Gender and cultural differences in leader’s perception

Master's Thesis 2014 39 Pages

Psychology - Work, Business, Organisational and Economic Psychology



The objective of this study is to evaluate the gender and cultural differences in the perceptionof a male and a female leader in a feedback situation. The research will be based uponconsiderations of a literature review in the fields of gender bias and stereotype conductedpreviously. Subjects from Spain and Germany were asked to evaluate a director (male orfemale) of a fictive feedback situation that was described before a short questionnaire. Thequestions of the questionnaire were based on previous research and findings of the literaturereview. Results show no significance differences in the evaluation across genders andcultures. We tested if previous experience with a woman leader was related to a higherevaluation of the female leader finding no significant relationship. We tested if there was arelationship between the previous experience with a female leader and the preference towork for a certain leader’s gender finding no significant relationship. Taking intoconsideration the subgroup “previous experience with a female leader”, we analyzed ifpersonnel responsibility was related to the preference to work for a certain leader’s genderfinding no relationship. Results from the study show that gender, culture and previousexperience with a female leader had no influence on the leader’s evaluation. A discussionwith possible interpretations of the findings and implication for further research follows. Keywords: Stereotype, gender bias, culture differences, leadership, feedback.


The aim of this study is to give specific answers to questions in the field of differencesin perception of a female leader in an intercultural setting. Gender bias defines the unequaltreatment of women in employment opportunity and expectations due to their gender(Jamieson, 1996; Sandberg, 2013). In other words, people behave in a different way if theyare dealing with a man or with a woman. When it comes to promotions and negotiations ofsalary, studies show that people prefer a man (Sandberg, 2013). Several studies underlinethis founding and give form to the phenomena called “glass ceiling” (Contreras Torres,Pedraza Ortiz, & Mejia Restrepo, 2012; Yukl, 2011, pp. 466-467). There is little or noresearch until now that this researcher has seen which has the gender bias as objective usinga specific communication situation in an intercultural setting. This investigation will aim tocapture intercultural differences in the perception of a feedback situation if held by a male orfemale leader. The questions that will be answered will cover: Do people from differentnationalities perceive the same leader in the same situation in different ways? Do theyperceive a leader differently if the leader is male or female? Is there a significant differencein like/dislike of one of the two genders in function of the gender and of the nationality ofthe test persons? Is there any difference in liking a leader depending on the gender ornationality of the people who give their evaluation?

The low number of women in charge of high-level leadership positions in differenttypes of organizations suggests a widespread discrimination against women: 21.3% of theseats in parliaments globally are held by women (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2013); inDecember 2012, 17 out of 195 independent countries in the world were led by women (CIA,2012); 4.2 % of the Fortune 500 in 2012 were women (Sellers, 2012); leading women inscientific fields are outnumbered by men (Hill, Corbett, & Rose, 2010). Generally thenumbers show a gradual increasing tendency in the last years, but still very few women hold high executive positions in large business organizations (Catalyst, 2003; Contreras Torres etal., 2012; Guzman & Rodriguez, 2008; Powell & Graves, 2003; Ragins, Townsend, &Mattis, 1998) and most of them who have reached the peak have reported that they havesuffered from discrimination on their way up through the organization (Sandberg, 2013).This discrimination seems to be stronger in male-dominated industries (Gardiner &Tiggemann, 1999). The role and effects of “gender bias” is present in every workplace andorganization (Jamieson, 1996; Sandberg, 2013). Women are, as a consequence, trapped in a“double bind”, a psychological impasse and dilemma in communication that is created whenan individual or a group receives two or more incongruent and conflictive messages, one ofwhich negates the other (Bateson, Jackson, Haley, & Weakland, 1956). In this way asituation is created where the successful response to one message results in a failed responseto the other (and vice versa). In this way the person will automatically be wrong regardlessof response. The double bind occurs when the person cannot face and cope with the inherentdilemma, and therefore can neither resolve it nor back out of the dilemmatic situation(Bateson et al., 1956; Jamieson, 1995). As described by Bateson et al. (1956) the “doublebind” refers to “a situation in which, no matter what a person does, he or she "can't win" (p.251). Due to the stereotypical perception of women in an organization, this means thatwhatever women do, they can do no right, so that as a result, men are preferred forleadership positions and as a result it is very hard for a woman to climb up the ladder ofsuccess (Catalyst, 2007). The tendency to prefer men to women when it comes to fill topleadership positions is called “glass ceiling” (Segerman-Peck, 1991; Yukl, 2011, pp. 466467). One explanation for the glass ceiling is the biased belief that women do not possess theskills necessary to lead effectively as these skills are viewed as typically masculine (Schein,1975; Stogdill, 1974). “For a long time, women were assumed to be unable or unwilling touse the masculine behaviors considered essential for effective leadership” (Yukl, 2011, p. 467). In other words, the feminine stereotype shows a figure distant from the leader modelmostly accepted by the many cultures and seems to be the principal cause for the glassceiling effect (Contreras Torres et al., 2011). This is perceived by more than 85% of femaleleaders as the most important barrier on the way to higher positions in an organization(Catalyst, 2006). Several authors (Ragins et al., 1998; Schein, 2001; Tharenou, Latimer, &Conroy, 1994) suggested other reasons for the “glass ceiling” theory like: lack of visibility inthe organization; lack of action by managers responsible for ensuring equal opportunity; biasto promote other managers similar to the managers taking the selection decision; higherstandards of performance for women; lack of opportunity for effective mentoring programs;exclusion of women from informal communication programs that can offer promotionopportunities; lack of strong effort to be promoted or to obtain higher executive positions;demanding family situations; intentional efforts by some men to control and retain forthemselves the best and more powerful leadership positions. Further studies show thatwomen are less likely to ask for promotion and initiate a negotiation that can favor them(Babcock & Laschever, 2003) and that they have limited access to formal and informalnetworks in the organization (Bell & Nkomo, 2001). These explanations show a combinationof factors that make the climate in an organization inhospitable and almost hostile for awoman. This situation is even worse if an organization has had previously a man in power sothat a male-style interaction has been established as a norm (Tannen, 1996). Sandberg (2013)argues that these behaviors are the consequences of a stereotypical perception. In otherwords, women behave in a certain way because people do not let them behave in any anotherway. If they do, for example they behave more aggressively or more directive, they are saidto be bad leaders. This is known as the Double-Bind-trap (Jamieson, 1995; Sandberg, 2013;Catalyst, 2007). Hollander and Yoder (1980) explained via a research review that the roleexpectations, style, and task demands of particular situations are responsible for the differences in the leadership behavior perception between men and women. In a surveyconducted in 1985, most managers (male and female) thought that women have to beexceptional to have success in business and that women had a pessimistic view about theirchances in the workforce because they thought that they have to struggle more in order tosucceed and that their wage will be smaller than their male counterparts (Sutton & Moore,1985). The last factor is called the “vertical division of labor”, that refers to the inequality instatus and in pay between man and women and precisely it argues that women on averageearn less money than men even though they are exercising the same profession with thesame or better outcomes (Babcock et al., 2003; Blau & Kahn, 2007; Burr, 2003; Fernandez,2006; Jamieson, 1995; Maruani, 1993; Moen, 1995). In the related “horizontal division oflabor” careers, jobs and professions are gendered so that some jobs are seen more femalerelevant and others more male-relevant and in many companies the sexes are segregatedaccording to their positions. For example, women’s jobs are seen as supportive and caring(such as secretary, nursery school teachers and nurses) and men’s jobs are seen moredirective (such as electronic engineers, managers and programmers) (Bass, 2008, p. 903;Burr, 2003; Maruani, 1993). An interaction of the horizontal and vertical divisions interactsuch that men, entering a job career that is associated with women, are likely to ascendhigher and more quickly to a leading position (Burr, 2003). According to Kling (1975) thereis a positive correlation between testosterone levels and aggression. Persky, Smith, and Basu(1971) found a positive correlation between aggressive and hostile behavior testing a sampleof men. According to these studies women’s lack of assertiveness and aggression is thereason why they do not ascend and may avoid the senior well-paid jobs (Burr, 2003).Aggressiveness is the clearest difference identified by Maccoby and Jacklin (1974). In thisstudy the researchers reviewed the results of several studies in the field of genderdifferences. They concluded that women and men differ in other 3 areas: mathematical abilities (boys overtake girls more or less at the age of 12) visual-spatial abilities (boys arebetter than girls in embedded figure tests, frame tests and identifying rotated figures); verbalabilities (girls show more competence in fluency, creative writing and comprehension).Other differences are due to the environmental influences of parents and other interactingpersons that according to their stereotypical perception treat boys and girls in a different way(Codry & Codry, 1976).

In this context Eagly (1987) suggests the “social role theory”. This theory recognizesthe historical division in labor between women (often assuming responsibilities at home) andmen (assuming responsibilities outside of the home). According to this hypothesis theexpectations of women and men are dependent and related to the sex differences in socialbehavior and such expectations are transmitted to future generations influencing the behaviorand expectancies of each gender (Eagly, 1987, 1997; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000). Asconsequence the behavior of women and men is strongly influenced by the stereotypes oftheir social roles. The theory can explain the difference in perception of a male or a femaleleader and the reasons why it is difficult for a woman to ascend in male dominated laborworlds (Godoy & Mladinic, 2009). Other consequences of the differences just mentionedabove reveal differences in communication and leadership styles (Contreras Torres et al.,2011; Tannen, 1994, 1996). This does not mean that women are worse leaders than the malecounterparts (Sandberg, 2013).

Women and transformational leadership

Some studies reported that the outcome of the female and male leadership styles hadno significant difference (Judeh, 2010; Manning, 2002). A study by Eagly, JohannesenSchmidt, and Van Engen, (2002) showed instead that female leaders were rated by theirsubordinates as being more transformational leaders than male leaders. The study consisted of a meta-analysis of 45 studies of transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles.

The transformational leadership theory was described by Bass & Avolio (1994) andconsists in a concept of leadership as “exceptional leadership performance that exist whenleaders broaden and elevate the interests of their followers, when they generate awarenessand acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when those leaders stir theirfollowers to look beyond their self-interest for the group benefit” (Judeh, 2010, p. 1-2).

Bass & Avolio (1994) explain in the Full Range Leadership Theory (FRLT) that everyleader should use different styles of leadership in order to be effective. The different stylescan be summarized as following: Laissez-faire leadership style: the leader is absent and letthe subordinates decide; Management by exception: the leader intervene shortly before orafter a mistake has made by subordinates; Transactional leadership: leader and subordinatesexchange e.g. services, work, development program with wage, free time or praise;

Transformational leadership: inspires and motivates through effective communication,through her charismatic power, through positive interactions and positive influence. In order to measure the perception of a leader by his followers according to the Full Range Leadership Theory (Avolio, 2011), the researchers mentioned above (Judeh, 2010; Manning, 2002; Eagly et al., 2010), used the MLQ (multifactor leadership questionnaire), a tool developed by Bass and Avolio (2000) selves. The MLQ is a questionnaire similar to a 360° questionnaire, which is sent, usually electronically, to various employees andsupervisors of the executive who is being assessed, and completed by those persons. Thecompleted questionnaires are returned electronically to the institution that is doing theevaluation. A copy is filled out by the executive himself or herself, the so-called Self-ScoreVersion. The evaluation is also sent electronically, and a profile of the executive is created.

The concept of transformational leadership shows a type of leader that is valued aseffective, well accepted and admired, and that it represents a role model because of theirinspirational and charismatic characteristics (Bass & Avolio, 1994; Bass & Riggio, 2006;Yukl, 2011). Results of the research program GLOBE confirm that the transformationalleadership style is valued positively and effectively by every country and culture (Dorfman,Hanges, & Brodbeck, 2004). The study by Eagly et al. (2003), mentioned above, showscontradictory results with other studies that suggest clearly that female leaders in theworkplace are less liked than their male colleagues even though they are perceived ascompetent (Catalyst, 2007). The transformational leader in fact is liked and respected, is seenas social and empathetic and has high interpersonal competences such as social skills. Socialskills include, for example, empathy and communication abilities and leaders help theirsubordinates satisfy their personal needs (Hall & Donnell, 1979; Hogan & Hogan, 2002).That is why a female leader can fast relate to others and as a consequence could advancefaster in her career (Hall & Donnell, 1979). Nevertheless recent studies that analyze thedifferent types of leadership shown by women and men, report that women leaders tend toshow a more transformational leadership style, the most effective style in an organization(Eagly & Carli, 2004, 2007; García-Retamero & López-Zafra, 2006).

Conflicting stereotypes

The tendency of the interpretation of sex-related stereotypes in management and leadership is showing a slow positive change in favor of the perception for women leaders. Acomparison of surveys about the perception of women in business showed that managers’perception has changed enormously in favor of women (Sutton & Moore, 1985). A recentpoll conducted in August 2013 by Gallup - Gallup’s annual Work and Education survey(Newport, & Wilke, 2013) showed that 35% of the interviewed Americans (independently oftheir working status and of the gender) prefer to have a man as boss, and 23% prefer to have a woman as a boss and 41% declared that it makes no difference if they have a woman or aman as a boss. A comparison made also by Gullop (Newport & Wilke, 2013) using the samesurvey that has been repeated almost every year since 1953 showed an increased tendency inpreferring a woman as a boss, and a decrease tendency in preferring a man. In 1953 only 5%preferred a female boss, 66% a male boss and 25% said that it did not make a difference.One reason for this trend is suggested by the fact that in the survey of 2013 the preferencefor a female boss was higher among those people that at the time of the survey were workingfor a woman. This result suggests that the contact with female leaders could distort thestereotypical perception that a woman cannot be a good leader. Another reason could be thatas more women are working in higher directive roles, people who were working for them atthe time of the survey were experiencing them as better leaders than the men they had as aboss before the survey. The stereotypical image people have of a woman does not fit thedirective role of a leader and as a consequence they do not think women are suitable inperforming higher positions in a company (Bass, 2008, p.906; Bem, 1970; Bowman,Worthy, & Greyser, 1965; Burr, 2003). Further, women are generally considered to be tooemotional and submissive to be effective leaders, aggressive “workaholic” and manipulative(Heller, 1982). Hence, the stereotypical concepts of “woman” and “leader” may beincompatible (Schein, 1973, 1975). Kruse and Wintermantel (1986) found in a study withmale students that the concept of “man” has a correlation of .9 with the concept of“manager” and .8 with the concept of “leadership”. On the contrary the concept of “woman”showed a correlation of -.4 with the concept of “manager” and .5 with the concept of“leadership”. The beliefs that a female leader makes a “worse” leader are also commonamong women (O’Leary, 1974; McLelland, 1965). In a study of women in leadershippositions in the fields of science and technology the difficulties arising in a man dominatedworld were evaluated. The study reported that, in order to be recognized as a “leader”, they had to assume some specific types of characteristics, such as aggression, authority, harderand strong character, characteristics normally associated with men (Yañez & Godoy, 2008). In a dissertation study Seifert (1984) showed the power of stereotypical beliefs. Seifert let male and female participants think that they were working with female and male leaders and that the leaders were selected randomly. In the truth they were receiving the samestandardized communication messages from the experimenter. The participants who thoughtthey were receiving directions from a male leader evaluated the communication clearer andthe female leaders were rated less fairly selected than were male leaders (Seifert, 1984). Inthe study it is not mentioned if the boss is seen as more competent or more empathetic. Itwould be also interesting to test differences among cultures as the study reflects the thoughtsof Americans (like the most studies mentioned above).

Another must recent study conducted by Godoy & Mladinic (2009) investigates theperception of leaders offering a description of an efficient, competent and successful leader.The description was offered in two dimensions, giving a male and a female leader. Thetesting individuals had the task to evaluate the person through questions using a Likert scalefrom 1 to 7. The dependent variables were divided into labor (leadership effectiveness; taskorientation; interpersonal orientation; cognitive skills; recommendations aboutorganizational recompense; salary and promotion) and personal issues (general evaluation asperson; pleasant and sympathy level; if they would ask the person for support of advice incase of personal problems; if they would establish a friendship with this person). The resultsshowed no significant difference in the evaluation, in other words “neither the participant’snor the target’s sex influenced evaluations” (Godoy & Mladinic, 2009, p. 51). The maleleader did not receive better evaluation than the female leader.



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University of Ramon Llull – Organizational Psychology
10 (A) with honors
Gender stereotype leadership culture differences women Feedback



Title: Gender and cultural differences in leader’s perception