I’m working my way through some reading on women in leadership positions, and came across an academic journal article entitled “Gender and Management Stereotypes: Have Times Changed?”, by Powell, Butterfield and Parent. (The Journal of Management, 2002). The purpose of the study was to understand what gender characteristics people considered “good” in a manager. Participants in the study were undergraduate and graduate business students in 1976/77; 1984/85 and in 1999.
Participants were asked to rate themselves on masculinity and feminity scales. They were also asked to rate a theoretical “good manager” on the same scales. You know what’s coming. Yes, 47.6% of men and women rated “good managers” as having predominantly masculine traits. The good news is that the “preference for masculine characteristics decreased between 1976/77 and 1999 for part-time graduate business students” (p. 188). However, undergraduate women were less likely to describe a good manager as “like themselves” than undergraduate males.
The other interesting outcome of the research was that the shift away from preference for masculine traits was not accompanied by a shift toward preference for feminine traits. Instead, the shift in both men and women was toward “undifferentiated” (16.0%) or “androgynous” (29.6%). Only 6.8% indicated that a good manager had predominantly feminine traits.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to be undifferentiated or androngynous. I only know how to be female. If our new vision of good managers means that we can’t be our authentic selves, then both employees and organizations lose something valuable. The fact is that men and women are different. And, according to my psychologist friends (and a regular reading of Psychology Today), it is beginning to look like many of these differences are hard wired.
Research on decision making shows that moderate diversity in groups tends to increase the quality of decisions. Different perspectives improves the quality of decisions. Lets celebrate differences rather than try to suppress them.
The “think manager – think male” stereotype has been around since caveman times in one form or another. I suppose it’s going to take more than 40 years of participation at the management level for both men and women to adjust their expectations. I guess I’m just in too much of a hurry.