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why so few women leaders reach the top. What factors come into play?

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Leadership Styles and Development #2


Provide an explanation of why so few women leaders reach the top. What factors come into play?

Lecture notes 

Women, Culture, and Leadership


It is not uncommon to interpret the behavior of leaders in terms of demographic characteristics. One of the largest demographic groups is gender. Depending on the specific organizational context or industry, there are different probabilities for men and women to rise to the position of senior management and leadership positions. Different cultures have different expectations about how men and women should behave. In many cultures, women and men are treated and valued differently. The beliefs in some cultures influence how men and women are viewed in leadership roles.

In essence, male and female leadership roles have several cultural underpinnings. Certain beliefs about gender and leadership can be misleading (Gentile, 1996). For example, when workplace activities are influenced by gender considerations, the ultimate goal is to achieve a gender-neutral environment (Hale, 1996). It is also argued that not only is the workplace affected by gender considerations, it is also affected by the distribution of responsibility at home (Ensher, Murphy, & Sullivan, 2002).

Research Trends

A large body of knowledge exists in the literature regarding women leaders and managers, which has helped to increase understanding about the value and effectiveness of women leaders. Additionally, gender plays a minimal role in determining leadership skills, as women and men have demonstrated incredible leadership in several different situations.

There is no leader that can be great in all situations, as certain situational factors can alter the landscape of leadership whereby one leader can be great in one situation and weak in another. For example, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani had difficulty before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but was resurrected to greatness after 9/11. The situational factors of 9/11 brought out his best leadership skills.

An exploration into the underlying currents may provide clues as to why these questions are being asked in the first place. Most cultures have preconceived notions about the roles of men and women in leadership situations. In many cultures, men are expected to behave in certain ways, and women are expected to behave differently than men both in the workplace and at home. Hence, gender roles are heavily influenced by socialization processes that may be culture-specific.

The question about whether women can be leaders can be connected with the cultural perception that gender has influence in the determination of the leadership role. Additionally, this cultural viewpoint is associated with the other questions regarding the differing behavior and effectiveness of males and females with regard to leadership as well as why few women leaders reach the top. These questions are linked to the cultural presumptions that women and men lead differently and that the differences can be either beneficial or disadvantageous.

Successful Women Leaders

Comparative demographic data on female and male leaders help to provide empirical arguments that women not only can be leaders, they can be very successful ones. In 2001, according to the Women`s Bureau, 46.6 % of women were among the 135 million people employed in the United States, 58 % of whom were over age 20 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2002). In the US Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, women have made good strides: In 2001, women occupied 16.1 % of general counsel positions and 12.4 % of the seats of corporate boards of directors (Catalyst, 2002). Pofeldt (2002) states that increasing numbers of women own and run successful businesses, and the rate of growth of private enterprise run by women is double the rate for men.

Gender Differences in Leadership Behavior and Effectiveness

Recent studies in the form of meta-analyses and literature reviews have offered differing viewpoints about gender differences in leadership behavior and effectiveness. The studies warn about jumping to conclusions regarding assuming differences in behavior, cognition, and affect between male and female leaders. It can be erroneous to state that men and women differ in these areas, as it can lead to overgeneralization. However, Eagly and Johnson (1990) posited that while no gender differences exist, women use a more participative or democratic style and a less autocratic or directive style than men. However, the reverse was true in workplace situations highly dominated by men. While there is a claim about minimal differences in leadership styles between men and women, another argument states there is no difference. The difference may simply be that of context.

On the other hand, a meta-analysis of 82 studies of leader effectiveness showed that female and male leaders did not differ overall in effectiveness (Eagly, Karau, & Makhijani, 1995). Additionally, similarity between men and women was shown in leader aptitude, motivation to be a leader, job satisfaction, commitment, and subordinate satisfaction (Dobbins & Platz, 1986; Donnell & Hall, 1980; Powell, 1993).

Studies that explored the possible ways that males and females can differ showed that areas of difference include worldview, socialization, and life experience. These are believed to lead to the differences in the creation of mental models that guide the thinking of both genders. In view of the differences in research findings, it is conceivable to conclude that in general, no clear dichotomy exists with respect to the differences in leadership styles of men and women. One caveat may be that, for a difference to be established, all of the potentially infinite variables that impact men and women must be considered and thoroughly analyzed.

A difference in career or job-related experience; however, exists between men and women, which may account for the differences in mental models between men and women. For instance, a meta-analysis showed that male and female leaders are not evaluated the same way. A difference in the way they are evaluated can affect management training, which is an important consideration in upward mobility. Different ways of evaluation may also impact job-related leadership assignments, mentorship opportunities, and the promotion process.

Eagly, Makhijani, and Klonsky (1992) indicated that the organizational context of management can determine if leadership or management roles would be defined in a more masculine or feminine fashion. As more cooperation, rather than control, is required in an organization, women`s effectiveness increases as they move up the hierarchy. Because women have a more participative and less autocratic style, they are well suited to 21st century global organizations.

Why Women Are Small in Numbers in Executive Ranks

Slow progress has been made in the increase of women leaders over the past 30 years, the reason for which may be associated with the pipeline theory. This theory supports that women have not been in managerial positions long enough for them to have experienced natural career progression. Additionally, women`s lack of general management or line experience has also been blamed for the slow progress, as well as the assumption that women were less suited to executive demands than men. It was also reported that women were unavailable, and those who were available were not sufficiently qualified. Later research showed that progress was slow because women lacked self-confidence. These claims remain controversial and have not been validated.

There are several barriers to women`s advancement to executive ranks. Popular among them is one identified as the glass ceiling, which refers to that invisible barrier that prevents women from being promoted beyond middle management positions because women are held to a different standard than men (Ryan & Haslam, 2004).

As women have continued to fight their way up through and beyond the glass ceiling, they have faced a new obstacle − the glass cliff. Women have been promoted into risky, difficult jobs where the chances of failure are high. Indeed, they are being set up for failure (Ryan & Haslam, 2004). Regardless, some women have successfully broken through the glass ceiling and remain at the executive level. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, Hewlett-Packard Company`s chief executive officer (CEO) Carly Fiorina, and eBay Inc.`s CEO Margaret C. Whitman achieved celebrity status in their upward climb and have remained there. Other women leaders have also achieved and maintained the executive rank in both Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies (Hymowitz, 2004).

Additional factors in the slow progress of women`s movement up the executive ladder include organizational barriers, whereby higher standards of performance and effort are required for women. Inhospitable corporate culture, gender influence as a basis for promotion, ignorance and inaction by male CEOs, imbalance of or inadequate recognition, lack of support with difficulties, and lack of definite developmental opportunities also have been cited as barriers to women`s progress.

Interpersonal barriers also impede the progress of women in leadership roles. Male prejudice, stereotypes and preconceptions, lack of emotional and interpersonal support, exclusion from informal networks, and lack of male mentors are just a few. Finally, women`s own personal barriers have been blamed for slow progress. It is believed by many that women lack political savvy and struggle with balancing work and home responsibilities.

Culture and Leadership

The nature of the world today continues to morph into new realities. Some would describe the world as full of chaos, terrorism, political and corporate scandals, unethical leaders, constrained resources, and unreasonable expectation of growth and profit. Others would describe our world as full of excitement, philanthropy, caring leaders, strong communities, and congregations with faith and passion. Personal perceptions of the world may reflect a cruel and ugly place on days full of challenges. On the other hand, that same world may be viewed as full of hope and goodness when things are going smoothly. Possibly, the key to defining the world resides in the knowledge that the world can always become a better place.

There is a diversity of global trends today and cultural awareness is evident in most communities. Technology, particularly through the Internet, has helped create the global community by enabling communications virtually anywhere in the world. Societies around the world are all part of this global reality; few societies are isolated from the rapidly changing technology available today. Companies have established global supply chains to provide a competitive advantage. Products can be ordered over the Internet from virtually anywhere in the world. Furthermore, professional networks on the Internet involve members from around the world.

Sometimes people are just not aware of the degree of cultural diversity around them. Today friends and neighbors may live in the United States and Iran; colleagues and friends once lived Germany, or were born in Ireland, and have made the United States their home. More people than ever are becoming global travelers, choosing to establish homes in countries outside the United States, interacting in global marketplaces and attending events all over the world. Dinner conversations may reflect the personal interactions people have had with world politics, religion, and societies. According to Thomas Friedman (2005), today`s leaders must have a global worldview and realize the nature of operating in a flat world with a tremendous degree of cultural diversity.

Value of Diversity

In this more global reality, the meaning of diversity takes on a whole new perspective. Diversity is no longer merely about a set of targets set by the government or a human resources organization. The very nature of this new global world is about increased diversity: increased cultural diversity, diversity of mindsets, a diversity of worldviews, and people with a diversity of gifts. Hesselbein, Goldsmith, and Beckhard (1997) suggest that the organizations will continue to operate in a very competitive and uncertain environment and that "their profitability and viability will depend on the efforts of an increasingly diverse workforce" (p. 329). The potential benefit of diversity is an improved organizational performance. Cox (2001) points out that diversity can improve the organization`s ability to solve problems by increasing the experience scope of the organization. This increases the richness of viewpoints and positions considered during the decision-making process. Cox further suggests that the "effect of diversity on the quality of problem solving depends greatly on the extent to which the diversity is proactively managed" (p. 7).

A related benefit to improved decision making is increased organizational flexibility. Cox (2001) suggests that diversity can increase organizational flexibility "through changes in the patterns of employees` cognitive structure, that is, their typical ways of organizing and responding to information" (p. 8). In order for an organization to do well in the modern day business environment, it needs to be flexible enough to evolve with its environment.

Effective leadership; therefore, provides a model that works in this new world of diversity by embracing a number of different perspectives and through the avoidance of ethnocentrism. For example, in line with servant-leadership, a global leader should focus upon serving others and serving society, in all of its diversity. Embracing the altruistic principle of servant-leadership, global leadership involves a form of altruistic love towards others.


Successful minority leaders have demonstrated they are capable of achieving executive rank. However, artificial obstacles remain in the way of women pursuing executive leadership positions in corporate America. Organizations can benefit from continued efforts in creating opportunities for increased utilization of the diverse intellectual and social capacities accrued by women and those from with varied cultural experiences.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor. (2002). Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov

Catalyst. (2002). Catalyst charts growth of women on America`s corporate boards. Retrieved from http://www.catalystwomen.org/

Cox Jr., T. (2001). Creating the multicultural organization: A strategy for capturing the power of diversity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dobbins, G., & Platz, S. (1986). Sex differences in leadership. Academyof Management Review, 11, 118-127.

Donnell, S., & Hall, J. (1980). Men and women as managers: A significant case of no significant difference. Organizational Dynamics, 60-77.

Eagly, A., and Johnson, B. (1990). Gender and the emergence of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 233-256.

Eagly, A., Karau, S., & Makhijani, M. (1995). Gender and the effectiveness of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 3-22.

Eagly, A., Makhijani, M., & Klonsky, B. (1992). Gender and the evaluation of leaders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 125-145.

Ensher, E., Murphy, S., & Sullivan, S. (2002). Reel women: Lessons from female TV executives on managing work and reel life. Academy of Management Executive, 16(2), 106-121.

Friedman, T. (2005). The world is flat. New York, NY: Picador.

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Greenleaf, R. (1991). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

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Greenleaf, R. (2004). The institution as servant. Indianapolis, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Hale, M. (1996). Gender equality in organizations: Resolving the dilemmas. Public Personnel Administration, 16(1), 7.

Hesselbein, F., Goldsmith, M., Beckhard, R., (1997). The organization of the future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher.

Hymowitz, C. (2004). How these women executives broke through the glass ceiling. Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal, Executive Career site: http://www.careerjournal.com/myc/diversity/20041109-hymowitz.html?mod=RSS_Career_Journal.

Northouse. P. G. (2004). Leadership theory and practice (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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Pofeldt, E. (2002). Jumping off the corporate ladder. Retrieved from http://www.fortune.com/fortune/fortune500/articles/0,15114,369856,00.html.

Powell, G. (1993). Women and men in management (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ryan, M., &, Haslam, S. A. H. (2004). Introducing the glass cliff. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3755031.stm.


Leadership Styles and Development Name: Institution: Course Title: Instructor: Date: Provide an explanation of why so few women leaders reach the top. What factors come into play? It has become a common practice to interpret the leaders’ behaviors by using demographic characteristics. In this regard, gender is among the major demographic groups that have been used in interpreti


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