No New Answers Here

Sep 08 2011 Published by under Women as leaders

Click for source

Are you interested in women as leaders? Then you should know about The Glass Hammer, a website about women in business with a weekly email of new interviews and topics. The email newsletter arrived today, and one piece regarding a meta-analysis of women as leaders caught my eye. Are Leader Stereotypes Masculine? A Meta-Analysis of Three Research Paradigms is in the July issue of the Psychological Bulletin.

 The summary of the work refers to Catch-22, a classic no-win situation (glad Heller wrote the book so we have something elegant to call it):

The study also found that women are viewed as less qualified in most leadership roles and when women adopt culturally masculine behaviors often required by these roles, such as being assertive or aggressive, they are viewed as inappropriate or presumptuous.

So women may not be considered as leaders because they are "too nice to do the work", but when they show leadership traits they become bitches and are still undesireable.

One of the authors, Alice Eagly, professor of psychology at Northwestern, discusses how we may start to reverse bias like this:

  • Make people aware of the potential bias that leads to this discrimination, overtly or unconsciously
  • Women must be extra-qualified to seem as capable as a man because leadership is stereotypically male

 So be twice as qualified to be seen as legitimate? Then have someone else suggest that the (mostly male) folks in charge of promotions may be biased against women and that constitutes discrimination? I mean, you can't say it yourself because then you are an assertive (castrating) bitch who no one will tolerate as their leader!

Sigh. No easy answers here.

7 responses so far

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    I missed step 0: concentrate on results rather than tribal status behaviors.

    The sad truth is that (contrary to organizational mythology) the traits that are strongly associated with promotion all to often have little or nothing to do with actual success. Traits like height, physical appearance, athletic ability (or even team preferences!) etc. are right in there with the more obvious gender, melanin, accent, and other better known bases for discrimination.

    All of which come at a distinct organizational cost. That's not so much a criticism, and certainly not an attempt to distract from the gender issue. It's an opportunity to use other issues as leverage to point out how disfunctional promotion systems are, increasing the pressure for change.

    • WhizBANG! says:

      Within academia competence in one's field certainly doesn't predict one's skill as a leader. Trial and error seems to be the only way to figure it out, and if you don't get a trial, no one will know what they've missed.

      • D. C. Sessions says:

        I quite agree that what I would call technical competence is not a reliable predictor of leadership competence. Fortunately, there's no shortage of opportunities to give people leadership experience. Any collaborative endeavor will serve, and that's something that academia has in abundance.

        The key, as often the case, is to actually keep track of how people perform. All too often the history of those leadership experiments gets lost and salesmanship takes over. Again.

      • Julian Frost says:

        Within academia competence in one's field certainly doesn't predict one's skill as a leader.

        I own a copy of "The Peter Principle". I agree with you.

        Trial and error seems to be the only way to figure it out, and if you don't get a trial, no one will know what they've missed.

        That is shocking. There are ways to check for leadership ability. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that organisations simply give a leadership position to a person and hope for the best. Not good.

        • Whizbang says:

          For a long time, leaders in academia have been those with heavy research accomplishments. This approach works pretty well most of the time; anyone who can lead a successful research group and juggle the rest of their chores probably has the social skills to lead.

          Sometimes those skills don't translate outside of their own little world.

          Sometimes women and minorities don't get the chance to lead even on smaller levels, or success on those levels isn't given the same credit that others receive. If you don't do "the experiment" or pay attention to the results, they don't matter.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    In my experience, at a regional university, there was no correlation between research success and selection as an academic administrator. It was much more common for someone who has not had much success, or interest, in research to advance in administrative ranks. I suppose there is the hope that perhaps they are skilled in some other area. I can't remember, during my tenure, hearing of a paper published by a Dean, though there may have been some. There were a few chairs, myself included, who had research resumes, and actively published while serving as chair.

    My department had a female chair, who served on two different occasions. We had a female Dean of Arts and Sciences, a female Graduate Dean, two female Vice President and Provosts, and a female President that I can recall.

    I was surprised when a colleague, an engineer and former Dean, told me he was uncomfortable working for a female President. So all is not roses. I responded that all I cared about was competence, and we agreed she was quite competent.

    • D. C. Sessions says:

      My department had a female chair, who served on two different occasions. We had a female Dean of Arts and Sciences, a female Graduate Dean, two female Vice President and Provosts, and a female President that I can recall.

      A common complaint in industry (I know that this sounds strange) is that they get are often more likely to be put on the managerial ladder. It's as though the system just doesn't have a place for alpha-geek women and assumes that they must be "people people."

      The two most obvious problems with this are that they don't get an exemption from the glass ceiling and that (who coulda thunkit?) quite a few of them didn't go into the field to become low-level managers [1].

      Dunno 'bout other fields, don't really even know how true it is in mine -- but that's a complaint I hear from them as presumably know first-hand.

      [1] I can identify. There was a big party at a former employer when I was promoted up the technical (as distinct from managerial) ladder. I had worked very hard to make sure nobody would ever consider me for management, and they all assured me that I had succeeded.

Leave a Reply