Gender and Leadership Style

Gender and Leadership Style


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Gender and Leadership Style


Despite the incessant campaigns for equality and fairness on gender representation at all organizational levels, women are still facing the challenges to break the notion that they cannot be as effective leaders as men.  Since they began to take management roles in firms, questions arise on whether they have what it takes to lead organizations and groups well. The answer cannot be as simple as black or white. Research shows that men and women can be equally efficient in several settings as this depends on the balance between the management of gender and the environment (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). Therefore, men and women are both competent, but depending on the work setting whereby men occupy the top positions, things are rarely equal. This paper describes the findings of Eagly and Johnson (1990) as they relate to sex differences in leadership.


Eagly and Johnson (1990) carried out an extensive meta-analysis of 162 studies to discover the association of gender with different management styles. Interestingly, field investigations revealed slightly different results compared to those conducted in the lab. Lab studies showed that women were democratic and interpersonally oriented while men were autocratic and task-oriented (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). The insignificant variation revealed by the field results were that women in leadership encouraged teamwork and were more participatory than men leaders.

Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, and van Engen (2003) conducted a study to extend those findings. Their results revealed that women were more likely to be transformational leaders hence using this leadership style compared to men. According to this approach, a leader is usually a good coach or mentor and seeks creative solutions to resolve problematic issues. Studies reveal that this type of leadership style mostly suits today’s organizations. As compared to men, women often recognized good performance and rewarded the employees who were high performers — one of the positive characteristics of transactional leaders. The research also showed that male managers were more likely to criticize their workers and seldom appreciated their efforts (Eagly et al., 2003). Despite these findings, psychologists warn against making conclusions that both have some kinds of innate or natural style of management. It is possible that the realization that they have been “bossy” softens women’s approach. Additionally, the research reveals tendencies for each gender (Eagly et al., 2003). It is to say that some women have more masculine styles of management and some men will be more feminine in their approach to leadership.

The research conducted by Eagly and Johnson (1990) showed that women were more successful compared to men but in female-dominated organizations and vice-versa. Therefore, leading a role that fits with one’s gender makes them efficient. According to Payne and Cangemi, (2001), some variables like culture, race, and sex influence effective leadership. The social theory adds that sexual differences play a critical role in the division of labor, thus lead to separation of tasks based on gender. Different traits also have associations with the sexuality. For example, men leaders are having characteristics like independence, dominance, ambition, confidence, and aggression while women are kind, sensitive, affectionate, sympathetic, and helpful (Payne & Cangemi, 2001). It means that all genders have characteristics that match the qualities of a good leader.  In fact, several behaviors characterize the aspect of leadership styles adopted by men and women.

According to Eagly et al. (2003), differences in the leadership styles adopted by both males and females exist. Mostly, gender has an association with variables like hierarchy, type of organization, the status of a person, and employee attributes. For example, according to Eagly and Johnson (1990), the autocratic-to-democratic leadership approach varies from the manager not allowing employees to be part of the decision-making process to a leader being independent and letting them participate. As stated earlier, a democratic style excludes autocracy, but leaders can apply both to achieve effective management.  Transactional and transformational leadership diverge independently and vary with leadership deficiency. Sometimes used interchangeably, but leaders are intellectual, inspirational, and considerate. However, they also show characteristics of transformational leaders.

The leadership styles mentioned in this discussion, such as task-oriented, autocratic, and transactional, focus on having more responsibilities while transformational, democratic, and interpersonally oriented emphasize the importance of interpersonal relationships. Additionally, these approaches show the masculinity of existing gender stereotypes as men are knowledgeable, confident, realistic, and influential while females are tactful, warm, expressive, and sensitive. Moreover, interpersonally and task-oriented strategies related to aspects like independence or intimacy correspondingly refer to masculine and feminine styles of dealing with others. The study by Payne and Cangemi (2001) finds that women are considerate while men are structured. It implies that it is right to say that males are task-oriented while females are interpersonal in nature. Even though some leadership approaches founded on gender, none of these is wrong. Earlier, transformational leadership style associated with feminism, but today it is a gender-balanced leadership style.

Eagly and Johnson (1990) note that, in the American organizations, one out four managers is a woman, which can be a grand social change. However, many of them are at the top level management positions because they ran their businesses. Even today, women hold one out of twenty leadership positions in prestigious organizations. It is clear that men that are leading the 500 fortune companies gain skills earlier in their careers enabling them to fill the significant ranks. Once decision makers realize that women can effectively manage organizations, they will occupy the prominent positions. Eagly and Johnson (1990) argue that if the bias that exists against women restricts their access to top level management, then they deny the chance to display their capabilities and further build management skills.


Eagly and Johnson conclude that individuals should mind the power of perception. The two authors deduce that even though the research revealed some variations in management styles adopted by men and women, the current sex differences are small since the leadership role itself is significant in determining one’s behavior. In other words, the study finds the association of women with democratic or participatory style and of men with autocratic leadership discourse. They conclude that women are better leaders in some sense, but the society is having a male image of leadership roles. It will be hard to strip leadership from the masculinity aura as this would require psychologists to present evidence of any actual differences that exist between women and men. Scholars focus mainly on finding out whether a management style associated more with women — more nurturing and less authoritative — would fit in organizations as businesses adopt team-oriented structures whose approach is less directive. In the meantime, men and women should understand that gender discrimination can either help or bar them from achieving success.



Eagly, A. H. & Johnson, B. T. (1990). Gender and leadership style: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 233-256.

Eagly, A. H., Johannesen-Schmidt, M. C., & van Engen, M. (2003). Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing women and men. Psychological Bulletin, 95, 569-591.

Payne, K. E., & Cangemi, J. (2001). Gender differences in leadership. In Payne, K.E. (Ed.), Different but equal: Communication between the sexes (p. 145-162). Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.











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