Research Says: It’s Not Just You

Study: Do Women Have What It Takes? (Northwestern University, 2011)

Finding: More masculine qualities are thought to be the better qualities for leadership positions so men experience fewer barriers to career advancement.

Note about The Woman Effect Research Index: This study was performed by researchers not affiliated with InPower Women. Our Research Index includes all relevant research to the subject of women, business and power. We do not influence how the research was conducted or reported by the researchers. In our abstracts, we focus on pulling out the most actionable advice for individual women. To suggest additional research we should index, or discuss our choice of abstract focus, please contact us

InPower Insight: Cultural trends may have touted men’s natural abilities over women’s, but trends can and are changing, and women are being seen and recognized for their inherent gifts and traits in business culture.


Many women leaders and aspiring leaders have felt that their natural gifts aren’t appreciated in business culture. If you’ve ever thought it was the culture and not you making your efforts to advance harder, you’re not alone, and you haven’t made it up in your head either. Many believe that women have suffered a discrimination in gaining leadership positions because they don’t “act like a leader”. Now research shows that this prejudice isn’t about the women, it’s about our culture’s view of what “a leader” is supposed to look like.

According to this Northwestern University Meta-Analysis, leadership today is still culturally viewed as masculine, with women suffering from two prejudices that create a “double bind”. First, they are viewed as less qualified for most leadership positions because they are women, and second, when they begin to take on traits synonymous with traditional, masculine forms of leadership, they are viewed as inappropriate. Because men have a tendency to have more natural “agentic” qualities, such as being assertive or competitive, they are found to have better access to leadership positions with fewer hurdles and challenges along the way.

Professor of Psychology and faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern Alice Eagly said, “Cultural stereotypes can make it seem that women do not have what it takes for important leadership roles, thereby adding to the barriers that women encounter in attaining roles that yield substantial power and authority.”

But there’s good news for women in leadership and women seeking leadership roles. This research out of Northwestern University also found that the old masculine culture of leadership is weaker now than it has been in the past. The trend to “masculine leadership” style is lessening. In fact a similar study out of Stanford showed that it was becoming more and more acceptable for women to flex their more masculine qualities when it is in combination with their feminine traits. The key seemed to be in knowing which situations called for which response, self-monitoring and harnessing the ability to turn those masculine traits on and off as needed. Another study found that women often excel at all leadership traits – even more than men!

Career Coaching Tips: If you’re determined to get ahead and recognize that the business culture you’re in favors a traditional, masculine form of leadership, go in eyes-wide open but recognize that new leadership styles are proving effective even in these environments. Also, know that women bring many strong abilities to leadership, including those traditionally associated with men. Your job may be to demonstrate what a new form of leadership looks like to the people who think they’re looking for a guy, but who are really looking for a leader! Whatever you do, be authentic and genuine. Don’t try to be what they you think they want, be who you are and work on expanding your own leadership capabilities and style to be appropriate to the situations you find yourself in. Be hard when you need to be and soft when that approach suits the challenge at hand. Push yourself, get results and bring other people along and you’ll be doing just what you need to be doing. And good luck!

View a Free Webinar given by InPower Women’s Dana Theus reviewing this research and ways you can use it to advance your career.

Category: Cultural Trends

Keywords:Leadership, Masculine Traits, Prejudice, Authentic Leadership, Double-bind

Original Source

Photo Credit: Bollhav

This abstract was originally published on InPower Women.



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