Women and Leadership

Leadership challenges, gender stereotypes and definitions of leadership are the most used terms when it comes to defining the role of women in modern leadership models. The number of professional women part in the current workforce is constantly growing and many women are seeking a leadership role. Women account for 47% of all employees and hold 51% of all bachelor's degrees, 45% of all advanced degrees, 42% of all doctoral degrees, and 43% of all professional degrees in the USA, according to a 2001 report by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics cited by Carli & Eagly, 2001.

Traditionally, leadership suggests power but the stereotypes of leadership have been changed by multiple cultural identities. Women in leadership positions are often expected to show typical masculine behavior at work such as decisiveness, authority and directness. Thus, women are challenged to fulfill traditional gender role expectations and fit patriarchal power models. Historic leadership concepts may not welcome typically female traits such as working from a care and relational orientation. The key to moving beyond leadership stereotypes, however, is to consider individuals' personal strengths, for both men and women. If a woman is in a profession in which leadership is expected, the concerns of how to balance motherhood, career and personal ambitions become greater. The most typical challenge for women is the balance of career and family. Those who live under the highest amount of stress are women who are married, with young children and in a leadership position at work. A female leader is left in a complicated situation as traditional perspectives and gender roles may be denied by some and expected by others.

Moreover, women are still following gender role orientation. They know that in general motherhood is a challenge for all women and in a more specific way for female leaders. The gender roles and gender-stereotyped expectations, which affect the whole society and, to a larger degree, women, do not traditionally combine motherhood and additional professional duties. Hence, women are convinced to accept the message that assuming leadership positions means they must sacrifice family, relationships and personal life. They are forced by their own stereotypes not to use their individualism or own different approaches but to follow traditional male-oriented routes during their career. A combination of personality traits and professional goals and vision is considered to build an individual's leadership style, which usually leads to success. The leadership style of women is often related to collaborative, transformational and context-driven models, while the style of men is seen as more decision making with more dominant behavior. Women find a way to use personal, interpersonal and professional domains when they take leadership positions.

A successful pattern for women is to see leadership from the point of view of action and style rather than in terms of dominant position and power. Women in leadership positions are expected to find opportunities in their personal and professional lives in order to achieve goals.

Feminist vision of leadership also animates both men and women to more fully analyze their potential and how they are provoking change in individuals, organizations, systems, and societies. Feminist ideas such as those of equality, empowerment and opportunity in practice could be used by emerging leaders who believe a relational orientation is a successful approach.

Society is also a factor female leaders should consider. There are countries with a longer and more deeply-rooted history of women's involvement in political and business leadership roles. Those societies give legitimacy to women in leadership more easily than others where those trends are relatively new and rare. Thus, context and culture make a difference in the ease with which women can access leadership positions. But societies are in constant change and the social models have also shifted to define more domains as not purely masculine and to accept women.

The points of view change when more and more people see women taking on traditionally male leadership roles. As public high schools, corporate departments, universities, media and many other domains have accepted women in leadership roles, the social structure is changing to adapt to new models for women. The public perceptions of gender and leadership are also in constant movement and in many contexts women and men claim a fair share of the challenges and opportunities associated with leadership.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Women in Leadership: Persistent Problems or Progress?
Kochanowski, Susan M.
Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010
Women and Leadership Positions: Social and Cultural Barriers to Success
Kiamba, Josephine M.
Wagadu: a Journal of Transnational Women's and Gender Studies, Vol. 6, Winter 2008
Women and Leadership: A Developmental Paradox?
Levitt, Dana Heller.
Adultspan Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, Fall 2010
Cinderella Stories of Women Leaders: Connecting Leadership Contexts and Competencies
Klenke, Karin.
Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, Fall 2002
Tempered Radicals: Black Women's Leadership in the Church and Community
Ngunjiri, Faith Wambura; Gramby-Sobukwe, Sharon; Williams-Gegner, Kimberly.
Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, April 2012
Race, Gender, and Leadership: Re-Envisioning Organizational Leadership from the Perspectives of African American Women Executives
Patricia S. Parker.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Chicana Leadership: The Frontiers Reader
Yolanda Flores Niemann; Susan H. Armitage; Patricia Hart; Karen Weathermon.
University of Nebraska Press, 2002
Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Women Police Chiefs and Their Paths to the Top
Dorothy Moses Schulz.
Praeger, 2004
The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research
David M. Messick; Roderick M. Kramer.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Claiming Authority: Negotiating Challenges for Women Leaders"
Church Ladies: Scratching the Stained-Glass Ceiling, an Increasing Number of Women Hold Leadership Positions in the Church. A Look at the Gifts They Bring and the Challenges They Face
LaReau, Renee M.
U.S. Catholic, Vol. 68, No. 9, September 2003
When Women Lead: Integrative Leadership in State Legislatures
Cindy Simon Rosenthal.
Oxford University Press, 1998
An Integrative Theory of Leadership
Martin M. Chemers.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Women in Leadership"
On Top of the World: Women's Political Leadership in Scandinavia and Beyond
Bruce O. Solheim.
Greenwood Press, 2000
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