Leadership, Gender, Diversity

By Shweta L. Agarwal

Oftentimes, leadership debates aim to point out differences between genders. The general public tends to assign gender roles to certain leadership styles, but good leadership goes beyond typical rule-bound constraints. Organizations have a responsibility to foster a culture that generates leadership opportunities regardless of gender. Diversity of gender and background is imperative for inclusive workplaces.

In yet another interesting insight into a new facet of communication and leadership, the article called Transformational, Transactional, and Laissez-Faire Leadership Styles: A Meta-Analysis Comparing Women and Men by Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & Van Engen (2003, pg. 569), evaluates whether or not women’s typical leadership styles differ from men’s leadership styles. It further contemplates if these differences could be an asset or a barrier to women who seek to rise in hierarchies of power and influence. To answer these questions, the authors examine 45 studies that compare women and men on transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles, which have been the foci of a large amount of research in the past, and have uncovered some of the determinants of effective leadership.

Through this study, the authors conclude that even though male–female differences are small, they corroborate generalizations that women’s typical leadership styles tend to be more transformational than those of men and are thus more focused on those aspects of leadership that predict effectiveness (Eagly et al., 2003, pg. 586). Transformational leadership is a powerful characteristic to possess because it allows a leader to make necessary changes to a current business model. Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo, is an exemplar of a transformational leader due to her commendable efforts to restore Yahoo to relevance.

As the article deliberates, there are unique differences between the leadership styles of men and women in an organizational setup. Additionally, each gender has its own advantages and disadvantages, so understanding tendencies could allow more insight into the people who currently run the organization.

However, I believe we are in a period of transition with regards to our thinking about gender differences in leadership styles. As more women assume leadership roles and as sex-role stereotypes fade away, it is possible that the very notion of gender labeling will eventually diminish. The rationale for discounting these differences in leadership style is that they are the result of differences in the types of leader roles, power, and opportunity in which men and women are positioned, rather than the gender.

Adapting a personal leadership style that incorporates nuances of both tendencies would be an ideal scenario. While this may be easier said than done, it is something organizations should strive toward. Though this study does offer great insights into a unique aspect of organizational leadership, I suppose it’s time we look further than the conventional mindsets and concentrate instead on which skills make the best leaders – regardless of gender.

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