When men and women in leadership positions exhibit the same behaviour, it is interpreted in different ways, according to new research from a German university. Women are perceived as more willing to lead if they demonstrate pride in performance and are perceived as less willing to lead than men when both display a cheerful approach.
There are some of the initial findings of a long-term project into the mechanisms that govern the selection and assessment of leaders in business and academia that is being undertaken by economic researchers at Technische Universität Mümchen (TUM). Their long-term goal is to discover ways to challenge stereotypes by developing gender-neutral HR management training programmes.
In several studies, the researchers presented diverse scenarios with potential leaders and their employees. There was an audience of randomly selected individuals and study participants were interviewed about their perceptions and expectations.
In one scenario, for instance, the managers varied the extent of decision-making power assigned to employees over delegated tasks. All employees preferred those leaders who offered them more freedom, but the female employees, unlike the male ones, made a gender distinction. Those female managers who did not delegate decision-making power were viewed less favourably than the male ones who too did not. In other words, women expect women managers to be ‘team players.’
“There is still the belief that men in leadership positions show more assertiveness towards their staff,” Isabell Welpe, TUM’s Chair for Strategy and Organisation, said in a statement. “The surprising thing is that some female stereotypes are more reinforced in the minds of women themselves – for example, their tendency to accept a dominant leadership style in men.”
Previous studies that had shown that individuals who show willingness to lead were more likely to become leaders, and that women were less likely to be perceived as interested in management, inspired the third scenario by TUM researchers.
In this one, men and women adopted either a cheerful, proud, or neutral approach to their personal performance. Those who seemed proud were assessed as having greater willingness to lead, and the effect was significantly more pronounced in the case of women.
“Women who looked cheerful were judged to be less willing to lead,” Welpe explained. “Pride, on the other hand, is positively associated with leadership qualities.”
The researchers hope to develop training programmes based on these findings.