Internal and External Perceptions of Gendered Leadership

When considering the leadership of the museum and the development office in particular, gender and gender-normed leadership plays an interesting role in the office dynamics. The American Civil War Museum’s CEO, Christy Coleman, is a black woman who has spent most of her career in the museum industry. Unfortunately, many former supporters of the Museum of the Confederacy were not happy about the change in name and leadership. Theories of gendered and evolutionary leadership would tell us that she was all wrong for the position. Her counterpart in the development office, foundation president S. Waite Rawls, would seem more fitting, as his stature as an older, white, male graduate of VMI would seem to track with our implicit theories of leadership, especially regarding a war museum. However, though Christy once described their professional relationship as “Mom and Dad trying to keep the kids in order”, their positions require very different leadership styles both within the museum’s organization and compared to our expectations for leaders.


Christy, for example, has forged ahead with the museum’s mission to change the narratives surrounding the Civil War. Christy mentions in this Forbes article that she was once asked to choose between mothering her own children and becoming a CEO. From my perspective, she has been nothing but a confident, direct, and effective leader. Her race, gender, and position as president can bring a lot of disapproval from those who don’t believe a black woman should be running a museum that honors the Confederacy (despite its new mission and more broad collections). Granted, many visitors come in excited to see the museum because they’ve met Christy, heard her speak, or are there to support the museum as Christy’s friend. Her charisma and task-oriented attitude make her an incredibly effective leader, often left with the tough decisions or criticism from the public. Internally, gender has not played a large part in the leadership dynamics of the museum. Gender representation is fairly even across the board, and my male coworkers in the development office can often take on more “feminine” attitudes toward leadership.


By its nature, development, fundraising, and memberships require more soft skills and collaboration than any typically “male” traits of aggression and direction. The nuance that I discussed in my first post is clear in internal and external communications. When working with big-name donors, aggression is simply not helpful, though “soft” social skills and intricate communication are absolutely necessary. As my supervisor moves on to a new position at another museum, his replacement, Ed Andrews, holds many of the same leadership qualities as Ben. Both men are collaborative, friendly, patient, and frankly more submissive to the needs and requests or members, donors, and other museum leadership as required by the Membership Coordinator position. The development office and this role in particular requires Ed to be a kind and patient resource for members, not a typically “male” aggressive decision-maker. Despite being the only woman in the development office, I have never felt as though I was treated as less capable than the other employees. If anything, as my supervisors transitioned this past week, I have been given more and more responsibility, even training Ed on some of the best database practices I’ve been independently learning throughout the last couple weeks. So far, I’ve greatly appreciated the balance in leadership styles, especially as it pertains to gender in the office. 

One thought on “Internal and External Perceptions of Gendered Leadership

  • June 14, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Really thoughtful – and interesting – discussion about gender and gender-normed leadership. Again, so many issues at play – a war museum with a female CEO, a museum about the civil war with an African-American (female) CEO…lots of fodder for discussion. It will be interesting to see as you spend more time there (and work with a new supervisor) whether the various styles you’ve observed thus far hold up or are there situations/circumstances in which they are less effective.

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