• Stephanie Elie-Martin

Effects of Gendered Expectations on Female Leadership Realization

Updated: Jun 10

Literature Review

Traditional Research on Leadership Gap - Socio Cultural Expectations

Gendered leadership styles arise from traditional socio-cultural expectations. A 2012 study showed that:

Men are generally considered more autocratic and task-oriented because of their relationship with the components of the ‘instrumental’ dimensions of gender stereotypes (e.g. aggressive, enterprising, independent, self-sufficient, dominant, competent or rational. In contrast women tend to be considered more democratic and relationship oriented because of their relationship with the components of the ‘communal’ dimension (e.g. being concerned about others, generous, sensitive, understanding, affectionate, or compassionate. (Cuadrado, et, al, 2012, p. 3086)

These often taken for granted assumptions result in the expectation that individuals

perform based on their gender stereotype.

Research goes a step further and shows that both genders tend to prefer leaders with stereo-typically masculine qualities. A Walter and Artiz (2015) study found “that both genders tend to select males as their leaders, even though both genders may exhibit these characteristics during group interactions. This indicates that there is likely a gender bias in leadership perception” ( p. 472). This idea is supported by Emmerick et al. (2010) where they found that “women in male-dominated industries may have similar leadership styles to male managers because they were selected by them” (p. 898).

We can see this idea echoed in constructivist theory where researchers believe that reality is not an innate manifestation of human essence, but is created through and by individuals and their daily interactions and beliefs (Neuman, 2011, P. 105, 435). This is where we can see that “like leadership, gender is a social construct” (Walker & Artiz, 2015, p. 454) and can be both positively and negatively affected by changes in social consciousness. Following this research we are able to see the importance in examining and altering the ways in which our daily interactions manifest the reality we desire to see.

What Effective Leaders Really Demonstrate:

There is a lack of evidence supporting organizational success as a result of a leaders adherence to traditional leadership characteristics. Conversely, “Holmes (2006) has shown that effective leaders draw expertly on a repertoire of linguistic strategies stereo-typically coded as masculine and feminine” (Walker & Artiz, 2015, p.458). Studies continue to demonstrate that successful leaders do not adhere to gendered qualities. Cuadrado et al. (2012) found that:

The absence of differences between male and female leaders in both types of evaluation (leaders’ self-ratings and ratings by subordinates) in task- and relationship-oriented styles confirms the results found in the meta-analysis performed on this issue. (p. 3102)

This furthers the question of how the perpetuation of gender stereotypes affects the

leadership gap despite evidence to the contrary. How are our daily interactions constructing a paradigm in contrast to obvious best practices for organizational success.

Failure of Traditional Methods of Rectification:

We have raised awareness, but have not made much progress. “Decades after the so-called ‘feminist revolution,’ women are still struggling to be seen as leaders within organization even though many have put in place hiring and recruitment policies to help eliminate the problem” (Walker & Artiz, 2015, p. 452). There have been a number of programs, initiatives, and mandates put in place to rectify the leadership gap. Including:

In some nations, gender quotas have been put in place to remedy this situation, based on the idea that promoting a small number of women into senior positions in male-dominated organizations...will automatically improve opportunities for women (Duguid, 2011; Mavin, 2008). Assumptions underlying this belief are the idea that gender equality is perpetuated by men and not women. ( Derks et al., 2015, p. 456)

Quotas, formal networks, formal and informal mentorship programs have done little by way of improving the deeply gendered system. Different avenues of research and policy improvement need to be explored in order to truly diversify leadership.

Labyrinth Metaphor

Eagly and Carli (2007) dubbed women’s inability to realize top leadership positions as the Labyrinth metaphor. They posit that:

For women who aspire to top leadership, routes exist but twists and turns both unexpected and expected. Because all labyrinths have a viable route, to the center, it is understood that goals are attainable. The metaphor acknowledges obstacles, but is not ultimately discouraging. (p. 64)

This metaphor is validated by a myriad of research examining the diverse challenges women face in achieving top leadership. Contrary to much of the previous research that sought to bridge the leadership gap through formal mentorship, quota, or networks the labyrinth metaphor moves beyond the idea that men and male dominance in organization is the cause rather than a symptom of the leadership gap.

Queen Bee

Gendered leadership framework is not the only challenge women face to ascending the organizational ladder. Research has shown that women do not give preference to other women. In fact, “some of the executive female interviewees noted that women were not as willing to help each other as men are to help each other, or even as men are to help women” (Roebuck & Smith, 2011, p. 58). Tangentially, “Okello (2008) claimed that women managers were more likely to promote a man than a women because they were afraid of the competition” (Roebuck & SMith, 2011, p. 58).

This phenomenon has given rise to a somewhat derogatory term: queen bee. Derks et al. (2016) defines this as a label given “to women who pursue individual success in male-dominated work settings (organizations in which men hold most executive positions) by adjusting to the masculine culture and by distancing themselves from other women” (p. 457).

Derks et al.’s (2016) research found that “queen bee responses are elicited when women experience social identity threat at work” (p. 458). Social identity threat is when one perceives the group of which they are apart of is being negatively perceived. This bolsters Derks et al’s., (2016) findings that

rather then being the main cause of gender inequality at work, the queen bee phenomenon is itself a consequence of gender discrimination, and that the phenomenon is triggered by negative stereotypes that women encounter in male-dominated work settings. (p. 458)

The acknowledgement and analysis of the Queen Bee phenomenon provides one more

Turn in the labyrinth of challenges facing women both in root cause and manifestation. It is one more component in closing the gender leadership gap.

Pressure to Adopt Masculine Styles to Succeed

Unsurprisingly, woman appear to feel the pressure to adopt traditionally masculine leadership styles in order to realize their leadership goals. Research shows that “female leaders...adopted (according to their subordinates) a style more in accordance with the traditional role of the leader-male stereotyped-more frequently than did their male counterparts” (Cuadrado et al., 2012, p.3103).

This isn’t an easy balance to strike, but is imperative to realizing their goals.

Roebuck & Smith (2011) states that “both executive and younger aspiring female leaders may find themselves essentially stuck in a place where they must balance their feminine qualities with masculine qualities to gain respect as a female leader” (p. 59).

Higher Standards

Women are also held to higher performance expectations than their male counterparts. Roebuck & Smith (2011) found that “typically, women have been held to a higher standard of competence than men and must demonstrate superior performance” (p. 50).

Performance isn’t the only higher standard. Women must be much more diligent in their communication techniques. “Frankel (2004) has found that women use qualifiers to calm their fears about being too direct or opinionated” (Roebuck & Smith, 2011, p. 54)

Additionally, women must be vigilant about non-verbal communication and ensure their physical communication aligns with their career goals. “Gorman (2010) found that women undermine their authority with non-verbal communications and may not even be aware they are doing so. For example, women are perceived as submissive when they use too many head tilts while engaged in conversation. She further stated that women need to take up more space in meetings, sit at the table not in the back or along the sides, use a firmer handshake, and smile less frequently in conversations” (Roebuck & Smith, 2011, p. 55). Men certainly do not have to consciously balance the myriad of nonverbal communication cues, because their gender stereotype in itself cultivates the desired effect. As Derks et al. (2016) states “there is a large body of work showing that conditions under which women are expected to perform are less favorable than men” (p. 461).

Confidence & Influence: Inhibitors in Women

Confidence and influence play a pivotal role in gaining the respect and trust from others necessary to succeed in acquiring leadership positions. However, “In her (Turknett) research study that compared 360 feedback results for men and women executives, she found that women only scored lower than men in 1 out of 10 traits - self-esteem” (Roebuck & Smith, 2011, p. 51)

Additionally, Guilen et al (2017) found:

That individuals who appear confident emerge as leaders in team interactions and substantially influence team decisions (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009) Projecting self-confidence might be particularly important in male-typed occupations where individuals are expected to be assertive and achievement oriented. (p. 839-840)

Research also shows that for women self-confidence is not enough to gain influence. Women have to be both self-confident and prosocial - meaning they has to also display behaviour that is positive, helpful, and beneficial to others. Furthermore, “The more complex “requirements” for women to gain influence were so strong that even high job performance did not help less affable women to gain influence in their organization” (Guilen et al., 2017, p. 646). Research both repeatedly affirms the importance of self-confidence and influence in attaining leadership positions, but is clear that these qualities alone do not provide a gender-equal playing field. Women must demonstrate additional qualities, like being prosocial, in order to enjoy the benefits of confidence and influence.

Eagly & Carli (2007) add to this idea when they state:

Women leaders find themselves in a double bind. If they are highly communal, they may be criticized for not being agentic enough. But if they are highly agentic, they may be criticized for lacking communion. Either way, they may leave the impression they don’t have the “right stuff” for leadership positions. Given this double bind, it is hardly surprising that people are more resistance to women’s influence than men’s. (p. 66)

Women face a number of additional challenges to gaining influence, a key factor in

attaining top leadership. It is vital to address these underlying factors when working towards gender equality in top leadership roles.


Woman are required to intentionally demonstrate both autocratic and democratic leaderships styles while also being highly self-confident and prosocial creating dynamic challenges to achieving leadership positions. Additionally, the queen bee phenomenon, non-verbal, gendered ques, pressure to adopt masculine communication styles manifest in the difficulties of women in gaining vital influence. The labyrinth women face on the way to the C-suite is vast.

Present research has been unsuccessful in dramatically affecting the number of women in leadership. Perhaps, refocusing research on the psychological effects of women’s organizational experience could reveal tools, policies, and concrete actions to help passionate and qualified women take the organizational reigns.


Although the number of women in top leadership positions has slowly increased, a significant gap remains. According to the National Centers for Education “Since fall 1988, the number of female students in postbaccalaureate programs has exceeded the number of male students. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of full-time male postbaccalaureate students increased by 24 percent, compared with a 25 percent increase in the number of full-time female post baccalaureate students.” ("Fast Facts: Enrollment (98)", 2019). Despite the rise in research, awareness, formal mentorship programs, and collegiate enrollment the number of top female leaders remains significantly unmoved. It is vital to organizational success to examine the potential impediments females develop as the result of gendered leadership styles. These are organizational structures where existing leaders’ and subordinates’ affinity towards traditional male characteristics and difficulties gaining influence result in inhibitory psychological effects preventing qualified females from realizing their leadership potential.

Specific Purpose

To further identify and codify the limiting factors to female leadership realization gaps in the hopes of providing valuable insight to a long term solution.


Traditional gender expectations cause limiting inhibitions resulting in fewer women in leadership.


It is imperative to select the most prudent research method in order to yield reliable results. In order to effectively identify and codify the limiting factors to female leadership realization it is imperative to acknowledge and explore the differences in research methods. Neuman (2015) describes one of the differences between qualitative and quantitative research as different paths:

In quantitative study, we employ a logic that is systematic and follows a linear research path. In a qualitative study, the logic arises from ongoing practices and we follow a nonlinear path. (p. 269)

The ideas of identifying and codifying lend itself most readily to a systematic and linear

research path. The very nature of the term codify means to arrange in a systematic way. Following a nonlinear path would be in direct contradiction with the purpose of the research potentially resulting in conflicting or unclear results.

Additional differences lie in the hard, numerical data, characteristic of quantitative data

and the soft, experiential, data characteristic of qualitative. While the soft data of “words, sentences, photos, symbols” (Neuman, 2015, p. 167) is affable in some research it is ill suited to this studies desire to codify. Codification necessitates numbers and thus qualitative research.

Method Description

In order to achieve the specific purpose of this study an appropriate method must be selected. Survey research provides the most affable path to achieving the studies goals. Neuman (2015) states that “surveys can provide us accurate, reliable, and valid data” (p. 317), which is in direct correlation to this studies goals. A number of different things can be asked in a survey. For the purposes of this study the categories of behavior, attitudes/beliefs/opinions, characteristics, and self-classification will be important.

While surveys can take many forms, phone interview, internet polls, and questionnaires. For the purposes of this study a questionnaire is would be the best option to achieve the desired results. The questionnaire can be distributed to a broad spectrum of the target audience via technology and not limiting the respondents to a specific geographic location in order to utilize trained, and efficient interviewers.

The questionnaire will utilize multiple sections in order to categorize groups within the target respondent pool as well as provide reliable data. the Likert scale in order to provide quantifiable, numerical data. Utilizing a mixture of both open and closed questions the survey will assess both past experiences and current conditions within the respondents work life. As the survey will ask about previous experiences measures will be taken to reduce the factors influencing recall. As Neuman (2015) states:

Then issue of respondent recall does not mean that we cannot ask about past events; rather, we must write survey questions specifically for that purpose and interpret results with caution. To improve recall, we can offer special instructions and extra thinking time. (p. 327)

As this will be a electronically delivered survey the respondent should have ample tim to think and reflect prior to answering the questions. Additionally, specific instructions will be provided for the historical section of the survey to encourage clear recall and accurate data collection.

Research Method

The target respondent pool are working age women from 25-65 years of age. The survey will be broadly distributed in order to assess a diverse cross-section within this respondent pool. The goal is to survey women from various educational, ethnic, regional backgrounds in order to mitigate the confounding variables these aspects may provide.

The survey will be broken into three sections: Census Information, Organizational History, Current Organizational Position, and Future Goals and Aspirations. Each section will have a series of questions formatted with an initial yes or no question and an associated Likert scale. The Likert scale will only be utilized if the situation, feeling, or event applies to the respondent. This enables the study to ask a broad spectrum or organizational questions, but provide more detailed data from more targeted questions.

The Census Information section will ask the respondent about their personal information. This will include the possible confounding variables of age, race, sexuality, education, and geographic location.

The Organizational History section will include questions about previous experiences. Each question will have two parts: the yes or no piece and the associated Likert scale. These questions will seek to determine if the respondent has experienced limiting events and to what extent they feel the effect. This will include factors such as the Queen Bee syndrome, and male subordinate reactions.

Current Organizational Position will echo the Organizational History in many questions, and certainly the question formatting. The purpose of this section is to determine the potential current limiting factors.

The final section, Future Goals and Aspirations, will seek to determine if and to what degree these limiting factors have on the respondents desire to achieve leadership positions. The same question format as the previous two sections will be utilized in order to obtain easily quantifiable information.

Each respondents survey will be assigned an identification number attached to their questionnaire as well as the correlating data on the compilation spreadsheet. Each respondents data will be entered into a comprehensive spreadsheet. This will allow for the extraction and analysis of multiple data points. The results will then be analysed and explored in relation to the specific topic. Every effort will be made to obtain and report accurate, reliable data.

Ethical Considerations

It is imperative in every research study to address the ethical considerations. As Neuman (2011) states “it is the moral and professional obligation of the individual researcher to be ethical even when the research participants are unaware or unconcerned about ethics” (p. 143). As I will be using human participants I will heed ethical consideration informed consent and confidentiality Neuman (2011) discusses.

In order to acquire informed consent I will ask each survey participant to sign a disclosure detailing the nature of the study. The intention is to gather what Neuman cites as “prior voluntary consent when possible” (p. 151). By instructing participants to read the nature and intent of the study, so long as not to be revealing in a manner that may influence results, and asking for a signature one hopes to have fully informed and gathered participant consent.

As discussed prior the utmost care will be taken to ensure confidentiality. As Neuman (2011) states “confidentiality means that we may attach names to information, but we hold it in confidence or keep it secret from the public (p. 155). In this study each respondents data will be coded to ensure confidentiality. Each questionnaire will be provided a numerical value as opposed utilizing the participant’s name. The correlation of name to number will be kept in a secure spreadsheet. The diverse population across geographic location in combination with a coded system should enable the researcher to ensure the confidentiality of all research participants.

It is the intent of the researcher to ensure the informed consent and confidentiality of each participant. As ethical considerations are paramount to good research any additional ethical challenges will be dealt with swiftly and professional in order to protect the research participants and data at all costs.

More help can be found here.


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