Women are at least as effective as men in leadership roles. In
fact, subordinates prefer them. But if they carry out their duties the
same way as their male colleagues, they're likely to be evaluated less
favorably by them.
"The good news is that, although there are still biases out there,
women are not much undervalued as women," declares Bruce G. Klonsky,
Ph.D., professor of psychology at the State University of New York at
Fredonia. But let them try to do "man's work" a "man's way," and they'll
be sorry they asked.
Along with Alice H. Eagly, Ph.D., and Mona G. Makhijani, of Purdue
University, Klonsky looked at how sex differences in leadership style are
judged in organizational settings. Studies have recently shown that there
is but one big sex difference in leadership style: Women tend to have a
more democratic approach, with more collaboration and sharing of
decision-making. Men tend to be more autocratic and directive.
Eagly and Co. asked a group of men and women to evaluate some
characteristics of leaders and managers. Then they did the same thing,
but changed the sex (on paper) of the leader. The results came as a
surprise. When women assumed an interpersonal ("female") style of
management, the group approved of women. They reacted less favorably to
women who took on an autocratic management style. When men managed in an
autocratic fashion, the group approved.
"Masculine and feminine leadership styles can be understood in
terms of the content of people's stereotypes," says Klonsky. "Women are
expected to be friendly, unselfish, concerned with others, and
emotionally expressive. Men are expected to be independent, masterful,
assertive, and instrumentally competent." What happens when women cross
into male territory? "The respondents in our study constantly undervalued
women who displayed 'male' traits."
Women who sought non-traditional jobs fared even worse. So don't
expect any breaktroughs anytime soon. For now, women managers can console
themselves that nice girls finish first.