Can Leaders Step outside of the Gender Box? an Examination of Leadership and Gender Role Stereotypes

Article excerpt

This study examined gender stereotypes for leaders using a more indirect method than is typical in stereotype research. Rather than reveal the leader's gender, this study used vignettes in which the leader's gender was unknown. Consistent with their hypothesis, the authors found that participants were more likely to infer a male (female) gender identity than a female (male) gender identity when presented with a leader using a masculine (feminine) style. They also hypothesized that a leader using a gender-consistent leadership style would be viewed more positively than a leader using a gender-inconsistent style. Contrary to this hypothesis, results revealed that men using a gender-inconsistent (feminine) style were actually evaluated more positively than men using a gender-consistent style. It is interesting that a perceived female leader who used a gender-inconsistent (masculine) style was evaluated more positively than a perceived male leader who used a masculine style, but only by female participants. Possible explanations for these results are discussed.

Keywords: sex role stereotypes; masculine and feminine leadership; sex differences


Stereotyping involves assigning traits to people based on their membership in a social category. Although stereotyping is used regularly as part of the perception process to help people make sense of stimuli they encounter, it can cause problems if the stereotypes are inaccurate or if they inhibit individuals from acting in ways that are incongruent with these stereotypes. This study examined gender role stereotypes as they relate to leadership styles. Consistent with research on stereotyping in general, most research on leadership stereotypes has asked participants to associate traits and behaviors with a leader of known gender (cf. Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & van Engen, 2003). Thus, the gender of the leader has been the starting point. Knowing the gender of the leader enables participants to activate stereotypes, which they then use to evaluate the leader. In contrast to these studies, this study used a reverse approach to determine if individuals also associate gender with specific traits and behaviors. The gender of the leader whom participants examined was not explicitly stated. Instead, participants were provided with gender-typical traits and behaviors and then asked to create a gender identity for the leader based on these traits and behaviors. This approach provides an alternative, and more indirect, way of assessing the existence of gender role stereotypes. If participants consistently infer a male (or female) gender identity when provided with typical male (or female) traits and behaviors, this presents additional confirmatory evidence for the continued existence of gender role stereotypes.

Gender Stereotypes

Numerous studies have demonstrated the existence of gender stereotypes. However, some have questioned whether those stereotypes continue to exist or if they exist today as strongly as they did in the past. Research by Spence and Buckner (2000) addressed the existence of stereotypes by replicating a previously conducted study that examined stereotypes of the typical man and woman and self-perceptions of the extent to which the participant exhibits gender stereotypical traits. Using the Personal Attribute Questionnaire (PAQ) and the Bern Sex Role Inventory (BSRI) to assess gender stereotypes of personality traits, their results provide strong evidence that gender stereotypes still exist. Specifically, their results indicated that all instrumental traits (e.g., independent, competitive, decisive, aggressive, and dominant) are still significantly more likely to be associated with the typical man than with the typical woman, whereas all expressive traits (e.g., helpful, emotional, understanding, compassionate, and sensitive to others' needs) are significantly more likely to be associated with women than men. They found somewhat different results when analyzing individual self-perceptions. …