Gender equality and traits that define good leaders
Even though women still take a minority part of managerial positions in the economy, the argument “men are born leaders” now represents a thing of a past. Research shows that companies with a higher proportion of women in leadership positions have been proven to generate 35% higher returns on their capital and the companies in which women take 30% of leadership positions create 6% higher profits (EIGE 2019). However, can this success be attributed indirectly also to the inclusive policies of the companies that offer their employees the feeling of being valued and appreciated, regardless their gender? Namely, the core cause of women taking only a minor part of leadership positions cannot be found in lesser competence or performance of women, but in stereotypical roles that are attached to either gender in our society. When the latter is surpassed, all employees (regardless of their personal circumstances such as gender) have the possibility for full self-realisation of their potentials.
Have you ever heard that men are intellectually superior and more determined? Or that women are emotionally unstable? What about men caring more about achievement, progress and work than women, due to which the most successful managers possess masculine attributes? All of those are proven to be mere gender stereotypes. Managers do not differ in their essential attributes, capabilities and behaviours, and in both genders, we can find both excellent as well as average or poor performance (Mekač 2001). Nevertheless, the mentioned stereotypes work as an entry barrier for women in management (or in traditionally male professions in general) and their advancement on the hierarchical ladder in management. Research (Crampton and Mishra 1999) even suggest that social pressure is the biggest obstacle for women in management: due to entering a traditionally ‘male domain’, they also enter a whole new role in which they meet new stereotypical ideas (e. g. women are not able to cope with crisis situations, their training and professional development is meaningless as they will soon be leaving for the maternity leave, career women are losing their femininity by taking over masculine characteristics etc.).
Such and similar stereotypes are dangerous to both individuals and our society as a whole. They lead to reduce self-esteem in the situations in which people with certain characteristics are expected to not perform well or to lose interest in working in the field in the long-run. A society permeated with gender stereotypes allows a person to think that she does not possess real managerial competences, which leads to the individual’s subconscious internalization of such thinking, indirectly shaping her career path. In the long term such chronic exposure to a stereotype leads to the so-called ‘stereotype threat’: the individual will no longer perceive herself as a part of this group, e. g. will no longer see herself as a manager, which psychology ascribes as a result of the desire to maintain self-confidence in the face of failure. The mere existence of gender stereotypes and not addressing them appropriately can, therefore, lead to a loss of valuable potential if individuals are not given a specific opportunity based solely on their gender.
On the other hand, researchers Robert Rosenthal and Lenora Jacobson proved already in 1968 that the achievements of children, of whom their teachers expect more, are only improving. If we apply this to the managerial positions, we can conclude that men have much greater support from the society, which in turn also results in their easier entrance to the managerial waters and unhindered movement – and advancement – within them.
In the last decades the phenomenon of “women in management” became a trend which has slowly but surely also been increasing. Nevertheless, one of the more topical questions became whether women entering management truly have a different leadership style than men due to their unique characteristics (supposedly deriving from their gender). In the 1980s, it was widely acknowledged that successful managerial style is characterised by qualities traditionally associated with masculine characteristics. Some of these stereotyped characteristics are aggressiveness, competitiveness, individualism, authoritarianism, command and control tendency, negligence, risk-taking, exclusiveness in decision-making, even hard-line enforcement. In the 1990s however, it was said that ‘women’s style’, characterised by stereotypically feminine traits is a successful one. This applies to traits such as being democratic in decision-making, patient, cautious, precise, interactive, to collaborate with colleagues and help employees, to integrate a feeling of a family into the work environment. However, is it true that all women in leadership positions use the so-called female leadership style or all men use the so-called male leadership style?
Of course not. Research shows that women in leadership positions can have even more pronounced stereotypically masculine traits than men in leadership positions. It can, therefore, be concluded that individual characteristics can be called feminine or masculine, but this merely a stereotyped language. Both men are women possess personality traits from one pool as well as the other – we are basically talking about human traits, which, in line with certain societal expectations ascribed to a particular gender are generally (stereotypically) divided into two poles. Such awareness is especially important when we are talking about finding a successful way to lead. The most successful way in the last century has turned out to be the androgenic management style of leadership that combines both positive ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. Managers are managing both female and male employees, so it is extremely important that they are able to also understand both perspectives and all intermediate greys, formed by individual blends of personality traits of employees.
Even before the beginning of the 21st century, a new leadership style emerged, one that was already set out in a more inclusive way, namely the transformative style of leadership. This style is categorised by leaders that are developing positive relationships with subordinates with a goal to improve the success of both individual employees as well as the organisation as a whole. They also stimulate employees intellectually and pay attention to their emotional needs. This leadership style is in itself much more inclusive since it focuses on all employees and their satisfaction at work, which means that the proportion of traditionally feminine or masculine characteristics of individuals (both in management or other functions) plays no role, it is irrelevant.
The needs of job seekers in the labour market today are again different, which makes it necessary to introduce new paradigms and premises into our management methods. Research by Sunnie Giles (2016) demonstrated that the employees in the 21st century want from their leaders the following in particular: high moral and ethical standards, promoting self-organisation (loose guidance), clear communication of expectations, flexibility to change set premises, cultivation of growth and employee professional development, as well as regular and open communication with employees. Peter Brandman’s approach, however, illustrates four basic characteristics sought in leaders today, namely: self-esteem, connection with others, dedication to the meaning of one’s work, emotional courage, which should all be closely interrelated and mutually interdependent, as the absence of one disrupts the balance and efficiency of the manager. Generations of Millennials and Generation Z are in particular included wishing from their superiors a strong interpersonal relationship and genuine interest for their personal and career development.
We can, therefore, observe
that the key question is not who is a better leader – a man or a woman. The key
question is the trend evolution that emerges with each new generation entering
the job market – great managers should adapt and internalize their leadership
style (regardless their gender) to those generations in order to achieve good
results. It is also necessary to understand that each situation demands its own
leadership style. Good managers must be adept at assessing a given
organisation’s structure, current circumstances and the characteristics of the
people they work with, and adapt their leadership styles accordingly.
 24,6% of women in Slovenia are executive or non-executive directors and 17,7% of women are in the positions of board chairs or board members.