“Leadership requires people to stick with you through thick and thin and it is the ability to rally people not for a single event, but for years” (Hallek, 28). Whether it be at your workplace, in a volunteer committee, or a gathering among your group of friends, we all have faced gender biases. I would like to pose a question to all of you reading this: Do gender differences play a big role in leadership styles? In this article, we will be taking a look at several different leadership styles and challenging the gender biases associated with them. We will also look at ways women can break through their barrier and embrace their leadership styles.
In the 1970s, two forms of leadership theories took shape: the transactional leadership and the transformational leadership. Transactional leadership is a mutually beneficial relationship between the leader and the follower where the leader rewards or punishes the follower based on their performance. Transformational leadership is a mutual relationship between the leader and the follower based on trust. Followers are inspired by their leader and thus feel motivated to follow the group norms (Leadership Theories).
Female leaders tend to follow a more transformational leadership style. They are more task-focused, they prefer flat organizational structures, indirect communication, mentoring and training. These types of leadership traits help create balance in the workplace. Generally, females are more task-focused which allows a company to run smoothly on a daily. They are also more inclined to like flat organizational structure because it creates a friendly environment where everybody gets involved in a project, no matter your position. Women often use indirect communication which can be both an advantage and a challenge to an organization. It can allow employees to become independent to complete a task or it can create tensions if the team needs a leader who is more direct with the members. Lastly, mentoring and training is something women tend to focus on. It is a great way to upgrade the skill set of your team as a whole. Overall, women’s leadership traits help enhance the workplace but can also result in the leader not being able to separate business decisions from personal relationships (A Review of Workplace Leadership Styles: Men VS. Women).
Male leaders, on the other hand, are more transactional leaders. They prefer hierarchical structure, they focus on performance, they practice direct communication and they like to create competition. Men like to use hierarchical structure which can be beneficial but can also be costly for an organization that needs to make fast decisions. Focusing on performance can drive employees to constantly strive for the better, but it can also be a drawback because everyone is competing for the same resources so there is no sharing involved. Using direct communication can lead to clear instructions in tasks but it can also be too harsh for certain employees. Lastly, men strive to create competition. Although it can lead to great outcomes for a company, it can also be an added pressure when there are other external competitors (A Review of Workplace Leadership Styles: Men VS. Women). After looking at both gender leadership traits, do you think that there is one method that is more efficient for an organization?
As you may have noticed, advantages and disadvantages are present amongst both genders when it comes to leadership. However, it is absolutely crucial to work with each other by allowing many ideas to come together in order to formulate a new idea (A Review of Workplace Leadership Styles: Men VS. Women).
According to a research that was conducted by 201 Norwegian companies, there is a distinction in how specific work-related situations are handled based on different leadership styles. However, both genders have the ability to perform the exact same tasks, bringing each their own fresh ideas to strategic decision-making. Zenger Folkman, states that women are more inclined to take initiatives, practicing self-development, having integrity, honesty, and striving for results (Patel, 18). Furthermore, an influential review of 162 studies showcased women as more democratic and participative leaders. They presented less directive and autocratic styles than men. A research conducted by Mckinsey surveyed more than 800 business leaders on the most effective leadership style when faced with post-crisis global challenges. They noticed that women made a difference in expectations and rewards, inspiration, and participative decision-making (Patel, 18).
As we can see, women have the skills to succeed as senior leaders, but we hardly see them. So what is stopping women? Well the answer is barriers. In the UK, a research conducted on 3000 managers found that 85% of women lack a sense of confidence when it comes to applying for a job (Patel, 19). Other barriers include their ability to assert authority. Negotiation is also seen as being a barrier for women. It was found that women lower their expectations during negotiations. INSEAD, a well-recognized business school, points out that leaders are identifiable early on in their development. Their findings show that great leader should be decisive, assertive and independent. As opposed to women, who are seen as friendly, caring and selfless. Hence, this constructed idea around a great leader is centered around men, causing women to avoid taking on leadership roles (Patel, 19-20).
This leads to the next barrier, gender biases. If women adopt masculine leadership styles, they are viewed negatively. On the other hand, if they practice their “feminine qualities”, they are seen as too emotional and lack assertiveness. Where do we draw the line? Why do we put a constraint on women? A research conducted among US graduates found that more than a third of women stopped working to have more family time. As they move up in their career, their responsibilities become more demanding, thus they are faced with less flexibility (Patel, 20).
Networking and sponsoring play a big role in leadership success. Women see networking as an obligation and they feel less secure during these social activities. One research conducted over 400 graduates, analyzed the networking effectiveness for both genders. Their results showed that men had the greatest benefit, as opposed to women (Patel, 20-21).
It is evident that we, as women, need to break through these barriers. We can start by learning negotiation techniques to become more confident and assertive in our own abilities. Negotiation starts with ensuring that your manager is aware of your achievements and asking for extra feedback on performance. Another efficient way to break through these barriers is by finding mentors. Finding a mentor is important because that person can assist you through your career path. Lastly, creating a network is extremely important when building your career. It is important to build your network as early as possible in order to form new relationships that can be advantageous for you in the future.
To conclude, the biggest way we can truly make a change is by supporting each other as men and women. Women should encourage their sisters to move up the ladder, supporting one another towards breaking this glass ceiling for good!
Written by: Masooda Nejat , JMWL Ambassador (2018-2019)
Editor: Amanda Kane
“A Review of Workplace of Leadership Styles: Men VS. Women.” Helios HR. Retrieved from
“Leadership Theories”. Leadership - Central.com. Retrieved from https://www.leadership-central.com/leadership-theories.html
Patel, Gita. “Gender Differences in Leadership Styles and the Impact Within Corporate Boards.” Commonwealth Secretariat. (2013). Web. 7 Mar. 2006. P.18-25.
Sinek, Simon. Start with Why. New York: Penguin Group, 2009. Print. p.28.