Women-Leaders in Government Organizations

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 7
Words: 1944
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: PhD


An interesting side topic to a discussion of women’s expanding role as organizational leaders is the 2001 doctrine issued by the Southern Baptist Church emphatically prohibiting women members from serving as pastors. The Southern Baptist Church of which I am a member is the largest Protestant denomination in the US, which recently confronted feminist demands for gender equality in leadership positions. In response, the Church hierarchy issued a new dogma reiterating that the pastor’s office is limited to men such that until today the leadership role in the church represented by the pastors and bishops is denied to women. Some church members continue to resent this edict as a throwback to the dark ages when the prevailing culture expected women to be subordinate to men, fit only for housework and not as leaders of an organization. This paper conducts a literature review of the behavior and performance of the increasing number of women leaders in different organizations to determine if there is any justification for the continued reluctance of some organizations such as those in the religious sector to elevate women to leadership positions. In the process, the effectiveness and positive influence of women leaders on both subordinates and organization will be rated in comparison with those of men in similar leadership roles as we shed light on the differences in leadership behaviors between men and women.

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Literature Review

First, women earned the right to work in jobs previously considered exclusive to men, including the military and police, airplane pilot, even underground mines. In quick fashion, women workers graduated to leadership positions in various organizations. At the start, such women copied the leadership behaviors of their male counterparts, from wearing power suits to taking up golf, but recent research indicates it is the men that ought to do the copying (Sharpe, 2000). The reason is that women leaders have been consistently found to possess more of the temperament and qualities expected of a good organizational leader than men. Compared to men, women leaders are more assertive and persuasive, demonstrate a stronger urge for getting things done, and are willing to take greater risks (Kanter, 1988). These are the key qualities that make leaders effective.

Sharpe (2000) surveyed 425 men and women executives in high-tech, manufacturing and consumer service firms and compared their performance based on such skills as production of high-quality work, goal setting, mentoring employees, strategic and technical analyses. Each of the 425 senior executives was evaluated by 25 people in their respective organizations consisting of subordinates, peers and employers. The finding was that the women executives were rated higher than the men in such measures as goal setting, quality work and proper mentoring of employees, while the men received higher scores in strategic ability and technical analysis. Over all, however, the women were adjudged to be more effective as organizational leaders than their male counterparts (Sharpe, 2000). The same result was obtained by an earlier study of Kanter (1988), which found higher ratings for women on the particular skills needed by organizations to succeed in the IT-driven global economy, where teamwork and partnerships are crucial. According to Flora (2003), women make better leaders because this role provokes their nurturing instincts, which could in turn yield teamwork and partnership as outcomes. From an analysis of 45 studies on leadership, Flora (2003) noted that the best organizational leaders are those who inspire and encourage people under them to develop their abilities and creatively change their organization. Women easily fulfill this role because in an organizational setting, they tend to act more like a good teacher to subordinates than a traditional boss. As for men leaders, they are usually identified with the laissez-faire style of management, which punishes poor employee performance and rewards good behavior. This is also described in organizational psychology as the autocratic, tough control or task-oriented style of leadership, which contrasts with the more subtle and interpersonal approach associated with women leaders. Given a choice between a management style that uses power to get things done and one that uses persuasion, management gurus recommend the latter (Sharpe, 2000).

Gender Differences

The effectiveness of a leader is measured by the way he or she succeeds in aligning the attitudes, behaviors and opinions of followers toward his or her desired ends. In effect, leaders are supposed to inspire followers and raise their levels of motivation and morality (Carless, 1998), which is believed difficult to achieve under the forceful and aggressive approach identified with male leaders. Nonetheless, for every study that says there is a difference in leadership behavior between men and women, there is another study that says there is no difference at all (Itchaky & York, 1996). It is generally agreed, however, that men leaders are likely to use tough and autocratic means to get things done while women prefer to run organizations through empathy and moral suasion, which means that work is more collaborative under a woman leader. Moreover, women seek less personal glory than men and think through decisions better (Sharpe, 2000).

In the leadership literature, leaders try to change the attitudes, opinions and behavior of followers through the so-called influence tactics, which may be hard or soft. The hard approach is related to legitimizing, exchange, pressure and coalition, while the soft tactics involve reasoned persuasion, inspirational and personal appeals, consultation and ingratiation (Barbuto & Matkin, 2007). Studies on the relationships between gender and the use of influence tactics have produced mixed findings but most researchers agree that men and women leaders use different influence tactics (Groves, 2005), which may depend on circumstances and types of organizations. Women were found to display a more interpersonal style in experimental and assessment situations but they do not differ from men in formal organizational settings (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001). Generally, women are given to more interpersonal leadership styles while men are more task-oriented. Another analysis of 58 separate studies on the emergence of leaders in groups initially without leaders showed that men emerged as leaders more often than women did (Radecki & Jacurd, 1996), but women emerged slightly more often than men in the role of a “social leader” or facilitator, who contributes to morale and good interpersonal relations. Men’s leadership also tended to emerge in the more task-oriented aspects of interaction, with women and men making equal contributions to leadership groups that had existed for longer periods of time (Groves, 2005).

Since the traditional study of leadership uses masculine norms as standards for behavior (Carli, 1999), men are often viewed as better leaders, with women portrayed as poor substitutes trying to adopt masculine behaviors to fit into the male-dominated hierarchical structures and systems (Gutek, 1985). In addition, women are expected to behave like leaders who are authoritative and confident but also feminine-like at the same time, which means being friendly, kind and considerate toward others. The more women violate the standards for their gender, the more they may be penalized by prejudiced reactions that would not be directed toward their male counterparts (Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001). For example, Eagly & Johannesen-Schmidt (2001) found women to be less effective than men when leading directly. Another study (Itzhaky & York, 2000) showed that participants were more persuaded by men who used a direct and aggressive influence strategy than by women who used the same strategy. Lewis (1998) found that men who employed stronger influence tactics received higher ratings on performance and career-related mentoring than women who employed the same tactics. The consistent finding then is that gender as a distinct variable does not significantly predict leadership behaviors or the use of influence tactics, although older and more experienced women are perceived to be more interpersonal in leadership style. Barbuto & Matkin (2007) examined 56 leaders and 234 of their followers from various organizational settings to test behavioral differences in leadership based on gender, age and education. The results showed that gender determines many of leadership behaviors, such as effectiveness, decision making, productivity, participation, conflict management style, success and power. Indeed, it was shown that men leaders were prone to the hard approach while women used the soft tactics on a consistently interpersonal basis (Carless, 1998). Educational level and gender together affected followers’ perceptions of both leadership style and influence tactics. Women with no more than a high school education were found to use more pressure tactics than men at the same educational level. The differences diminish as the educational levels of leaders increase (Barbuto & Matkin, 2007).

Social & Emotional Skills

Numerous studies have confirmed the superiority of women in social and emotional skills (Radecki & Jacurd, 1996; Eagly & Johannessen-Schmidt, 2001; Itchaky & York, 2000). These skills facilitate charismatic behaviors in leadership, which have important implications for the promotion of women to leadership roles in organizations (Groves, 2005). This validates the hypothesis that women leaders outshine their male counterparts on charismatic leadership because they are naturally good at managing emotions (Flora, 2003). In the study of Groves (2005), a total of 433 respondents in four organizations were surveyed consisting of both managers and their direct followers. The managers in the sample included 67 males and 41 females for a total of 108 leaders. For the ethnic breakdown, 70 of the managers were white, 10 Asian-Americans, 10 African-Americans, 14 Hispanics and four others and have been at their leadership posts for an average of five years. The followers involved in the study totaled 325 for a ratio of 2-7 followers per manager. The leaders’ social and emotional skills were measured by a 23-item assessment instrument called Social Skills Inventory that asked the followers how their managers use their repertoire of social and emotional skills in the leader-follower interactions, including the display of charismatic leadership behavior. The primary finding was that a leader’s gender was related to how followers evaluate the charisma of their leaders, with women rating higher in charismatic leadership than their male counterparts. In effect, women are more likely to enact charismatic leadership than men because of their superior social and emotional competencies. These in turn contribute to the making of leadership behaviors that are more effective than those of their male counterparts (Carli, 1999).

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From the above discussion, we see that the same perceived failings that make women the “weaker” sex become their actual sources of strength as effective leaders in organizations. In today’s increasingly global and IT-driven organizational setting, the leadership behaviors that count are those emphasizing teamwork and collaboration, partnership and cooperation, nurturance and empathy. These characteristics come naturally to women leaders who are consistently proven to possess better social and emotional skills than men. However, if women are indeed doing a better job in their role as leaders of organizations, then why are there still few women on the topmost floors of the largest corporations? Another question that needs to be asked is why there are organizations like those in the religious sector that continue to refuse to entrust their leadership to women. The first problem may be traced to stereotyping. According to Kanter (1988), the bosses at the highest levels of organizations still evaluate people in the most stereotypical ways such that they give high marks to men when they are forceful and assertive, but low marks when cooperative and empathic. As for women, they get low scores when assertive and better scores when cooperative. On the second issue that we raised, which relates to the stand of the Southern Baptist Church against women pastors, the reason given is less on the leadership capabilities of women than on the Scripture. The Church says it does not support the idea of entrusting positions of leadership to women pastors because this is not supported by the New Testament.


Barbuto Jr., J.E. & Matkin, G.S. (2007). “Effects of Gender, Education and Age on Leaders’ Use of Influence Tactics and Full-Range Leadership.” University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Carless, S.S. (1998). “Gender Differences in Transformational Leadership: An Examination of Superior, Leader and Subordinate Perspectives.” Sex Roles 39.

Carli, L.L. (1999). “Gender, Interpersonal Power and Social Influence.” Journal of Social Issues 55.

Eagly, A.H. & Johannsen-Schmidt, M.C. (2001). “Leadership Styles of Women and Men.” Journal of Social Issues 57.

Flora, C. (2003). “Women Make Better Leaders.” Psychology Today.

Groves, K.S. (2005). “Gender Differences in Social and Emotional Skills and Charismatic Leadership.” Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, Vol. 11, No. 3.

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Itchaky, H. & York, A.S. (2000). Empowerment and Community Participation: Does Gender Make a Difference?” Social Work Research 24.

Kanter, R.M. (1988). “Men and Women of the Corporation.” Harvard Business School.

Lewis, A.E. (1998). “The Influence of Gender and Organization Level of Perceptions of Leader Behaviors: A Self and Supervisor Comparison.” Sex Roles 39.

Radecki, C.M. & Jacurd, J. (1996). “Gender Role Differences in Decision Making Orientations and Decision Making Skills.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 26.

Sharpe, R. (2000). “As Leaders, Women Rule.” BusinessWeek Special Report, 20.