Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Influence of Feminist Self-Definition on the Democratic Attitudes of Managers

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Influence of Feminist Self-Definition on the Democratic Attitudes of Managers

Article excerpt

The only consistent gender difference in management style reported in the literature is the more democratic style of women. Democratic leadership is a cornerstone of the feminist approach. The current exploratory study attempted to differentiate between the effect of feminist self-definition and gender in explaining differences in democratic attitudes of managers. Israeli male (43) and female (28) managers were questioned about their managerial attitudes and whether they are feminist or non-feminist. Results suggest that a surprisingly high number of both male and female managers defined themselves as feminist. Furthermore, feminist selfdefinition was found to explain several democratic managerial attitudes better than gender.

The question regarding gender differences in managerial style has been the focus of both research and media attention since women started entering management positions in the Seventies. The first books to address this issue focused on women's inferiority relative to men (e.g. Henning & Jardim, 1976; Harragan, 1977). Recent books focus on women's superiority to men (e.g. Helgesen, 1995; Fisher, 1999). Both assume that the genders differ in their management style. Yet a number of studies that compared the managerial style of men and women (e.g. Morrison, White, Velsor & The Center for Creative Leadership, 1987; Donnell & Hall, 1980) found no gender difference. Donnell and Hall (1980) termed this consistent finding "a significant case of no significant differences."

One explanation given in studies that showed few, if any, personality or behavior differences between male and female managers is that women had to identify with, and emulate, the model created by men in power in order to progress in organizations (e.g. Wajcman, 1998). Some authors argue that this has negative consequences for both the women concerned and the organizations, because the feminine traits that are suppressed are the ones necessary to make organizations more responsive to the human need for connectedness, community, purpose, affiliation and nurturing (e.g. Grant, 1992). In other words, there is an assumption of implicit gender differences in management styles even in cases where no differences are evident.

A meta-analysis of studies that investigated gender differences in managerial style shows very few differences in such stereotypically male characteristics as task orientation, and such stereotypically female characteristics as a focus on interpersonal relationships. However, it shows also a consistent gender difference in women's greater tendency to use a democratic leadership style, and men's tendency to use an authoritarian leadership style (Eagly & Johnson, 1990).

The research documenting women's democratic style of management is fast growing. It shows that the new generation of women managers are more open with colleagues and subordinates than are men managers, and are consensus builders who encourage wider participation in decision making (Nelton, 1991). It shows also that women tend to be more interested in the health and personal worries of their subordinates. Men - on the other hand - tend to be far more competitive than women, more interested in winning, more career conscious and far more willing to boss people about (Morris, 1992).

Men prefer a "Command and Control" leadership style which includes such things as: top-down decision making, use of structural power, focus on self-interest of followers, control by reward for specific tasks and stress on individual contribution. Women prefer an "Interactive Leadership Style" which includes such things as: shared decision making, use of personal power, focus on achievement of goals, control by empowerment, and stress on shared power and information (Rosener, 1995). Women leaders are more likely to prefer work in web-shaped organizations than in ones that are pyramid-shaped (e.g. Fisher, 1999; Helgesen, 1995). They tend to structure flatter organizations and to emphasize frequent contact and sharing of information in webs of inclusion. …

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