Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Gender Differences in Ethnocultural Empathy and Attitudes toward Men and Women in Authority

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Gender Differences in Ethnocultural Empathy and Attitudes toward Men and Women in Authority

Article excerpt

The relationship between attitudes toward members of ethnic or cultural minority groups and men and women in authority or leadership positions was examined. The Ethnocultural Empathy Scale and Gender Authority Measure were completed by 317 participants. Results yielded a positive relationship among the attitudinal measures, indicating that individuals who express more empathy toward individuals from diverse ethnic or cultural backgrounds are likely to have positive perceptions of women in authority/leadership positions. Furthermore, gender differences in perceptions suggest that, relative to males, females are more likely to report higher levels of ethnic or cultural empathy and also have higher preference for women in leadership and authority positions.

Keywords: authority; empathy; leadership; attitude; ethnicity; gender


Diversity in the workforce has received increased attention during the last 20 years, and the reasons behind this interest are clear. In the United States, the last census poll indicated that 1 out of 4 individuals are of an ethnicity other than European American and that the Hispanic population has doubled during this same time period (Hobbs & Stoops, 2002). Furthermore, in 1950, European Americans made up 90% of the U.S. population, but now, constitute only 75% of the population; and this proportion is steadily declining. Another important challenge for organizations in recent years is that an increase in number of women are pursuing higher education and are also entering the U.S. workforce in larger numbers. Traditionally women had more domestic roles, which focused on care of the home and family (Eagly & Karau, 2002). However, currently 48% of the workforce is made up of females, and as they advance up the organizational hierarchy, women are expected to have equal access to authority and leadership positions (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001). These shifts in demographics are changing the composition of the U.S. workforce and affecting the way business is being conducted.

Understanding the impact of these changes on organizations is important, especially when it comes to attitudes toward ethnic minority and female employees and managing leader-subordinate relations. Personal attitudes toward disadvantaged groups are likely to be more positive when there is increased empathy (Nesdale, Griffith, Durkin, & Maass, 2005). Empathy toward diverse groups and cultures is especially important when considering the necessity of being multiculturally competent in today's workforce (Constantine, 2000). Ethnocultural empathy, or understanding feelings of individuals that are ethnically and/or culturally different from one's self, is considered a determinant of social judgment and includes taking into account other peoples' perspectives, accepting cultural differences, and being empathically aware (Wang et al., 2003). Given that the number of ethnic minorities is steadily increasing in the U.S. workplace and occupying more authority or leadership positions, it is important that employees exhibit ethnocultural empathy. To increase the likelihood of positive intergroup relations, employees must be willing to accept and understand culturally diverse individuals.

The concept of gender authority (Rudman & Kilianski, 2000) is related to the research on gender and leadership (Eagly & Karau, 1991), and establishes differences in gender roles as the basis of power differentials between men and women in the workforce. Perceptions of authority take into account dimensions of social influence such as expert, legitimate, reward, referent, and coercive power. Hence, gender authority, "posits that labor divisions within the workplace signify different status expectancies for men and women" (Rudman & Kilianski, 2000, p. 1315). If males are more readily identified with authority than females, females in authority roles may be treated with negative attitudes especially when they utilize social influence tactics. …

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