Perceptions of Men, Women, and Ceos: The Effects of Gender Identity

Article excerpt

Previous studies (e.g., Heilman, Block, & Martell, 1995; Heilman, Block, Martell, & Simon, 1989; Kunkel, Dennis, & Waters, 2003; Schein, 1973, 1975; Schein & Mueller, 1992) have detected differences in how participants perceive the characteristics of males and females in general and those of male and female managers, though sex-based stereotyping dissipated with the consideration of successful managers. This study, an administration of the Schein Descriptive Index (SDI, Schein, 1973) and the Bern Sex Role Inventory (BSRI; Bern, 1974) to 220 participants (125 women and 95 men), is the second to extend the operationalization of the extant program beyond the commonplace label of manager to that of chief executive officer (CEO) and the first to find that participants' gender identities may be critical to their perceptions of similarities and differences between the sexes. While males and masculinity continue to be associated with organizational leadership attributes, individuals of either sex who express feminine orientations perceive little difference between the sexes.

Though laws have been established to prevent discrimination against women in the workplace, it seems that female executives are still facing many obstacles in their efforts to achieve high-level management and leadership positions. In a December 1997 International Labor Organization meeting in Geneva, participants representing 20 countries agreed that "social attitudes and cultural biases were identified as major factors discriminating against women and holding them back from attaining higher-level jobs" (Wirth, 1998, p. 247). Thus, it is clear that the examination of how female candidates for - and holders of positions of power and leadership are perceived, relative to their male counterparts, is vital to understanding why, at the turn of the present century, only 6 women held the position of chief executive officer (CEO) in companies on the Fortune 500 list (Sellers, 2001).

This study focuses on whether or not women continue to be viewed by both sexes as possessing fewer of the characteristics associated with achieving the highest levels of success on corporate ladders than do men and whether or not those who hold these views differ with regard to their gender identities or orientations. The literature that examines pertinent stereotypes, standards, and perceptions is briefly reviewed, and the paradigm for investigating similarities between successful executives and both sexes is highlighted. The latter particularly informs the methodology of the current study and helps to contextualize the consideration of its telling findings.


Haslett, Geis, and Carter (1992) claim that gender stereotypes are "common, culturewide beliefs about how men and women differ in personal qualities and characteristics" (p. 29). Men are generally stereotyped to be objective, competitive, logical, independent, aggressive, responsible, rational, and ambitious, whereas stereotypes of women often include characteristics such as being gentle, emotional, intuitive, dependent, sensitive, passive, illogical, nurturant, warm, and accommodating (Dubno, 1985; Eagly & Wood, 1991; Haslett et al.). Moreover, Haslett et al. observe that "masculine" attributes tend to be "instrumental or agentic traits...traits implying the ability to accomplish tasks" (p. 30). In contrast, "feminine" traits tend to be "expressive or communal, the disposition to be sensitive and nurturing to others" (Haslett et al., p. 31). Studies have also indicated that sex role stereotypes that produce negative evaluations of women and preferences for masculine traits (Ragins & Sundstrom, 1989) influence personnel decisions such as hiring and promotion, especially among top executives and leaders (e.g., Cohen & Bunker, 1975; Heilman, 1995, 2001). Subsequently, an expectation arises that leaders in most professional and managerial positions are driven, objective, assertive, and authoritative (Wajcman, 1998) and hence, possess and display characteristics associated with the "masculine" stereotype rather than the "feminine" (Deal & Stevenson, 1998; Dubno, 1985; Haslett et al. …