Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Appalachian Women Leaders: Products of Culture and Life Events

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Appalachian Women Leaders: Products of Culture and Life Events

Article excerpt


This study explores the effects of cultural expectations and critical life events on women's leadership influence in Appalachia, a unique subculture of the United States. Using a sample of 347 female MBA students, the researchers examined the impact of education, gender bias, family/work issues, and family violence on leadership influence. Not only did results demonstrate significant relationships between education and gender bias with leadership influence, but also these relationships were moderated by culture-leadership style fit. In both researching and developing leaders, special attention needs to be paid to the culturally specific ideologies, events, and other idiosyncrasies within national subcultures.


leadership influence; women leaders; culture


It has been said, "All men are created equal." When in reality, all men are not viewed as equal, and neither are all women. These differences enrich the diversity of products, services, and markets, but they complicate the study of leadership. Leadership research has typically focused on bipolar categories of gender, with a concentration on White, heterosexual, healthy, and middle-class males and females (Bell, Denton, & Nkomo, 1993). Handy, Kassam, and Ranade (2002) propose in-depth exploration of specific demographic groups within specific cultures to further understand cultural influences on leadership. With growing workforce diversity, rather than keeping gender-based leadership research dichotomized and comparative, this research targets the diversity of women leaders of specific cultures.

In 2002, women made up 46.5% of the U.S. labor force and 50.5% of management and professional specialty positions (U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). Researchers expect these numbers to increase (Fullerton & Toosi, 2001). In 2004, women owned an estimated 47.7% (10.6 million) of all privately held businesses in the United States (Center for Women's Business Research, 2004). Despite the incidental evidence of women leadership growth, biases toward women in leadership roles persist (Lopez-Zafra, Garcia-Retamero, & Eagly, 2009). Historically, critical life events have adversely affected the ability of women to attain leadership roles (Bell, 1990; Tharenou, 2001). This has largely been perpetuated by culturally based gender stereotypes, such as preference for homophily with regard to promotions, informal networks, and work-home roles.

Adamopoulous and Lonner's (2001) situational model of cultural research assumes that people in various cultures have experienced different influences and life experiences that affect life decisions including leadership behaviors. Although leadership can be found in all cultures, research demonstrates that cultural differences exist in the way leadership and organizational justice are manifested, not only across cultures but also within cultures (Pillai, Scandura, & Williams, 1999). In cultures of England (Coleman, 2003), South Africa (Mabokela & Mawila, 2004), Republic of China (Korabik, 1995), and Latin America (Twombly, 1998), research shows the impact that society and critical life events play on the leadership roles of women. Handy et al. (2002) examined women entrepreneurial leaders in India's nonprofit sector (nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]). They proposed that critical life events, culture, personal characteristics, and socioeconomic variables share an interactive relationship vital to furthering understanding of leadership influence of women. Their results suggested that self-selection was directly influenced by the caste system prevalent in India. Eighty percent of respondents were of the higher caste system, Brahmins. Handy et al. (2002) recommended that further studies be conducted of developed and less developed cultures and subcultures to further much-needed knowledge of how culture and life experiences influence women in leadership roles. …

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