Examining the Relationship between Military Leadership Characteristics and Gender Role Stereotypes

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Boyce, L., A., & Herd, A., M. (2003). The relationship between gender role stereotypes and requisite military leadership characteristics. Sex Roles, 49(7/8).

Phenomena such as globalization, the rapid development of technology, as well as an increase in workforce diversity all affect directly and significantly military organizations around the world (Loughlin & Arnold, 2003). Furthermore, an increased burden has been placed on military organizations and their leaders, and in particular the Canadian Forces, as a result of the changing nature of the global war on terrorism (Ignatieff, 2002). For example, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number and scope of peacekeeping missions and the use of special operations forces. According to Boyce and Herd (2003), the aforementioned factors have ultimately served to facilitate an augmented demand for successful military leaders, motivating a transformation in the leadership doctrine of militaries around the world. Consequently, researchers have advocated the advantages of employing a comprehensive, balanced, and flexible approach to leadership, as well as orientations that are less gender-typed in nature and more complementary with women's roles/skills than conventional masculine leadership approaches. Hence these approaches are more apt to meet the shifting demands placed on military organizations during this current period of worldly change and crisis. Boyce and Herd note, however, that for the successful implementation of initiatives aimed toward leadership development and expansion in the military and other organizations, there exists a fundamental need to examine current conceptualizations regarding gender and the characteristics of successful leaders, particularly in military academy students.

Although military institutions have attempted to expose cadets to a range of leadership models and extensive training, according to Boyce and Herd, both male and female military officer trainees are believed to maintain pronounced perceptions of gender role stereotypes. Support for this hypothesis includes a combination of factors; for example, strong male-dominated populations and masculine traditions are often inherent to service academies. Given the paucity of women typically found in military contexts, there exist a minimal number of women leaders who, therefore, are able to serve as role models. Furthermore, the authors acknowledge that the prevailing military culture is masculine in nature; and thus, during their academy years cadets are immersed deeply in the attitudes, norms, and traditions of the academy, while simultaneously receiving less exposure to the outside world than civilian college students.

Recognizing the need for research in the area of officer leadership characteristics and gender role stereotypes, Boyce and Herd explored the perceptions of military academy students at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), a four-year undergraduate military service college. Their study is fundamentally a replication of Schein's research (1973, 1975) on the relationship between gender role stereotyping (i.e., the belief that a set of traits and abilities is more likely to be found among one sex than the other) and views of effective management characteristics. For example, Schein (1973) found that managers rated successful managers as possessing characteristics, attitudes, and dispositions more generally attributed to men than to women.

Numerous researchers (Eagly et al., 1990; Eagly et al., 1992; Broverman, et al., 1994) have already established the existence of clearly defined sex-role stereotypes for men and women, perceptions that to date remain prevalent. For example, women often are perceived as comparatively less capable, autonomous, objective, and rational than are men. In turn, men are conceived to be lacking interpersonal sensitivity, warmness, and expressiveness in comparison to women. …