When “Women Leaders” can just be called “Leaders”

As I continue into the final weeks of my internship, the topic for my second Theories in Action submission was easy to choose. I would be remiss if I did not discuss how the gender dynamic of the team in which I work influences how we function day-to-day, and in turn how I interact with my superiors. All of my supervisors and the heads of my internship program are female, which is consistent with the general population of the office. From my vantage point as an intern at a small company, I have observed women of similar ages in every tier of the company, from the President down to a brand-new hire, and have watched this group interact in formal and informal settings. This prompted me to think back on my time in Dr. Goethal’s class, when we discussed Eagly and Carli’s work on how gender influences leadership style and follower perception. Typically, women are more democratic and socio-emotionally oriented leaders. They traditionally are associated with more communal and nurturing qualities. Male leaders are typically more directive and task-oriented.  Eagly and Carli contend that both styles can be equally effective depending on the situation and the needs of the group, debunking the theory that there is a deficit of female leaders because the socio-emotional strategy is not valued in the workplace. They go on to argue that role incongruity theory, or “the idea that a group will be positively evaluated when its characteristics are recognized as aligning with that group’s typical social roles” as the source of this prejudice. Because there is more overlap between standard masculine qualities and that of a stereotypical leader, the concept of a female leader is psychologically foreign to us, no matter what leadership style we respond best to. Women who assume a task-oriented stance are perceived as not feminine enough, while women who prefer a socio-emotional strategy do not evoke our innate perception of a leader. I have found Sharp to be a particularly interesting environment from which to view this theory. In this female-dominated environment, the constraint of role incongruity theory on this group of women’s potential to assume leadership positions appear to be less pronounced than in other fields. For Sharp employees, there is no threat of sacrificing perceived femininity or authority as they alternate between collaborative tasks, where they can socialize in a more relaxed environment, and tasks that require more professionalism and regulation. On my team here at Sharp, my supervisor can rely on a more directive and task-oriented approach when the need arises without seeming too harsh or demanding. Alternatively, she does not need to regularly exercise this approach because her position and authority as a leader has already been established.  From the perspective of an employee, this allows me to work under a leadership style that resonates with me (less socioemotional) while still learning and understanding how to work respectfully and effectively with authority figures.