The Role Of Gender In Leadership

As women rise to the top of the organization or management, they encounter a problem with almost half the employees regardless of their temperament, skills or leadership qualities-they are not men. It’s often touted that a big percentage of employees loathe working in an environment where the top commander is a woman, however qualified, due to their poor leadership styles.

Though the attitudes towards the role of women in society may have changed dramatically, and thanks too to the affirmative action as buttressed by the events of the World Conference on Women 1985 as well as the Beljing Platform for Action; women are still perceived as being less suited than men for managerial and leadership positions.

Many local Recruitment Agencies source employees for various organizations in the public and private sector note that some companies prefer men for managerial and executive positions because men are perceived as more confident, dominating, competitive, aggressive and independent compared to women. There is a general perception that women even in leadership are susceptible to being emotional, overly sensitive, moody, easily threatened with a tendency to play favorites and personalize matters no matter their rung or hierarchy in an organization. This trait gives their male counterparts an edge, as being more confident and emotionally balanced.

In Kenya the majority of key executives in the private and public sector are held by men. There are a handful of women in key positions such as Supreme Court judges, University Chancellor, the Cabinet, Parastatals Heads and the private sector.

The widely accepted explanation for the small percentage of women holding top executive positions globally is the negative stereotyping of women as less able leaders. There are many differing findings from sociologist, management and leadership theories and gender studies on this issue.
As women increasingly take up leadership positions, prevailing leadership styles of women and men continue to attract attention. Historically, gender, precluded most females from becoming leaders and as a result, the assumption was that men were better suited than women for leadership, since the existing models were primarily developed to accommodate men.

The Kenyan constitution (Section 27(8)) prominently recognizes that the State shall take proactive measures to implement the principle that not more than two thirds of the members of elective bodies or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender. This is to enhance women participation in leadership and nation affairs that prior to the new constitution were hitherto dominated by their male counterparts. Emanating from this constitutional endorsement, and recent affirmative action, women will actively participate in managerial and leadership matters but it could be an upstream swim in the face of the existing perception that despite being qualified women are perceived as less able leaders.
Definitions of Leadership
Leadership according to Roach and Behling (1984) is the process of influencing an organized group towards accomplishing a goal. On the other hand, C.A Gibb (2000) extends the definition of leadership and states that leadership is a concept applied to the structure of a group to describe the situation when some personalities are so placed in the group that their will, feeling and insight are perceived to direct and control others in the pursuit of common ends. Leaders are those people in groups who are perceived most frequently to perform roles that initiate or direct the behavior of other towards the attainment of their goals.
It is the role of a leader to obtain the commitment of individuals to achieving the set goals. However, leadership and management are usually confused and used interchangeably. Management is concerned with planning, organizing, directing, coordinating and controlling the work processes and practices including what the individuals do within the organizational set up. On the other hand leadership is about how one person can influence others to do what is required for the achievement of goals. Nonetheless not all managers are leaders.

Leadership itself may have nothing to do with management, it exists in groups rather organizational structures and therefore will certainly also exists in the informal organization where in management terms it may create problems in controlling workers whose influence comes from elsewhere, consequently not all leaders are managers.

A manager from a chief executive, director, section head and supervisor has inherent authority to direct the works and behavior of others by virtue of rank, job description and authority. Leadership thrives both in formal and informal settings. The source of power can be based on appointment or on personality. While power in formal leadership emanates from the appointing authority and rank, personal leadership is where power derives from personal qualities of the persona concerned based on charisma, temperament. Personal leadership is conspicuous among entrepreneurs and empire builders such as Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic, James Mwangi of Equity Bank Limited.
The Interplay of Gender and Leadership
According to existing research on gender and leadership, leadership styles can be categorized either as masculine and feminine, (Eagly et al., and 2000). Although there is general agreement that women face more barriers to becoming leaders than men do, especially for leader roles that are male-dominated ( Eagly & Karau, 2001), there is much less agreement about the behavior of women and men once they attain such roles.

According to Jennifer L. Bendahl (1996), masculinity and agenticism relates to traits associated with male leadership such as being assertive, controlling, aggressive, ambitious, dominant, forceful, independent, self confident, and competitive. Agentic characteristics are ascribed more strongly to men than women.

On the other hand feminine or Communal characteristics are ascribed more strongly to women than men and describe primarily a concern of the leader with the welfare of other people-for example, affectionate, helpful, kind, sympathetic, interpersonally sensitive, nurturing, and gentle.

Another theory that distinguishes leadership methods is the traits theory, where leadership is centered on the personal traits and characteristics thought to be essential to direct or influence people. The theory propounds that leaders were born and not made. Hence the behavior exhibited by leaders can be traced to their personality and since women are deemed to be more subtle and gentle against the aggressive, dominant male, there is an assumption of male or female leadership approaches to leadership. This theory lends credence to the gender leadership based on character traits.

Another leadership theory distinguishes between democratic versus autocratic leadership (or the similar dimension of participative versus directive leadership), (Lewin & Lippitt, 1938 and, Vroom & Yetton, 1973). Although democratic versus autocratic style is a narrower aspect of leader behavior than task-oriented and interpersonally oriented styles (see Bass, 1990), the democratic-autocratic dimension also relates to gender roles because one component of the agentic norms associated with these roles is that men are relatively more dominant and controlling in other words, more autocratic and directive than women are.

In the 1980s and 1990s, many researchers turned their attention to other types of leadership styles by distinguishing between leaders who are transformation and those who are transaction (Bass, 1998). Such leaders set especially high standards for behavior and establish themselves as role models by gaining the trust and confidence of their followers. They state future goals and develop plans to achieve them.

The existing concepts and theories of leadership styles to wit: democratic vs. autocratic; participate vs. directive, transformation vs. transactional and laissez faire can be explained along styles that conforms to the gender construct of being male or female oriented. Female leaders exhibit more democratic and participate leadership styles, while men are credited with autocratic behavior perceived as negative when applied by females.

That transformational leadership in contrast to transactional leadership is held as a superior form of leadership. Unlike task and relationship oriented leadership, transformational and transaction leadership are view along a continuum allowing individuals to employ both transformational and transactional qualities at one and the same time.
A transformational leader is one who provides visions and a sense of mission, instills pride and inspires and excites subordinates and highly motivates them to became better and do better. On the other hand transaction leadership is based on rewards for achieving specified goals and is largely based on directing desired performance and deviations and the need for corrective action. Organizational experiences vary with experiences and it is the ability to be flexible in particular settings that makes one leader better than other not the gender divide.

Against this background of different leadership styles, it is observed that men and women exhibit different styles of leading. However it is been stated that cultural conditioning and religion plays a role in elaborating the different perceptions of women and men in leadership.

Women face a problem with almost half the employees regardless of their temperament, skills or leadership qualities, when they make it to the top or take up management. They are not a man. According to a survey conducted by the American Management Association, three quarters of men say they would rather work for a man than a woman, while a quarter of women also prefer to work for a man than a woman given a choice. German researchers have also reported a down side from women bosses with employees reporting higher cases of heartburn, depression, headaches and insomnia.

Women have been criticized as being easily threatened or intimidated, emotionally unpredictable, indecisive, irritable, moody sharp tongued vain and playing favoritism within cliques. An experiment was conducted at the university of Pennsylvania and tested 50 women in delivering a sad statement and found that all of them experienced pain, however when men were given the same statement they revealed less emotion with 12 not showing any emotion at all. On the other hand it is reported that women make better leaders on the basis of their attention to detail, they are considerate and make good mentors for their employees. 

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