, 2005).

This research must be interpreted in light of the social costs, or backlash, women experience when they promote themselves or are competent in positions of authority (Rudman & Glick, 2001). Women face significant gender biases and social disincentives when they self-promote and negotiate. Unlike men, for example, self-promoting women are seen as less socially attractive and less hirable (Rudman, 1998), and women face greater social costs for negotiating than men do (Amanatullah & Tinsley, 2013a, 2013b; Bowles, Babcock, & Lai, 2007).

In sum, empirical research supports small differences in leadership style and effectiveness between men and women. Women experience slight effectiveness disadvantages in masculine leader roles, whereas roles that are more feminine offer them some advantages. Additionally, women exceed men in the use of democratic or participatory styles, and they are more likely to use transformational leadership behaviors and contingent rewards, which are styles associated with contemporary notions of effective leadership. Women are no less effective at leading than men, and women are no less committed to their jobs or motivated for leadership roles than men. In fact, the research on leadership competencies seems to indicate a slight leadership competence advantage for women. However, women are less likely to self-promote and negotiate than men, and women may avoid leadership positions where the group membership is majority male. Furthermore, research shows a small gender difference such that women are more likely to focus on the welfare of others and ethical behavior.


One prominent explanation for the leadership gap revolves around gender biases stemming from stereotyped expectations that women take care and men take charge (Hoyt & Chemers, 2008). Stereotypes are cognitive shortcuts that influence the way people process information regarding groups and group members. People assign characteristics to groups, or individual members of groups, regardless of the actual variation in characteristics between the members (Hamilton, Stroessner, & Driscoll, 1994). Gender stereotypes are pervasive, well documented, and highly resistant to change (Dodge, Gilroy, & Fenzel, 1995; Heilman, 2001). Gender stereotypes both describe stereotypic beliefs about the attributes of women and men and prescribe how men and women ought to be (Burgess & Borgida, 1999; Glick & Fiske, 1999). Men are stereotyped with agentic characteristics such as confidence, assertiveness, independence, rationality, and decisiveness, whereas women are stereotyped with communal characteristics such as concern for others, sensitivity, warmth, helpfulness, and nurturance (Deaux & Kite, 1993; Heilman, 2001).

Gender stereotypes are easily and automatically activated, and they often lead to biased judgments (Fiske, 1998; Kunda & Spencer, 2003). In addition to facing gender-based prejudice, women of color often confront racial or ethnic prejudice (Bell & Nkomo, 2001). A vivid illustration of gender-based prejudice can be seen in the evaluation of men and women auditioning for symphony orchestras. In the 1970s and 1980s, male-dominated symphony orchestras made one simple change: All applicants were asked to audition while hidden behind a screen. This small change greatly increased the proportion of women in symphony orchestras (Goldin & Rouse, 2000). Merely seeing the applicant’s gender evoked stereotype-based expectations in the judges’ minds that resulted in a significant bias toward selecting men.

In leadership roles, gender stereotypes are particularly damaging for women because agentic, as opposed to communal, tendencies often are indispensable (Chemers & Murphy, 1995). According to role congruity theory, the agentic qualities thought necessary in the leadership role are incompatible with the predominantly communal qualities stereotypically associated with women, thus resulting in prejudice against female leaders (Eagly & Karau, 2002). Although the masculine construal of leadership has decreased somewhat over time, it remains pervasive and robust (Koenig, Eagly, Mitchell, & Ristikari, 2011). Thus, in the leadership role, women are confronted with cross-pressures: As leaders, they should be masculine and tough, but as women, they should not be “too manly.” These opposing expectations for women often result in the perception that women are less qualified for elite leadership positions than men, and in harsh evaluations of effective female leaders for not being “female enough.”

This prejudice against female leaders helps explain the numerous findings indicating less favorable attitudes toward female compared to male leaders, greater difficulty for women to attain top leadership roles, and greater difficulty for women to be viewed as effective in these roles (Eagly & Karau, 2002). The penalties for violating one’s gender stereotypes are clearly illustrated in the classic 1989 Supreme Court case Price Waterhouse v. Ann Hopkins. Price Waterhouse told Hopkins that she would not make partner because she was too masculine, going as far as advising her to go to charm school, wear jewelry and makeup, and be less aggressive. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that Price Waterhouse was discriminating based on gender stereotypes (Fiske, Bersoff, Borgida, Deaux, & Heilman, 1991). Gender bias was also evident in the media coverage of the 2008 U.S. presidential primaries involving Hillary Clinton. As Katie Couric noted after Clinton bowed out of contention, “One of the great lessons of that campaign is the continued and accepted role of sexism in American life, particularly the media . . . if Senator Obama had to confront the racist equivalent of an ‘Iron My Shirt’ poster at campaign rallies or a Hillary nutcracker sold at airports . . . the outrage would not be a footnote, it would be front page news” (Couric, 2008).

Gender biases can be particularly detrimental in the decision-making processes for selecting elite leaders, given that the generally unstructured nature of those decisions allows biased decisions without accountability (Powell & Graves, 2003). Not only are the decision makers influenced by the stereotypes that disadvantage women in the leadership role, but also they may succumb to homosocial reproduction, a tendency for a group to reproduce itself in its own image (Kanter, 1977). People prefer similar others and report the most positive decisions about and evaluations of people who are most like them, biases that can clearly disadvantage women when male leaders are looking for replacements. This seems to be particularly true for people who prefer group hierarchies in society (i.e., who are high in social dominance orientation) in that they show an even stronger preference for leaders who are white and male (Hoyt & Simon, 2016).

These stereotypic expectations not only affect others’ perceptions and evaluations of female leaders, but also can directly affect the women themselves. Women who make up a very small minority of a male-dominated group are seen as tokens representing all women; they experience significant pressure as their highly visible performance is scrutinized, and they are perceived through gender-stereotyped lenses (Kanter, 1977). Women often are very aware of their gender and the accompanying stereotypes (Sekaquaptewa & Thompson, 2003). Research shows that women respond in one of two ways to the gender-based leadership stereotype: Either they demonstrate vulnerability by assimilating to the stereotype, or they react against it by engaging in stereotype-countering behaviors (Hoyt, 2010; Simon & Hoyt, 2013). Whether the threat of the gender–leader stereotype is met with vulnerability or reactance responses depends on factors such as the leader’s self-efficacy, the explicitness of the stereotype, the type of task, the group sex-composition, and the power that the leader holds (Bergeron, Block, & Echtenkamp, 2006; Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005; Hoyt & Blascovich, 2007, 2010; Kray, Reb, Galinsky, & Thompson, 2004; Kray, Thompson, & Galinsky, 2001). Furthermore, although female leaders may demonstrate reactance to certain solitary gender stereotype threats, when such threats are combined, women are likely to demonstrate deleterious vulnerability responses (Hoyt, Johnson, Murphy, & Skinnell, 2010). In sum, substantial empirical evidence reveals that gender stereotypes can significantly alter the perception and evaluation of female leaders and directly affect women in or aspiring to leadership roles.

While most past research has focused on perceptions of white men and white women in leadership positions, recent research has begun to take an intersectional approach (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008; Rosette, Koval, Ma, & Livingston, 2016) by investigating the experiences of people with multiple subordinate-group identities, such as women of color in leadership positions. Research in this area is limited, but suggests that Black women may experience bias in leadership positions differently than white women or Black men—sometimes gaining an advantage (e.g., Livingston, Rosette, & Washington, 2012) and sometimes experiencing a disadvantage (e.g., Rosette & Livingston, 2012). This remains an important area of research as women of color are entering new levels of leadership in society, such as Kamala Harris as the vice presidential running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Their experiences in elite leadership positions remain to be seen.

Navigating the Labyrinth

The number of women who successfully navigate the labyrinth is on the rise (Eagly & Carli, 2007). A confluence of factors contributes to this increase in effective female leaders (Figure 14.2). Changes in organizations are beginning to make it easier for women to reach top positions. The culture of many organizations is changing; gendered work assumptions such as the male model of work, the notion of uninterrupted full-time careers, and the separation of work and family are being challenged (Cooper & Lewis, 1999; J. Williams, 2010). Moreover, many organizations are valuing flexible workers and diversity in their top echelons. These organizations can augment women’s career development by involving them in career development programs and formal networks and offering work–life support. In addition, assigning more women to high-visibility positions and developing effective and supportive mentoring relationships for women are key strategies for reducing the leadership gap (Bell & Nkomo, 2001; Ensher & Murphy, 2005; Ragins, Townsend, & Mattis, 1998).

As Gloria Steinem famously noted, “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons . . . but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Increasing parity in the involvement of women and men in child care and housework will go a long way in reducing the leadership gap (Eagly & Carli, 2007). In balancing work and home life, an appealing approach for women is structural role redefinition (Hall, 1972). This approach involves negotiating with both family and colleagues to renegotiate role expectations both at work and at home. For example, at home women can negotiate workload between spouses, team up with friends and family members, and, if able, hire help when necessary (Bowles & McGinn, 2005). At work women can work for family-friendly reforms such as job-protected maternity leaves.


Figure 14.2 Leadership Effectiveness

Beyond work–home issues, negotiations for valued positions, experiences, and resources are important social interactions on the road to top leadership positions. Thus, another approach to reducing the leadership gap is to enhance women’s negotiation power and restructure negotiations to their advantage (Bowles & McGinn, 2005). For example, research has shown that the term negotiation is laden with gendered connotations, so one approach would be to reframe negotiation situations in nongendered terms such as “asking” situations.

Women who are aware of the labyrinth may circumvent barriers by starting their own ventures (Wirth, 2001). Women-owned businesses account for 39% of all privately owned firms, contribute 8% of employment, and make up 4.2% of revenues (National Association of Women Business Owners, 2020). Women’s successful foray into entrepreneurship is working to change the face of business, and by extension leadership, as we know it.

Many of the impediments women face in the leadership domain stem from the incongruity between the female gender role and the leadership role. Women face a double standard in the leadership role; they must come across as extremely competent but also as appropriately “feminine,” a set of standards men are not held to (Eagly & Carli, 2003). One way that women can increase their perceived warmth and their influence is by combining communal qualities such as warmth and friendliness with agentic qualities such as exceptional competence and assertiveness (Carli, 2001; Rudman & Glick, 2001). Additionally, the transformational leadership style discussed in Chapter 8 is particularly beneficial for women because it is not a markedly masculine style. This style encompasses traditionally feminine behaviors, such as being considerate and supportive, and is strongly associated with leadership effectiveness. Recent research suggests that blending individualized consideration with inspirational motivation is prudent for women seeking leadership advancement (Vinkenburg, van Engen, Eagly, & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2011). The incongruity between the leadership role and the female gender role does appear to be decreasing (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Recent research indicates that women have become significantly more masculine—for example, becoming more assertive and valuing leadership and power more as job attributes, without losing their femininity (Konrad, Ritchie, Lieb, & Corrigall, 2000; Twenge, 2001). In addition, evidence suggests that the leadership role is starting to be seen as less masculine and more androgynous (Koenig et al., 2011; Schein, 2001). Relatedly, people perceive heroes, a specific type of leader, as more androgynous than a typical leader (Hoyt, Allison, Barnowski, & Sultan, 2020), which may provide a different pathway for people to start identifying women as heroic leaders.

In sum, we likely will see more women in elite leadership roles with (1) changes in workplace norms and developmental opportunities for women; (2) greater gender equity in domestic responsibilities; (3) greater negotiation power of women, especially regarding the work–home balance; (4) effectiveness and predominance of women-owned businesses; and (5) changes in the incongruity between women and leadership.


Understanding the research into gender and leadership can help us promote more women into the upper echelons of leadership. Doing so will fulfill the promise of equal opportunity by allowing everyone the possibility of taking on leadership roles, from the boardroom to the Senate floor. This larger and more demographically diverse pool of candidates not only makes it easier to find talented people, but also facilitates greater levels of organizational success. Furthermore, promoting a richly diverse group of women into leadership roles will not only help make societal institutions, businesses, and governments more representative, but can also contribute to more ethical, productive, innovative, and financially successful organizations that demonstrate higher levels of collective intelligence and are less rife with conflict (Bernardi, Bosco, & Columb, 2009; Catalyst, 2004; Forsyth, 2010; Miller & Del Carmen Triana, 2009; Nielsen & Huse, 2010; Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, & Malone, 2010).

A consideration of the effects of gender on leadership has important implications for a comprehensive understanding of leadership. Contemporary approaches to gender and leadership involve questions that directly affect leadership success, such as style and effectiveness differences between men and women, and the varied barriers confronting women. Gender is integral to contemporary notions of effective leadership styles that have morphed from a traditional masculine, autocratic style to the more feminine or androgynous styles of democratic and transformational leadership. Developing a more androgynous conception of leadership will enhance leadership effectiveness by giving people the opportunity to engage in the best leadership practices, and not by restricting people to those behaviors that are most appropriate for their gender.

Research on gender and leadership is productive in both dispelling myths about the gender gap and shining a light on aspects of the gender barriers that are difficult to see and therefore are often overlooked. For example, gender biases generally are no longer overt but more often take the form of subtle and implicit preconceptions and institutionalized discrimination, making them particularly potent and pernicious. These biases have a detrimental impact on the perception and evaluation of women, and they limit the range of leadership behavior deemed appropriate for women. In addition, the mere awareness of these gender biases can be detrimental to women performing in leadership roles. The changes needed to overcome these problems within organizations and society can occur only when we are aware of these often subtle and disguised prejudices.

Understanding the many components of the labyrinth will give us the tools necessary to combat this inequality from many perspectives, including individual, interpersonal, organizational, and societal approaches. In addition, this research addresses larger, more significant considerations about gender and social systems. For example, it acknowledges the profound power division between men and women, and it opens up dialogue on structural questions such as the gendered division of work in society. By acknowledging and attempting to understand issues of gender and leadership, rather than ignoring them, we can help ensure that women have equal opportunity in attaining influential leadership positions, that organizations and constituents have access to the greatest talent pool when selecting leaders, and that there is greater gender diversity in the ranks of leadership, which has been linked to organizational success.


Issues of gender and leadership can be subsumed under a more general topic of leadership and diversity. This perspective involves an understanding of the impact of various demographic characteristics on leadership, including—but not limited to—gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (Chemers & Murphy, 1995; Hoyt & Chemers, 2008). However, unlike the research examining gender and leadership, research into racial-ethnic minority leaders is scant (Hoyt & Chemers, 2008). Although some of the issues surrounding people of color in leadership may bear similarities to those surrounding women (e.g., people of color also face negative stereotypes and resulting difficulties ascending the leadership hierarchy), the underlying dynamics and mechanisms are no doubt distinct (Gurin, 1985; Stangor, Lynch, Duan, & Glass, 1992). Leadership researchers should put a greater emphasis on understanding the role of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other types of diversity, as well as important interactive effects between, for example, race and gender (Smith & Stewart, 1983), in leadership processes.

Much of the research examining gender in leadership has taken place in Western contexts; research on gender and leadership in other contexts is sparse. Because most of the findings regarding female leaders stem from the culturally defined role of women in society, many of the findings discussed in this chapter will not generalize well across cultures in which the roles of women and men differ. Therefore, we must realize the limited generalizability of the extant literature on gender and leadership, and researchers should expand their purview to address gender and leadership from a cross-cultural perspective. A final criticism concerns the dearth of essential, complementary research agendas on the domestic sphere. Research on gender and leadership focuses on decreasing the gender gap in leadership positions, thereby lessening gender segregation at work; however, the leadership gap will not be closed without a concurrent focus on closing the gender gap at home.


Although the gender gap in influential leadership positions remains clearly visible, there is evidence that it is starting to close. Understanding the obstacles that make up the labyrinth and tactics to eradicate the inequality will make it easier for women to reach top positions. The labyrinth has many barriers, and the necessary changes occur at many levels, ranging from individual and interpersonal levels to organizational and societal levels. Prejudice plays an important role in the interpersonal and individual levels; the first step in dealing with these biases is to become aware of them in others and in ourselves. Women are faced with the problem of needing to bolster their leadership competence with appropriate “femaleness”: Adopting behaviors such as individualized consideration and inspirational motivation is a promising approach to overcome these biased expectations. In addition, women’s use of effective negotiation techniques can aid them in procuring the resources they need at work and at home to augment their leadership advancement.

Changes are also taking place at more macro-organizational and societal levels that will contribute to greater gender equality in leadership. For example, changes in organizational culture, women’s career development, mentoring opportunities for women, and increased numbers of women in strategic positions will increase the presence of women in prominent leadership roles. At the societal level, structural changes regarding a more equitable distribution of child rearing and domestic duties are also contributing to the influx of women into elite positions.


In the following section, three case studies (Cases 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3) are presented to provide practice in diagnosing and making recommendations on situations confronting female leaders in organizations. The first case is about a market analyst in a Wall Street firm, the second case is about a senior managing director at a manufacturing company, and the third case is about New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. After each case, questions are provided to assist your analysis of the case.

Case 14.1 The “Glass Ceiling”

Lisa Weber never doubted that she would be a partner in her Wall Street firm. A graduate of a prestigious business school with a doctorate in economics, she had taught briefly at a major university. She was the first woman hired as a market analyst in her well-regarded firm. Within two years, she became one of four senior portfolio managers reporting directly to a senior partner. Her clients give her the highest commendations for her outstanding performance; over the past two years, she has brought in the largest number of new accounts to the firm.

Despite the admiration of her colleagues and their seeming acceptance of her, there is a disturbing, if flattering, aspect to her job. Most of her peers and some of the partners visit her office during the day to discuss in private her opinions on market performance and financial projections. She enjoys these private sessions but is dismayed that at the weekly staff meetings the CEO, Michael Breyer, usually says something like, “Okay, let’s get started and bring Lisa up to date on some of the trouble spots.” None of her peers or the partners mention that Lisa knows as much as they do about what’s going on in the firm. She never protests this slight to her competence and knowledge of firm business, nor does she mention the almost-daily private meetings where her advice is sought. As the only woman on the executive level, she prefers to be considered a team player and one of the boys.

In the past year, one of her peers has been promoted to partner, although Lisa’s performance clearly surpassed his, as measured by the success of her accounts and the amount of new business she brought to the firm. Having heard no mention of partnership for herself, she approached her boss, one of the partners, and asked about the path to a partnership. He replied, “You’re doing great, Lisa, but professors do not partners make. What happens if you are a partner and you make a huge mistake? How would you take it? And what about our clients? There’s never been a female partner in the 103 years of our firm.”

Shortly thereafter, another woman, Pamela Tobias, was hired as a marketing analyst. Once, when the CEO saw Lisa and Pamela together, he called out to the men, “Hey, guys, two women in one room. That’s scary.”

During the next six months, Lisa meets several times with the CEO to make her case for a partnership on the basis of her performance. She finally realizes that there is no possibility of change in the foreseeable future and decides to leave and form her own investment firm.

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