Traits of Student Leaders on a Technical Campus: Gender Differences

By Montgomery, Frances Haemmerlie; Newman, Sarah | College Student Journal, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Traits of Student Leaders on a Technical Campus: Gender Differences


Montgomery, Frances Haemmerlie, Newman, Sarah, College Student Journal


Twenty-four female and thirteen male presidents of student organizations and their members at a midwestern technically oriented university anonymously completed Avolio and Bass's (2004) Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire. Significant differences between the male and female presidents' self-ratings included females rating themselves higher on a measure of caring and males rating themselves higher on a measure of passive leadership. Group members saw the male and female leaders differently on only one measure: male leaders were rated higher on the trait of vision. Correlations between how male and female group members rated the leaders and how the leaders rated themselves revealed many more instances of agreement between female members and their leaders. Implications and limitations of the study are discussed.

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Issues of gender and leadership have received a great deal of attention as women have made progress in assuming leadership roles in all segments of U.S. society. In fact, 2008 was described as "The Year of the Woman" in U.S. politics because of the role they played in the most recent U.S. presidential election (Romano, 2008; Rudin, 2009). Moreover, the number and nature of barriers women face in seeking leadership positions have changed to such a degree that Alice Eagly and Linda Carli have called for abandoning the "glass ceiling" metaphor concerning these impediments and instead suggested the use of the metaphor of a "labyrinth" of possible issues (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Martin, 2007); this updated metaphor emphasizes "a series of complexities, detours, dead ends and unusual paths" that women face compared to men as they seek, and/or perform in, leadership positions (Martin, 2007, p. 90).

Student Leadership

Leadership development for undergraduates has been an important topic on college and university campuses for several decades now and many institutions of higher learning include an emphasis on it in their mission statements (Eich, 2008; Council for the Advancement of Standards, 2003; Roberts, 2003). Additionally, issues regarding gender have been considered for many years in the student leadership literature (Logue, Hutchens, & Hector, 2005). The benefits to women students of leadership experiences, especially with respect to fostering a sense of competence and self-esteem, are well established (Adams & Keim, 2000; Astin & Kent, 1983; Astin & Leland, 1991; Romano, 1996; Whit, 1994). However, historically speaking, so many obstacles have existed hindering leadership development for female compared to male students that the term "chilly climate" has been used to describe what many women students face when they seek such experiences (Hall & Sandler, 1984). Some specific barriers have included a lack of women role models in leadership positions on campuses (Astin & Leland, 1991), academic cultures and traditions that affirm "masculine" qualities of objectivity (Fox Keller, 1978), student cultures that value and reward men for achievement in academics, athletics, and leadership roles (Holland & Eisenhart, 1990), and fear of loss of approval if women students assert themselves and/or assume leadership positions (Boatwright & Egidio, 2003; Leonard & Sigall, 1989).

A number of gender differences have been found with regard to the leadership styles of student leaders. Several studies have reported that women leaders prefer a more participatory leadership style that includes a focus on the needs and opinions of the group members (Adams & Keim, 2007; Jago & Vroom, 1982; Linimon, Barton, & Falbo, 1984). Research has also shown that male college students are more confident about their leadership abilities than female undergraduates (Adams & Keim, 2000; Kezar & Moriarty, 2000). A recent study by Adams and Keim (2007) comparing sorority and fraternity presidents, and including both peer and self-evaluations, found that the female presidents scored higher than the male presidents on a measure of active change ("Challenging the Process") while the male presidents scored higher on a scale that measured "Inspiring a Shared Vision. …

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