Gender and Leadership in the Canadian Forces Combat Arms: A Qualitative Study of Assimilation vs. Integration (1)

By Febbraro, Angela R. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Gender and Leadership in the Canadian Forces Combat Arms: A Qualitative Study of Assimilation vs. Integration (1)


Febbraro, Angela R., Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


Despite numerous studies showing women's leadership effectiveness, the stereotype of "effective leader" remains masculine in content. Research also reflects the dilemma that women leaders face, between adopting a masculine and a feminine leadership style. The present qualitative study investigated whether contemporary Canadian military women believe that they must adopt masculine characteristics (i.e., assimilate) in order to be perceived as effective leaders, or alternatively, whether gender integration has progressed to such a level that more feminine models of leadership are equally valued. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 women in the Canadian Forces combat arms (8 leaders, 18 followers) regarding their perceptions of leadership effectiveness. Using Berry's (1989) acculturation framework, results indicated that most participants felt that both masculine and feminine behaviours are needed for effective leadership. Most leaders did not feel that they must become more masculine in order to be perceived as effective. Those interviewed also emphasized the importance of developing their own leadership style, rather than trying to imitate a masculine leadership style, and even stressed the importance of their feminine attributes to effective leadership. In contrast, however, the majority of participants, particularly followers, felt that a female leader displaying feminine characteristics would result in negative consequences. Furthermore, nearly one-half of followers felt that women leaders must become more masculine in order to be perceived as effective. Overall, this study provides evidence of both gender integration and gender assimilation, suggesting that more changes are needed before gender integration in the Canadian combat arms is fully realized.

In 1989, a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Canadian Forces (CF) to fully integrate women into all occupations, including the combat arms. (2) Since then, the CF has made considerable progress in gender integration. Canadian women have participated in peacekeeping operations and have served in the Persian Gulf and in Afghanistan with distinction. However, although women are beginning to be appointed to senior operational leadership positions, they have not progressed in large numbers to the most senior ranks, particularly in the combat arms where women account for only 3.9% of officers and 1.4% of non-commissioned members (NCMs) (Holden & Tanner, 2001). As of 2003, the highest rank held by a female member in the Canadian Army was Colonel; in the Air Force, Brigadier-General; and in the Navy, Captain (N) (Committee on Women in NATO Forces, 2003). Further, the rate of progress of women into the senior ranks of Major and above (for officers), and Sergeant and above (for NCMs), is not generally comparable to that of their male counterparts (Holden & Tanner, 2001). (3)

Previous scientific research has suggested that one explanation for the slow progress of women into leadership positions involves, in general, the critical role that gender stereotyping plays in leadership appraisals and concepts (e.g., Boldy, Wood, & Kashy, 2001; Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995; Rice, Yoder, Adams, Priest, & Prince, 1984). Despite numerous studies showing women's leadership effectiveness, and only small gender differences in leadership style (e.g., Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003; Eagly & Johnson, 1990; Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995; Vecchio, 2002), there is still the widespread belief, first demonstrated 30 years ago (O'Leary, 1974; Schein, 1973, 1975), that women are not suited for leadership positions, and the stereotype of "effective leader" remains masculine in content (Boyce & Herd, 2003). Indeed, numerous studies suggest that there exists a strong cultural association between traditional notions of masculinity and concepts of leadership, including military leadership (e.g., Boyce & Herd, 2003). …

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