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This chapter reviews related literature on the leadershipexperiences of women executives in public organisations. It begins with some definitions of leadership experiences of women executives. Some related theories will also be reviewed. This will be followed by empirical literature from other researchers in relation to the topic under study and a conceptual framework.
In contrast to those taking an experience-based-bias perspective, several writers have suggested that other mechanisms hold women back, regardless of their qualifications. They have argued that women do not receive the same support and assistance as their male peers and that they are subjected to greater scrutiny and expectations than menDezso, Cristian L (2016). It is further argued that attributions of their characteristics, performance, and behaviors are vastly detrimental to their success in organizations, and that they are not rewarded as highly as men who have made comparable achievementsFrenkiel, Nora (2014).
Evidence for the existence of gender-based bias against women at the workplace is plentiful, especially at higher corporate levels. Headhunters report that organizations still prefer male candidates for senior executive positions over equally experienced women.
Sutton and Moore (1985) reported that among respondents to a Harvard Business review survey, men consistently reported higher salaries than women at the same experience level, except for those with under five years’ experience. Almost 60 percent of their male respondents indicated that a woman must be exceptional to succeed in business; about 58 percent of the men and 33 percent of the women believed that women have at least an equal opportunity for advancement in the companies where the respondents worked. The survey respondents also indicated that top management is one of the employment sectors in which women have the fewest opportunitiesBonte, D et al (2009). Similarly, the results of a recent study by(Stroh, Brett, & Riley, 1992) in Britain by tracking 1,000 male and female midlevel managers indicated that women’s salaries and job transfers lagged behind those of men over a period of five years, even though both groups had the same qualifications in terms of education, career orientation, functional and hierarchical experience. One of the authors concluded that “the women were not only disadvantaged but discriminated against”.
Hitt and Barr (1989), drawing on a sample of managers and professionals, found that sex was an issue in selection decisions for midlevel and upper-level management positions: despite equal qualifications (educational level and experience), women had lower probabilities of being selected than men. Further, applicants’ sex interacted with other job-irrelevant variables (age and race) to affect such decisions.
Proponents of the sex-based-bias perspective hold that the highest cadres of corporations function as old boys’ clubs with “glass ceilings” limiting the ascension of women to the topmost leadership ranks (Morrison, White, Van Velsor, & the Center for Creative Leadership, 1987; Solomon, 1990). The “good old boys” barrier enforced by stereotyping, excluding women, and causing them social discomfort holds women down (Haskell, 1991). As a result 400 female executives surveyed in two studies, 70 percent of one group and 56 percent of the other reported a male-dominated corporate culture and the existence of a glass ceiling as obstacles to their success.
In support of the view that women face enormous barriers in the form of sex-based bias, Kanter (1977) presented evidence that regardless of their qualifications, when placed in groups in which they are significantly outnumbered by men, women become tokens and are faced with predictable treatment from others that force them into roles that limit their probabilities of success. However qualified they are, token women become subject to excessive scrutiny, their differences from men are highlighted and exaggerated, and their attributes are distorted so that they become trapped in stereotypical roles.
The “glass ceiling” is one of the most compelling metaphors for analyzing inequalities between men and women in the workplaceHyun, Jane (2005). The expression has been used widely in the popular mediaas well as in official government reports and academic publications. The scenario suggests that although it may now be possible to see women being able to get through the front door of managerial hierarchies, at some point they hit an invisible barrier that blocks any further upward movement. According to the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (1995), the term ‘glass ceiling’ refers to the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper ranks of the corporate ladder regardless of their qualifications or achievements.
Taken literally, the metaphor of the “glass ceiling” implies the existence of an impermeable barrier that blocks the vertical mobility of women; Below this barrier, women are able to get promoted; beyond this barrier, they are not.’Zamfirache, Irina (2010).Sucha situation can be considered the limiting case of a more general phenomenon: situations in which the disadvantages women face relative to men intensify as they move up organizational hierarchies.
Proponents of the experience-based-bias argue that the dearth of women leaders of corporations occurs because women have not acquired the necessary inputs for leadership. Particularly at the highest decision-making levels, women are considered to be underrepresented only because they are less likely than men to possess characteristics desirable for inclusion at these levels.
The substantive argument of the above perspective, thus, is that men and women will be treated equally if and when they have equal qualifications.Advocates of this perspective concur with the view articulated by a respondent to a Harvard Business Review survey of executives’ attitudes towards women in management that: “Men and women follow the same career path if their capabilities are equal” (Sutton & Moore, 1985: 50]. Recent studies investigating the evaluation of men and women, which have found that information about women’s high-performance abilities defrays negative judgments, have provided some support for this view. For example, Heilman, Martell, and Simon (1988] found that undervaluing of women’s competence and likely career success dissipated when information on their high performance was provided. Similarly, Heilman, Block, Martell, and Simon’s (1989] extension of Schein’s (1973] study showed that when female managers were identified as successful, differences in perceptions of female and male managers in general vanished.
Additionally, there is some evidence in the literature regarding lack of gender discrimination in the recruitment of qualified managers. Hitt, Zikmund, and Pickens (1982], for example, found that for equally qualified holders of Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degrees, race but not sex influenced opportunities for employment in entry-level professional positions. Similarly, other research has suggested that qualifications substantively explain sex differences in selection and performance evaluation (e.g. Graves & Powell, 1988; cf. Olian, Schwab, &Haberfeld, 1988]. Powell suggested that “male and female managers certainly differ in their success. This could be due simply to the average male manager being older and more experienced than the average female manager. If there were no basic differences between male and female managers, it would be just a matter of time until the proportion of women was about the same at all managerial levels” (1990: 68-69]. Similarly, Friedman (1988] and Williams (1988] pointed out that it may still be too early for women to have attained proportional representation in upper management, since young women who received their M.B.A.s and entered management in the mid- 1970s still are younger than the average senior executive.
Although the literature cited above primarily pertains to women’s representation in the ranks of management rather than in firm governance, clearly the experience-based-bias argument can be extended to explain the composition of boards’ standing committees. Since these committees, constituting the highest levels of corporate leadership and decision making, are vested with the authority to oversee a firm’s management, women are generally likely to be less qualified for committee membership than men because of women’s relatively recent entry into managementMartell, Richard F., et al. (1998). Thus, the experience-based-bias argument suggests that the experience of male and female directors, and not their sex, influences committee membership odds.
Despite the controversy about gender and leadership, research on how women lead is growing. Leadership style is viewed as a composite of “relatively stable patterns of behaviour that are manifested by leaders” (Eagly&Johannessen- Schmidt, 2001, p. 781). Work on female leadership style tends to conclude that “women are better educational leaders” than men (Coleman, 2003, p. 41; Shakeshaft, 1987, 1993). This claim is justified in terms of women’s relationships, teaching and learning and community building (Shakeshaft, 1993). In a Greek study, female principals interpreted women’s leadership more positively than men’s leadership. They argued that women lead more flexibly, intuitively and holistically (Lyman et al., 2009). Some argue that women embrace superior leadership styles (Coleman, 2003).
Some researchers suggest that, women prefer teamwork, and tend to be more accessible, caring and supportive. They emphasize students’ learning achievement through instructional leadership (Coleman, 2003, 2005; Grogan &Shakeshaft, 2009). Numerous studies have shown that women employ a collaborative and participative leadership style (Coleman, 2002, 2003; Franzén, 2005; Hall, 1996; Lyman et al., 2009; Morris et al., 1999; Neville, 1988; Ouston, 1993; Shakeshaft,
1993; Stelter, 2002). When adopting this style, women encourage inclusiveness (Shakeshaft, 1993) and use collaborative decision-making (Lyman et al., 2009). One way of interpreting women leaders’ effectiveness is the higher standard they have to meet in attaining their leadership positions and the perception that they “have to maintain better performance to retain these roles” (Eagly&Johannessen- Schmidt, 2001, p. 793). However, few researchers explain why these styles are more likely to be embraced by women. It could be argued that the positive women’s stereotype as “nurturing, caring and people orientated” might account for it (Noddings, 1984 as cited in Coleman, 2003, p. 40). Coleman (2003) seems to believe that it is due to being in the field of education, which is an environment that “predisposes its leaders… towards a more democratic and participative style” (p. 46).
Eagly and Johannessen-Schmidt (2001) have a quite different standpoint. They argue that it may be “the attitudinal bias against female leaders that arises from the incongruity of the female gender role and many leader roles” that renders democratic and participative styles more favorable to women than men.
The thesis that women’s leadership styles are superior to men’s is strongly supported by some research findings which indicate that women’s styles are associated with transformational leadership (Coleman, 2003; Cubillo& Brown, 2003; Eagly&Johannessen-Schmidt, 2001; Eagly, &Johannessen-Schmidt and van Engen, 2003; Hackman, Furniss, Hill, & Paterson, 1992; Weyer, 2007). Transformational leadership was first proposed by Burns (1978) and then developed by Bass (1985a) as an effective style which builds on “interpersonal relationships and the sharing of power and information” (Weyer, 2007, p. 490). The focus of this style is “individualised consideration”, which means that subordinates’ mentorship, development and individual needs are prioritised by leaders (Eagly&Johannessen-Schmidt, 2001, p. 787). These characteristics make transformational leadership communal, and given women’s stereotype as nurturing, caring and people oriented, this leadership style is easier for female leaders to achieve.
The debate on leadership styles is further complicated by the concept of androgynous leadership, which combines both masculine and feminine leadership styles. Androgynous leadership has been studied by Coleman, 2000; Cubillo and Brown, 2003; Davis and Johansson, 2005; Hall, 1996; Morris et al., 1999; and Oplatka, 2006. These authors claim that good leaders have both masculine and feminine characteristics available to them and can select the most appropriate for a particular situation (Singleton, 1993 as cited in Cubillo& Brown, 2003). One of the most important findings in favor of this leadership style comes from Oplatka’s (2006) review of 14 major journals in educational administration, gender studies and comparative education in developing countries, which found evidence that female leaders in these countries seem to adopt an androgenic style. Hall (1996), too, argues “for a view of school leadership and management that draws on behaviours that are the exclusive property of neither men nor women” (p. 3). This is clearly illustrated in Morris et al.’s (1999) study which compares the findings of research into leadership style of Singaporean principals and English head teachers.
In both studies in the two countries, Bem (1977) and Gray’s (1989) gender paradigms were used.
The findings show that the participants chose attributes from both paradigms, which created “an image of a leader that differs from both masculine and feminine stereotypes” (Coleman, 1996, p. 166). Interestingly, the Singaporean female principals tended to choose more “masculine” attributes of leadership than their English counterparts.
Debate on female leadership style is ongoing, and the argument that women can lead at least as well as men is persuasive. With regard to androgyny, whilst it is inescapable that leadership style is influenced by gender, what forces women to cross their gender stereotype boundaries to adopt a more masculine style? The explanation for the participants’ choices in the above study is perhaps linked to cultural differences (between Singapore and England) (Morris et al., 1999), and to “a strong male-dominated culture” in developing countries (Oplatka, 2006, p. 615). The literature suggests that leadership practice is strongly influenced by culture.
There are recurrent themes about the factors that enable women and gender advocates to develop voice, influence and leadership capacities across the political, economic and social spheres – and in the factors that signal active modes of resistance.
There are multiple pathways to women’s activism. Women’s experience of changes in gender relations and empowerment, at the individual/household level and collectively, are also diverse.
What works in one context to support women’s substantive voice and leadership may be irrelevant in others. This means that common enabling and constraining factors can guide policy and programming but do not provide a blueprint.
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