Gender and Leadership. The Existence or Non-Existence of a Specific Female Leadership Style

Bachelor Thesis, 2015

53 Pages, Grade: 1,6


1. Introduction

1.1. Women and Leadership Positions

Despite the existence of formal gender equality and identical school education, women seem to have lesser chances to reach executive positions in the economy; for instance, the average level of female leaders in European countries was only 33% in 2010 (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, 2013). This difference is one of the main reasons why “women and leadership” is a commonly discussed topic in politics, society and economics to find the clarification behind this disparity. The importance of the subject has increased over the last decade given that more women have started to enter working life after fulfilling their studies and education at the same level as their male colleagues. Political decisions about possible legal support of women - such as the quota of women in companies - have failed to gain sufficient support from society, given that there should not be the need to regulate the distribution of gender in leadership positions by law. However, the need to solve the problem of inequality remains relevant.

Various research projects exist about the gender debate, which should serve as an explanation approach from different cultural, economic, biological and sociological perspectives, although the topic is constrained with several socially limitations and prejudices. Moreover, women remain associated with empathy, team orientation and relation-based leadership styles. Although these adjectives might seem positive, some companies demand aggressive and task-oriented leaders, which are directly connected to the male stereotype. These prejudices are deeply rooted in traditional gender views and increase the difficulty for women to prove that they have the capabilities to be a successful leader. Accordingly, women are directly connected to family organization and the demand for part-time jobs.

Of course, it seems - and is likely to be true - that women tend to have certain characteristics, which could be supportive or restrictive in terms of achieving success in an executive situation. However, the generalization between genders cannot be described as sufficient and proven. Burns goes so far and describes leadership as:

“One of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth” (Burns, 1978).

Although the proportion of women in management positions is rising (Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend, 2013), which can be seen as an improvement, a clear continuation of gender basis in the workplace persists.

1.2. Problem Definition and Objectives

Most problematic about the concept of gender leadership behavior styles is the fact that literature concering the topic is vast and researched into multiple directions. One needs to obtain an overview over existing theories and literature and its findings to reliably examine the facts and results.

This thesis aims to find an answer to the question of whether the female leadership style differs from male leader style behavior. Accordingly, the author evaluates whether the detected result qualifies as a justification for the existing inequality in the working environment. In many cases, female managers are restricted from senior positions due to their gender. Still, specific associations with gender based behavior exist and serve as a explanation in selection processes.

From the previous results, two additional questions evolve, namely what role stereotypes present in management selection processes and how social restrictive behaviors towards female leaders can be eliminated. Is it possible that a specific female leadership style can only be conducted by women, leading a company to higher success? Scientific literature is ambivalent, with some studies stating a gender-based variety in leadership styles and others stressing the non-existence of such gender related differences.

1.3. Course of Investigation

The aforementioned explanation of the importance and topicality of gender inequality in leader positions serves as an introduction into the topic, stating the recent relevance of research concerning this topic. The following chapter will define the terms “leadership” and “leader” as well as existing leadership style theories and their underlying demands on the executing manager, serving as a requisite for the comprehension of the following chapters.

Furthermore, existing gender stereotypes and the connected gender research with two ambivalent theories - namely the equity theory and the theory of difference - are firstly defined to underline the indecisive opinions on this topic. Secondly, the connection between these leadership theories and gender research are compared and examined in the third chapter. These chapters will lead to an answer of the first part of the research question concerning whether a specific leadership style exists.

Since it will lead to an answer that this kind of leadership is not existent, the author would like to show social restrictions and prejudices towards female leaders, which are the main reasons behind the development of the inequality problem.

Moreover, recommendations on how to draw practically relevant conclusions from the findings of the previous chapters of this paper will be provided, before discussing the overall advantages and disadvantages of the solutions. Finally, this paper ends with a brief summary of its results in the conclusion.

2. Theoretical Foundations on Leadership

In the following chapter, definitions on leadership and leadership styles are displayed to create a sufficient base for further elaborations. Leadership is very strongly used and is marked with various individual associations, which makes a clear and precise definition necessary.

2.1. Definition of the Term Leadership

The literature demonstrates numerous definitions of the term “leadership”, whereby the different perspectives of economic science and social science serve as an explanation for the diversity of definitions. They have in common that both parties describe “leadership” as an interactive, reciprocal event between the leader and the employees, in which both work on shared tasks in a structured working atmosphere. Moreover, the ability to influence human beings in the desired direction has an enormous impact on successful leadership (Weibler, 2012). According to Jago:

“The process of leadership is the use of no coercive influence to direct and coordinate the activities of the members of an organized group towards the accomplishment of group objectives. As a property, leadership is the set of qualities or characteristics attributes to those who are perceived to successfully employ such influence” (Jago, 1982).

Resulting from the term process, it becomes clear that leadership describes the individual behavior impact on other human beings, and particularly leaders on associates.

Therefore, certain characteristics are necessary to encourage staffs, although it is still not possible to define one main characteristic as the key to success, since other external factors influence the outcome (Hinterhuber & Krauthammer, 2001). Besides characteristic traits, external circumstances can influence the leadership process. Individual needs, special requirements, market position and competitors affect situations.

2.2. Definition of the Term Leadership Style

The leadership style can be described as the behavioral foundation of leaders towards single person or teams to reach a specific and common goal. Different styles may lead to different ways of employee’s encouragement (Bass, 1985). Furthermore, it is not possible to define a correct or incorrect leading style, since situations are influenced by individual preferences and circumstances. Therefore, assertive and task-oriented leadership styles can be equally effective as participatory leadership styles, in which the leader encourages the employees to make their own decisions if the situation requires it. In addition, it depends on the employees’ characteristics which leadership style leads to a higher outcome.

In order to be efficient, the leadership style must be suitable to organizations pursuing an increase in organizational performance (Bush & Glover, 2012). Consequently, to determine the perfectly fitting leadership style it is necessary to analyze all external factors, preferences and needs of the organizational structure. A good option on improving leadership style capabilities are trainings, self-reflection and openness to criticism.

2.2.1. Traditional Leadership Style Theories

Researchers have conducted several theories to define various leadership style possibilities serving different needs of employees and leaders. The results have an increasing complexity due to refining the content, which complicates an overview. In the following, three main approaches are presented to improve the understanding of the historical development of this topic. In this chapter, old requirements based upon approaches are monitored to influence the change over time decades. The Trait Approach

The oldest method on leadership style theory is the trait approach, which explains why some human beings are more suitable being leaders than others. The author choose it, because it serves as an appropriate bias for estimating the leadership style evolution, since the assumption that leadership is based upon individual characteristics is a recurring theme in all leadership style theories. Furthermore, the trait approach gains recently attention because it can be helpful in training purposes and entrepreneurs. In addition, it is the only approach focusing only on leaders and analyzes this component thoroughly the leadership process. Hence, it can be seen as a benchmark for what leaders need to be successful. However, this emphasizes the fitting of the trait approach as a foundation and makes clear that it is not sufficienttly adequate to identify a complete situation.

One of the earliest surveys was conducted by Stogdill in 1948, defining 79 traits, which are mentioned in 20 studies and are common for at least four investigations. The identified “leadership traits” are described as physical factors, such as height, weight and appearance, while intelligence, sociability, persistence, dominance and charisma are also important traits for a leader (Stogdill, 1948). Overall, the leader can be portrayed as showing a brighter and more significant personality than the other members of a group (Kelly, 1970).

The trait approach emphasizes the importance of the selection process. During the assortment, several personality traits of the considered leader have to be exposed and connected with the needs of the organization. Thus, selection processes become a highly specialist function, including various interviews, tests and discussions.

Although it was possible to determine some consistent personality traits, the trait approach cannot serve as a sufficient bias due to the fact it does not consider the organizational and situational context. Besides, neither personality traits nor personality itself are fully understood and feasible to measure accurately, which impedes the precise allocation of specific personality traits. Executive appointments may be made due to managerial potential, although they are strongly influenced by technical competence, external impacts, competitors or seniority. Thereafter, more suitable would be the definition of how someone achieved the executive position. However, it seems as managers still discuss the essential characteristics of successful managers, modern social psychologist started to tolerate the fact research is unable to provide a clear prescription of the effective leader’s personality traits (Kelly, 1964). The Behavioral Approach and Theories of Important Representatives

The incompleteness of the trait approach results in a new research purpose. Scientists mainly concentrate on the leader’s behavior rather than the characteristics (Oechsler, 2006). The behavioral approach concludes further considerations. Due to the reflections upon consequences following an action, it provides a more accurate theory and can be described as the next step following the trait approach. Therefore, it is an appropriate continuation. Moreover, the author presents the behavioral approach to underline the difficulties of determining all behavior effects, the most suitable style and the growing complexity concerning the leader’s duties. In this context, it provides a more appropriate bias to understand related stereotypes of gender.

The behavioral approach scrutinizes macro and micro exigencies, which have an impact on the leader-employee behavior. Based upon psychological knowledge the leadership process can be stated as series of behavioral eventuality relationships, which vary in stability. Leaders and employees are linked towards specific goals and tasks and relational effects between the behavior and its outcome have an influence on the overall organizational performance (Skinner, 1953).

Following the behavioral approach, the leader has different opportunities to influence the subordinate’s performance. Firstly, it is possible to accelerate desired behavior due to a negative reinforcement strategy. Secondly, the leader is able to suppress undesired behavior through punishment (Luthans & Kreitner, 1975). Overall, it is proven that usage of positive reinforcement is more effective than negative control within a company (Ottemann & Luthans, 1975).

One of the main representatives of this approach is Kurt Lewin, who executed the Iowa Study, which was used for a framework to determine conditions for successful management science. During the empirical study, three main leadership styles were conducted: Directive, Democratic and Laissez-Faire. The directive leadership style implies a strictly separation between the leader and employee, which results in a distant relationship. The leader decides and controls, whereas the employee executes. Consequently, the ability to act is very fast, which is a particularly significant advantage for the company in crisis situations. Nevertheless, it leads to employee’s demotivation, since associates do not feel valued or satisfied in their job. On the other hand, the democratic leadership style concentrates on employee’s integration in decisions processes to increase the motivation and the general understanding of the company’s performance. However, it is possible that no clear decisions can be made or the leader is unable to assert oneself. Another leadership style, tested by Lewin, is laissez-faire. In this kind of leadership behavior, the employee is free to make his or her own decisions and control oneself. Positive effects are the identification with the company due to higher responsibility, higher motivation and an overall organization performance improvement since individual strength can be perfectly used. In order to be successful with the laissez-faire leadership style trust between leader and employee is necessary (Lewin, 1953). Within the Iowa Study, Lewin experimented with the three different styles and it stresses that the highest satisfaction of employees can be reached with a democratic leadership style. Tannenbaum & Schmidt started to improve the research results with a one-dimensional leading concept, in which they differentiated Lewin’s results depending on the employee’s participation: Authoritarian, patriarchal, consultant, consultative, participatory, delegated and democratic. Being authoritarian implies that the leader makes the decisions, announces them and the employees have to execute the task. In the patriarchal pattern, the leader “sells” the decisions due to persuasion. If the leader is willing to accept questions about his or her decision to improve the understanding of the associates the pattern is consultant. As soon as the employees start to have a certain influence on the decision-making process, the style is described as consultative. In case of a participatory pattern, the leader accepts solutions suggestions from the subordinated. One step further is the delegation, since the manager passes the decision to the associates. An extreme degree of group freedom is represented by the democratic leadership style (Tannenbaum & Schmidt, 1973).

However, due to the one dimensionality of both theories further scientists elaborated a model, in which employee - and task orientation are combined. Important representatives are Blake and Mouton, generating the managerial grid, which is based upon the assumptions that leadership effectiveness is based upon concern for people and production in combination (Blake & Mouton, 1964). Contingency Approach

The aforementioned theories and studies are unable to fully answer the question of identifying the main component of successful leadership. In order to complete the monitored three-step evolution, the contingency approach is mentioned. The most current approach is relevant due to new developed tasks that a leader has to fulfill to be successful. It includes the highest complexity along with intricacy of occurring events, external influences and individual needs.

Fiedler’s model combines the two basic leadership styles in the contingency theory, namely task- and relationship-oriented. According to his contingency approach, three significant situational variables exist determining the favorability of the group situation for the leader: leader-employee relations, task structure and the influence of the leader. Firstly, leader-employee relationships are strongly dependent upon the leader’s personality and influence the level of tension involved. Secondly, task structure describes the method used to fulfill an assignment. Finally, the position power describes the acceptance of the leader by employees, which enables him or her to influence the employees more efficient (Fiedler, 1967).

Moreover, the hypothesis that under different situational conditions various leadership styles are effective was stated. Hersey and Blanchard conducted the situational leadership theory in 1969 to provide a sufficient approach (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969). With the usage of traditional leader behavior, initiating structure and various considerations the contingency approach was formulated. The determination of leaders’ behavior is the task-relevant sagacity of subordinates, which depends on the job maturity and psychological maturity (Hersey & Blanchard, 1982). The job maturity replicates the endowment of individuals to fulfill a specific task and is reliant upon the amount of education and previous experience, whereas the psychological maturity represents the motivational degree of personalities through self-esteem (Graeff, 1983).

Critics emphasize the lack in pragmatic utility of the concept. Hence, all kind of behaviors can be legitimated due to the need of the situation. Therefore, directive leadership can be deceptively appropriate (Wunderer, 2003). In addition, both conditions - job maturity and psychological maturity - consistently change. Thus, it is necessary that the leader is able to analyze and interpret all changes in a suitable way to choose the right leadership behavior. Due to the increase in complexity, the situational approach can lead to capitulation or loss of control. Furthermore, this theory implies a leader’s innocence on situations because only the reaction is assigned as a task (Neuberger, 2002).

It becomes clear that the contingency approach is built on the trait approach including the consideration of realistic circumstances in the modern market situation. Likewise, it is comprehensible that the contingency theory is a combination out of all three approaches, which makes it more effective and relevant for the paper purpose. The contingency approach demonstrates that traditional leadership theories are no longer sufficient due to the need of adaptability. This emphasizes the importance of the research question concerning whether women could lead in a more effective and flexible way, since it is highly demanded.

2.2.2. New Leadership Style Approaches

Due to difficulties with old approaches, the “new leadership” paradigm focusing on charismatic, affective terms of leadership and new dynamics, such as globalization and value change became more popular (Bryman, 1992). While the old approaches still concentrate on parts of the relationship between leader and employee, the “new-genre leadership” mainly focuses on the influence that the leader can have on his followers (Weibler, 2012).

Ford, Harding and Learmonth describe the necessity of new approaches as follows:

“Leadership theory emerged in the trait theory of leadership, which had flaws that were tackled by explorations of leadership behaviors, but the weaknesses in this approach, one identified, led to an understanding of the necessity of gaining better understanding though analysis of leadership situations. Eventually the fruitlessness of such approaches was recognized, and this led to the emergence of theories of transformational and charismatic leadership, the guru theory discourses of leadership and most recently to notions of post-heroic leadership and the leader as servant” (Ford, Harding, & Learmonth, 2008, p. 18).

The author presents transformational and transactional leadership style, as examples for new leadership style approaches, in section 3.1. in detail.

2.3. The Ability of the Leader

As previously mentioned the complexity of leader’s ability requirements increased over the last decade. In order to perform an appropriate leadership style, the potential leader has to fulfill certain criteria. In the following, the term “leader” is stated to create a common understanding. In addition, the required characteristics are defined due to having a foundation for gender comparisons.

2.3.1. Definition of the Term Leader

The term leader implies several meanings. In human resource management, it is used to describe individuals in an executive position within a company or authority. From an economic perspective, the leader is defined as someone influencing or controlling others to direct them towards a distinct goal. Most of the time, the leader has someone reporting to him or her, given that an employee is often more integrated in the operative business. However, the leader needs to have a perception of all processes within the company; otherwise, it is difficult to earn respect and acceptance from employees. Furthermore, a lack of knowledge could lead to a principle-agent problem and antagonistic behavior.

In order to reach goals the leader can choose a diversity of ways to motivate, inspirit, satisfy and regulate the subordinates. The chosen conduct depends on characteristics, the overall structure of companies and personality needs of associates (Linde, 1989). The leader’s behavior is contingent on individual traits and situational effects. Therefore, the leader is the individual executing leadership in a specific leadership style.

2.3.2. Requirements of a Successful Leader

As it can be seen from previous definitions of leadership style, the leader has to fulfill a range of criteria to be successful. Although there exist no universally valid requirement profile due to the inconstancy of tasks, it is possible to define an overview. The requirements differ in industries, hierarchical positions and company’s size. They can be divided into technical expertise, social competences and personality (Linde, 1989). Aside from technical knowledge, classical requirements such as intelligence, ability to reason, commitment and loyalty are further relevant aspects that are not explained in further detail this paper.

Due to the high level of communication within a company, it is important that the leader provides an extroverted competence, which supports the exchange of information and opinions between leaders and associates (Henn, 2012). Thus, a good communication allows a high level of trust, which leads to a successful partnership of leader and employees (Brown & Moshavi, 2005). With an increase in complexity, the leader has to cooperate with other individuals, be team-oriented and open-minded to solve problems efficiently (Schaufler, 2000).

Equally important is the capability to motivate others, which implies an own surgency, self-awareness and self-regulation because a critical reflection of actions leads to an increase in understanding of other’s behaviors (Boyatzis, 2009). Accordingly, empathy - also referred to as emotional intelligence - has a significant impact on relations at work (Boyatzis , 2011). Moreover, the leader should be able to serve associate’s needs, be authentic and value the employees because this results in an increase in subordinate’s job satisfaction, which has a positive impact on overall organization’s performance (Staehle , 1999).

2.4. Gender Stereotypes Perceived

In order to relate aforementioned leadership style approaches with gender, the current stereotypes have to be examined. Stereotypes are characterized as expectations of individual’s behaviors (Schneider, 2011). Hence, men and women have historically occupied different stereotypes in society. With the development of societies, the stereotypes attached to different genders have also changed. The role beliefs connect precise characteristics to men and women to define whether a specific behavior is appropriate for women or men (Eagly & Karau, 2002). For example, attributes as sensitivity are associated with women, whereas aggression or courage is considered male (Williams & Best, 1990).

Furthermore, these stereotypes are not dependent on cultural influence, since they evolved from historical division of labor (Eagly & Wood, 1999). Therefore, women are seen more kind and supportive, while men are expected to be more dominant. These male traits are considered as characteristics of agency encompassing mastery and control. On the other side, female attributes are connected to communion characteristics, such as sharing the emotions and thoughts of others (Abele, Rupprecht, & Wojcizke, 2008, pp. 436-448).

However, it seems that these gender stereotypes are as dynamic as the society itself because it includes a belief in change opportunities over time (Diekmann & Eagly, 2000). Wilde and Diekmann conducted a study emphasizing cross-cultural similarities of gender associations in Germany and the United States over different decades (Wilde & Diekmann, 2005). The participants observed that the expectations concerning masculine characteristics in women have increased over time, whereas men’s characteristics were considered fully stable.


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Gender and Leadership. The Existence or Non-Existence of a Specific Female Leadership Style
European Business School - International University Schloß Reichartshausen Oestrich-Winkel  (HR)
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ISBN (Book)
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androgyny, leadership, leader, gender, women, men, stereotypes, prejudice, leadership style, transformational, characteristics, resource based, human resource, selection, gender roles, female manager, inequality
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Carina Bolz (Author), 2015, Gender and Leadership. The Existence or Non-Existence of a Specific Female Leadership Style, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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