Interning overseas in a more conservative nation has given me a fresh perspective on Eagly and Carli’s theories of leadership pertaining to gender. Many Southeast Asia countries, including the one I am stationed in, align with the Islamic cultural views regarding gender roles. This means that there are definite differences in the ways that men and women are expected to speak, dress, and behave. For example, I must always make sure my knees and shoulders are covered despite the heat and high humidity.
However, my internship adds another layer to the dynamic because, while the organization of course careful to be respectful of the cultural norms, many of our leaders are female. Although the outside culture presumes women are to remain at home raising the children, we have numerous single women providing administrative insight and ensuring that our language school operates smoothly. In this way, the organization goes against the stereotypes presented by Eagly and Carli’s theories of gender roles that state women’s natural inclination to be more relational and nurturing than men will hold them back from assuming positions of leadership. On the contrary, it is precisely this nurturing predisposition that enables the women to work well with the children and be good teachers as well as communicate well with their co-workers. Furthermore, being overbearing and aggressive in general goes against Indonesia’s gentle, soft-spoken cultural values; so, being a strong despotic male will not get one very far in this country. This conflict-averse culture creates an environment ripe for female leadership and contradicts Eagly and Carli’s theory that traditional strong male characteristics results in attaining a position of power.
Nevertheless, there is another component of Eagly and Carli’s work that serves to demonstrate how gender stereotypes may be used to my organization’s advantage to overcome challenges. Eagly and Carli’s theory about females being preferred in times of intra-group conflict and male leaders being looked to during threat of inter-group conflict is effectively implemented in the way that it is mostly women who oversee the classrooms and manage intra-group conflict at the school, but the organization is still spearheaded by a man, who handles any inter-group conflicts with outside factors. As previously mentioned, however, conflict is not very socially acceptable here and is to be avoided at all costs, so there are rarely ever any outside conflicts to be addressed.