Gender and Leadership in Spain: a Systematic Review of Some Key Aspects
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- Hernandez Bark, A.S., Escartín, J. & van Dick, R. Sex Roles (2014) 70: 522. doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0375-7
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As Spain experienced rapid societal and gender equality changes after the end of the dictatorship in 1975, the development of gender equality in Spain has differed from other European countries and the United States. Therefore, the results of Spanish studies conducted on gender and leadership might differ from those conducted in countries with other historical backgrounds such as other European countries or the United States. We systematically reviewed the current theoretical and empirical literature on gender and leadership with a special emphasis on this comparison. Thereby, we focused on four essential aspects: (a) the underlying mechanism of gender inequality (e.g., traditional gender roles), (b) gender and leadership behavior, (c) the relation of female representation in top management and on boards with organizational performance, and d) female representation and non-performance-related organizational outcomes. Further, Spain is currently experiencing a severe economic crisis. On the one hand, such a crisis might provide a chance for gender equality development; on the other hand, it might trigger a regression toward traditional gender roles in society. Thus, in our discussion, we relate the results of our comparison to these two different but possible consequences of the crisis. To conclude, we outline directions for future research that we hope will provide answers to important questions in this area of research.
In this systematic review, we examine the level of gender equality in Spain as compared with other European countries and the United States and relate these differences to the leadership research conducted in these countries. After the end of the dictatorship in 1975, Spain experienced rapid societal changes and different starting conditions for gender equality development compared with the United States and other European countries (Fees 2007; Threlfall 1985). Spain’s specific situation may have produced different results in studies on gender roles and gender and leadership conducted in Spain compared with studies conducted in other European countries (e.g., Germany or the Netherlands) and the United States. To focus our comparison, we concentrated on four essential aspects: (a) traditional gender roles and changes in gender roles as the underlying mechanisms of gender inequality, (b) gender differences in leadership behavior, (c) female representation in management and on boards and the relation between this representation and organizational performance, and (d) female representation and non-performance-related outcomes.
We believe that examining potential similarities and differences is essential for exploring whether generalizations of empirical results across Western societies are legitimate or whether it is necessary to consider other aspects such as the countries’ gender equality traditions and economic situations. Further, like other Southern European countries, Spain is currently facing severe economic problems that can be viewed as consequences of the global financial crisis (Eichhorst et al. 2010). These economic problems are reflected, for example, in its unemployment rates. Since 2009, the unemployment rates in Spain have increased up to 53.2 % in 2012 for the young (under 25 years) and up to 22.7 % in 2012 for older adults (25–74 years) compared with an average unemployment rate of 22.9 % for the young (under 25 years) and 9.1 % for older adults (25–74 years) in the EU-27 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, The Netherlands, United Kingdom) in 2012, or 16.2 % (under 25 years) and 6.8 % (25–74 years) in the United States (Eurostat 2013c). This raises the question of how such a crisis affects the development of gender equality. On the one hand, these problems might trigger the development of gender equality because societies may feel the need to use all existing potential—of both women and men—to survive the crisis. On the other hand, due to the economic threat (e.g., high unemployment), it might also trigger a retreat to traditional gender roles. Therefore, after our comparison, we will discuss these two different perceptions of crisis as an opportunity for or a hindrance to gender equality development. Thereby, we aim to relate the results of our comparison to both perspectives (hindrance vs. opportunity). However, before beginning the comparison, we will first describe the current situation with respect to gender equality in Spain and other Western societies such as the United States.
Gender Equality in the United States and Europe
Statistics on gender equality indicators for selected European countries and the US
Percentage of women in workforce
Female share in part-time employment
Women’s wages relative to men’s
Percentage of women legislators and managers
Percentage of women in parliamentary seats
Percentage of girls in secondary education
Percentage of women in tertiary education
Gender Equality in Spain
The situation in Spain, however, differs from other European countries and the US in its economic and political progress (e.g., Cooke 2009; Threlfall 1985; Valiente 2005). Historically, women have been poorly represented in the Spanish workforce mainly due to deep-rooted societal attitudes toward females (Threlfall 1985). During Franco’s dictatorship (1936–1975), Spain was more or less isolated from other European countries and was thereby economically disadvantaged (Zaldivar and Castells 1992). The dictatorship imposed a gender ideology that rendered void most progressive laws aimed at equality between the genders passed by the Republic before the Civil War (1936–1939). In other words, the dictatorship was associated with a regression toward more traditional gender roles, including the abrogation of progress in gender equality that had already been attained (e.g., the right to participate in political life; Threlfall 1985). Gender equality did not develop as an ongoing process as it did in the US and other European countries (e.g., Germany). Rather, it began after the end of the dictatorship and has undergone rapid change in the past 20 to 30 years (Senante-Berendes 2006). Further, the equality laws and the open debate in Spanish society about diversity on boards of directors have been prominent since 2004 when the then socialist Prime Minister announced a commitment to make gender equality a priority (Minguez-Vera and Martin 2011). The climax was reached in 2007 when the Spanish parliament approved a new Gender Equality Act that encouraged the greater employment of women by giving preferential treatment to companies with higher female ratios (Campbell and Minguez-Vera 2010). This act was in line with Spain’s Unified Good Governance Code, approved a year earlier by the Spanish Securities and Exchange Commission, which recommended positive discrimination in favor of female members on company boards (e.g., see Lombardo 2009). But it seems that these initiatives have had limited success so far, as several national surveys have recently demonstrated that female managers in Spain do not trust the 2007 law and even think it is ineffective (42 %) and contains no or just a few real changes (Adecco 2010). Additionally, many Spanish managers still believe that women face greater difficulties in obtaining managerial positions (61 % of male managers agree with this statement and even 88 % of female managers; PWC 2012) and that women suffer salary discrimination within their organizations (Adecco 2012; ESADE and ICSA 2010). Statistical indicators of gender equality reflect this perception. Although the female share of tertiary educational attainment among the 30 to 34 year-old Spanish population in 2012 was 45.3 % compared with a male share of 35 % (Eurostat 2013b), in 2011, only 50 % of Spanish women worked full-time (40 h or more/week) compared with 80 % of Spanish men (Catalyst 2012). Further, women held only 14.3 % of the board-member positions of large listed companies in 2013 compared with 16.6 % as the average of the EU-27, and even 23.6 % in the Netherlands and 20.5 % in Germany (European Commission 2013).
Thus, it seems that Spain has not yet achieved gender equality as reflected by either official statistics or the perceptions of the Spanish population. In the following, we examine whether the different development of gender equality in Spain is reflected by different results in Spanish samples by comparing studies on gender roles and gender and leadership conducted in Spain with those conducted in the US and European countries such as Germany, the UK, or the Netherlands. Thereby, we will structure our comparison along four aspects: First, we will focus on possible antecedents of the underrepresentation of women in top management. Second, we will outline gender differences in leadership. Third, we will focus on the relation between women’s representation in top management and organizational performance. Fourth, we will review the literature on female representation, for example, in management and non-performance-related outcomes. Finally, we will provide a summary, a reflection, and a discussion of our results and a conclusion.
Methodology of the Systematic Review
For our literature search, we used PsycInfo, PsychArticles, and Google Scholar. Further, we crosschecked the obtained articles for additional relevant publications. The criteria that we applied for including studies in our review were: (a) country (US, Spain, other European country, especially Western European country), (b) publication year (after 2000 for empirical papers—exception: representative and theoretical publications), and the research focus of the article (changes in gender roles; possible underlying mechanism of underrepresentation of women in top management; gender differences in management; relation between female representation on boards and organizational performance or corporate responsibility). As the scope of our review was broad, we do not claim that we were able to include a complete review of all existing topic-related publications.
Gender and Leadership
Antecedents and Underlying Mechanisms of the Underrepresentation of Women in Management
Incongruity Between the Female Gender Role and the Leadership Role
Traditionally, women are more associated with being concerned about the well-being of others and thereby with communal attributes such as being supportive, gentle, empathetic, and caring, whereas men are more associated with agentic attributes such as being assertive, controlling, dominant, and competitive (e.g., Bakan 1966; Deaux and Lewis 1983; Williams and Best 1990). Abele et al. (2008) developed an operationalization of agentic and communal attributes (US, France, Germany, Italy, Poland) and showed that being agentic is associated with masculinity and being communal is associated with femininity.
In line with Schein’s well-known think manager-think male phenomenon (2001), a recent meta-analysis showed that leadership is still mainly associated with agentic attributes (Koenig et al. 2011). In general, the result is a misfit between the female gender role and the perceived requirements of the leadership role (Heilman 1983; Heilman et al. 1995; Lyness and Heilman 2006; all US samples). Hence, women who pursue a leadership career will be more prone to experiencing role conflict and the associated negative feelings than their male counterparts (e.g., Eagly et al. 1994; meta-analysis). Further, the incongruity between the female gender role (communal) and the leader role (agentic) leads to two forms of prejudice: (a) Women are perceived as less suited for leadership roles, and (b) if women comply with leader-role expectations, they are evaluated less favorably than male leaders who act in the same way (Eagly and Karau 2002). Additionally, if female leaders are perceived as agentic, they are negatively evaluated on warmth (less likeable) and on hire ability, and they suffer more sabotage (e.g., Rudman et al. 2012; five US student samples). This negative evaluation of agentic female leaders is the backlash effect (Rudman, and Glick 2001; US student sample). Thus, female leaders are faced with a double standard (when they want to be perceived as competent, women have to perform better than their male counterparts) and a double-bind (they have to be tough and nice at the same time; Eagly and Karau 2002).
García-Retamero and López-Zafra (2006) examined the congruity between the male and female gender roles on the one hand and the leadership role on the other in a Spanish sample. Their results showed that female candidates were more likely to be promoted in a feminine industry, whereas male candidates were perceived as more likely to be promoted in masculine or unspecified industries. Further, the participants expected the male candidate to perform better in the future when working in the masculine or unspecified industry, and only in the feminine industry were there no differences between the male and female performances. In addition, the men’s success in getting promoted was internally attributed—regardless of the industry. For women, being promoted was internally attributed only in the feminine industry. In another study with German and Spanish student samples, García-Retamero and López-Zafra (2009) also examined the congruity between male versus female gender roles and the leadership role. Using an experimental design, they show that both Spanish and German participants perceived women to be less likely to be promoted than men when working in a masculine industry (auto manufacturing) and in an unspecified industry. When working in a feminine industry (clothes manufacturing), participants expected female and male candidates’ chances for promotion to be equal. Furthermore, a woman’s promotion was often externally attributed (e.g., luck), whereas a man’s promotion was internally attributed. On the other hand, not being promoted was ascribed to internal causes for women. As a result, Spanish participants more often chose internal causes for the nonpromotion of women and external causes for the promotion of women than the German participants. Furthermore, Lips (2000) found that US female undergraduates perceived a lower possibility of becoming a political leader or a person with power than their male counterparts and anticipated more often that such positions would be associated with relationship problems. Additionally, Killeen et al. (2006) found differences between Spanish and US undergraduates regarding the perceived accessibility of leadership roles. Spanish women perceived leadership roles as being less accessible than their US counterparts and evaluated these roles less positively than did Spanish men.
In a cross-cultural study using a Spanish sample of undergraduate students, García-Retamero and López-Zafra (2009) found that participants exhibited more prejudice toward female than male candidates who were competing for a leadership position. This study also showed the queen bee syndrome (Ellemers et al. 2004; two Dutch and two Italian samples), which posits that traditional women have a propensity to assess female leaders more negatively than do nontraditional women.
Gender Roles and Career Choices
As gender roles are integrated into individual’s self-concepts and personalities through socialization (Feingold 1994), they influence individuals’ self-standards, preferences, and behavior (e.g., Eagly 1987). Further, role-congruent behavior goes along with positive affect and positive reactions by interaction partners (Guerrero Witt, and Wood 2010; two US samples), whereas role-incongruent behavior is socially sanctioned (e.g., Diekman and Eagly 2008; Rudman et al. 2012). Therefore, it is likely that the differences between the gender roles lead to different career choices and aspirations. Evans and Diekman (2009) examined three US samples and showed that internalized gender roles lead to gendered distant goals, which lead to gender-stereotypic career interest and thereby provide support for maintaining the division of labor. Moreover, Schuh et al. (2014) showed in four German samples (two student and two employee samples) that women and men differ in their level of power motivation with women showing less power motivation than men and that these differences contribute to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. The same differences were found in a Spanish employee sample (Hernandez Bark et al. 2014). Spanish women showed less power motivation than Spanish men did, and this contributed to the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions. Further, in two Dutch samples, van Vianen and Fischer (2002) showed that a preference for masculine culture is relevant for being attracted to management positions and that women prefer masculine organizational cultures less than men. In Spain, several studies have found that Spanish female students have lower professional aspirations than male students, especially those women with low achievement motivation and low masculinity, and therefore showed that gender roles also influence the choice of occupation or study subject (García-Retamero 2006; López-Saez et al. 2004.
Change of Gender Roles
One potential way to overcome the (in-) congruity between gender roles and leader roles is a change in either the gender or the leader roles (Eagly and Karau 2002). Although the meta-analysis by (Koenig et al. 2011) showed that the leader role was perceived as more masculine in older studies than in newer ones, the masculinity-leadership association remains. But are gender roles also changing?
In Spanish and German student samples, Lopez-Zafra and Garcia-Retamero (2011) examined whether and how students perceived gender roles to be dynamic. They found that students believed that there will be fewer differences between female and male gender roles in the future compared with the past and present. The female gender role was perceived as changing more quickly (with increasing masculine-agentic characteristics) over time than the male gender role (with increasing feminine-communal characteristics). Further, Spanish undergraduates perceived a larger increase in counter-stereotypical characteristics in gender roles than their German counterparts. The authors concluded that gender roles adopt counter-stereotypical characteristics and that this shift in gender roles takes place very quickly in countries that have undergone rapid societal changes. Similarly, in German and US student samples, (Wilde and Diekman 2005) found that gender roles tend to become more egalitarian over time—again, with a greater perceived change in the female gender role. However, there were also some differences between the German and US samples: (a) the perceived increase in masculine characteristics was smaller for German women than for US women, (b) German women were perceived as decreasing in negative feminine characteristics, whereas US women remained stable on these characteristics, and (c) German women were perceived as having larger increases in feminine physical characteristics than US women. These differences can be explained for the most part by existing differences between US and German women in the past. German women in the time after World War II were perceived as having more positive masculine characteristics, more negative feminine characteristics, and fewer feminine physical characteristics than US women. Bosak and Sczesny (2011) examined in two Swiss student samples whether the incongruity between the female gender role and the leader role was malleable. Participants perceived an increase in typical masculine traits in the female gender role. Further, they showed that the manipulation of role distribution (traditional roles vs. roles-today vs. equal roles) influenced the ascription of feminine and masculine traits to women and men and the perceived incongruence between the female gender role and leader role. Women were perceived as increasing in masculine traits in the roles-today and equal-roles conditions compared with the traditional-roles condition, whereas the ascription of masculine traits to men and leaders remained stable across the conditions. Further, there was almost no increase in the ascription of feminine traits to men or leaders. Only in the equal-roles condition were men perceived as increasing in feminine traits, whereas there were no changes regardless of condition for leaders.
Gender roles and leadership: overview of studies focusing on antecedents and explanatory mechanisms for the underrepresentation of women in top management
García-Retamero and López-Zafra (2006)
523 Spanish participants (mainly students)
• Men were perceived as more likely to be promoted in a masculine and in an unspecified industry and to perform better than women in these industries in the future.
• Women were perceived as more likely to be promoted in a feminine industry and to perform as well as men in that industry.
• The promotion of female candidates in the masculine or the unspecified industry was externally attributed.
104 Spanish students
• Female students showed lower levels of professional aspiration than their male counterparts.
Hernandez Bark et al. (2014)
256 Spanish employees
• Women showed lower levels of power motivation than men but more transformational leadership.
• But men with high power motivation showed more transformational leadership behavior than men with low power motivation, whereas there was no such difference in women.
Gartzia et al. (2012)
301 Spanish employees and managers
• The think crisis-think female association was found, but male leadership role models reduced the selection of female and of interpersonally oriented leaders in crisis.
• Individuals with high sexism were less likely to show the think crisis-think female association.
van Vianen and Fischer (2002)
327 (Study 1) & 184 (Study 2) Dutch employees/managers
• Men preferred masculine cultures more than women.
• A preference for masculine culture was relevant for being attracted to management positions.
Schuh et al. (2014)
German students (Study 1: 240; Study 2: 61) & employees (Study 3: 382; Study 4: 861)
• Women showed lower levels of power motivation than their male counterparts and were less likely to be selected as leaders in student work groups.
Ellemers et al. (2004)
Study1: 132 Dutch PhD students & 179 Dutch faculty members
Study 2: 80 Italian PhD Students & 93 Italian faculty members
• No gender differences were found in work commitment and work satisfaction in the self-description of both Dutch and Italian PhD students.
• Faculty members perceived female students to be less committed than male students in both the Netherlands and in Italy. Further, in both countries, female faculty members showed this effect more strongly.
United States of America
63 US students
• Female students perceived that they were less likely to become a political leader or a person with power than their male counterparts.
• Further, female students anticipated more often that powerful positions would be associated with relationship problems.
Brown et al. (2011)
107 (Study 1), 116 (Study 2b), 121 (Study 3) US students &
53 US individuals
• Threat strengthened the preference for change over stability.
• Female leaders were associated with a change orientation.
• Threat reduced the preference for male leaders.
Heilman et al. (1995)
224 US managers
• Female managers were evaluated more negatively than male managers.
• Female managers, especially when depicted as successful, were characterized more negatively in interpersonal attributes than other women and sometimes even more negatively than men.
Lyness and Heilman (2006)
489 US upper-level managers
• Women in line jobs (assumed to be less congruent with the female gender role than staff jobs) received lower performance ratings than women in staff jobs or men (staff and line jobs).
• Promoted women received higher performance ratings than promoted men.
• Performance ratings were more strongly related to promotion for women than for men.
Ryan et al. (2011)
99 (Prestudy), 72 (Study 1), 109 (Study 2), & 147 (Study 3) US students with work experience
• The think crisis-think female association was found.
• The explanation for this association was that individuals with feminine traits are believed to blame themselves for failures, to be good at managing people, and to be more resistant to stress.
Articles with mixed samples
Killeen et al. (2006)
224 Spanish & 301 US students
• Spanish females perceived leadership roles as less accessible than their US counterparts.
• Further, Spanish females evaluated leadership roles as less positive than Spanish males.
García-Retamero and López-Zafra (2009)
180 Spanish & 180 German students
• More prejudice toward a female than a male candidate when competing for a leadership position was found.
• Traditional women evaluated female leaders more negatively than nontraditional women.
• In both countries, women were perceived as less likely to be promoted in a masculine and in an unspecified industry, whereas in a feminine industry, both genders were perceived to have equal chances.
• The promotion of women was attributed to external causes, whereas not being promoted was internally attributed. But the effect was stronger in the Spanish sample, with Spanish students showing more prejudice against the female candidate.
Lopez-Zafra and Garcia-Retamero (2011)
237 Spanish & 239 German students
• Female and male gender roles were perceived as dynamic and as having fewer differences in the future compared to the past and present.
• The female gender role was perceived as changing faster (as increasing in agentic traits) than the male gender role.
• Spanish students perceived a larger increase in counter-stereotypical traits than the German students.
Wilde and Diekman (2005)
110 German students and employees & 254 US students
• German and US students believed the two gender roles will become more equal over time.
• But the perceived increase in masculine characteristics in the female gender role was smaller in Germany, the increase in feminine physical characteristics was larger in Germany, and there was a decrease in negative feminine characteristics in Germany but not in the US.
Gender and Leadership Behavior
As noted above, female leaders are confronted with an incongruence between the female gender role (communal) and the leader role (agentic; Eagly and Karau 2002). One possible way for them to deal with the resulting double-bind is to enrich their leadership behavior with communal components. Therefore, it is not surprising that meta-analyses have revealed that women exhibit more democratic and participative leadership styles than men (Eagly and Johnson 1990; van Engen and Willemsen 2004). In the following, we will compare in more detail two different leadership behaviors that both allow female leaders to cope with the double-bind: transformational leadership and androgynous leadership.
Transformational leadership behavior is more congruent with the female gender role and thereby provides women with an opportunity to reduce the incongruence between the leadership role and their gender role. Transformational leaders are characterized by being inspirational role models, considering their employees individually, supporting their employees’ development, and motivating their employees by communicating their visions (Bass 1985). Probably because transformational leadership behavior best addresses the actual requirements of leading in organizations, it is one of the most researched leadership behaviors (Avolio 2010).
López-Zafra et al. (2012) examined 431 Spanish undergraduates’ self-ratings of emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, and gender identity. Women rated themselves higher on transformational leadership and contingent reward (a subdimension of transactional leadership behavior). Further, feminine gender roles predicted transformational leadership behavior and contingent reward (López-Zafra et al. 2012). Similar results were found in a Spanish employee sample (Gartzia and van Engen 2012). Male leaders rated themselves lower on individualized consideration, contingent reward, and emotional intelligence. Further, this relation between gender and leadership behavior was mediated by emotional expressiveness. In two studies, Vinkenburg et al. (2011) examined descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes of leadership styles. Both samples consisted of US and Dutch managers. Study 1 revealed that participants believed that women and men exhibit different leadership behavior. Congruent with their gender roles, women were believed to show more transformational and contingent reward leadership behavior than men. Study 2 examined the importance of leadership styles for the promotion of women and men to different organizational levels. Although inspirational motivation was perceived as relevant for both genders, it was ascribed as more relevant for men, especially for being promoted to a CEO position. On the other hand, individual consideration was perceived as more relevant for women than for men, especially for being promoted to senior management. Dutch and US participants did not differ except that US participants perceived transformational leadership and contingent reward as more important for promotion and more advantageous for promotion to higher levels. These results are in line with previous meta-analyses (i.e., Eagly et al. 2003) and show (a) that managers believe that women show more transformational leadership and contingent reward behavior than men and (b) that different leadership behaviors are perceived as differently relevant for the promotion of women and men to different organizational levels (prescriptive beliefs about the importance of leadership behavior for women and men to be promoted to higher organizational levels).
Independent of country, recent studies and meta-analyses have confirmed that women lead in a slightly more transformational manner, especially with individual consideration, and they use more contingent reward behavior than men. Transformational leadership behaviors and especially individual consideration are more congruent with the female gender role (Eagly and Karau 2002) and are a way for women to mitigate backlash effects (Rudman and Glick 2001). By contrast, men more often emphasize followers’ mistakes and failures and intervene more often only when problems become severe (management-by-exception, a subdimension of transactional leadership behavior and laissez-faire leadership; Eagly et al. 2003). Interestingly, the leadership behaviors (transformational leadership and contingent reward) that are more often shown by female leaders have been confirmed by three meta-analyses to be more effective (Judge and Piccolo 2004; Lowe et al. 1996; (Wang et al. 2011). Transformational leadership has consistently shown significant and positive relations with performance, job satisfaction, organization identification, and motivation (Avolio 1999; Podsakoff et al. 1996;; in a mixed US and Canadian sample). By contrast, the more negative and punishing aspects of transactional leadership behavior have shown only weak relations with effectiveness; and in addition, delaying action until problems become severe (another subdimension of transactional leadership) and laissez-faire leadership have shown negative relations with effectiveness.
Overview of studies focusing on gender and leadership behavior, the relation between female representation on boards and organizational performance, and corporate responsibility
Gender and leadership behavior
López-Zafra et al. (2012)
431 Spanish students
• Women rated themselves higher on transformational leadership and contingent reward (a subdimension of transactional leadership behavior).
• Feminine gender roles predicted transformational leadership behavior and contingent reward.
• Male leaders rated themselves lower on individualized consideration, contingent reward, and emotional intelligence.
• The relation between gender and leadership behavior was mediated by emotional expressiveness.
Gartzia and van Engen (2012)
157 Spanish managers
• Women were higher on individualized consideration and contingent reward than men.
Hernandez Bark et al. (2014)
256 Spanish employees
• See Table 2
Articles with mixed samples
Vinkenburg et al. (2011)
271 (Study 1) and 514 (Study 2) US and Dutch employees (most of them had managerial experience)
• Participants believed that women and men exhibit different leadership behavior.
• Women were believed to show more transformational and contingent reward leadership behavior than men.
• Although inspirational motivation was perceived to be relevant for both genders, it was ascribed as more relevant for men, especially for being promoted to a CEO position.
• For women, individual consideration was perceived as more relevant than for men, especially for being promoted to senior management.
Relation between female representation with organizational performance
de Cabo et al. (2007)
Spain’s top 1,085 companies
• Companies with homogenous boards considered diversity to be a hindrance.
Campbell and Minguez-Vera (2010)
Appointment of directors to Spanish firms 1989-2001 (based on CNMV; equal to SEC in USA)
• Positive stock market reactions to the appointment of female board members (short-term effect) and a positive relation between the appointment of female board members and firm value (long-term effect) were found.
Minguez-Vera and Martin (2011)
Data set Sistema de Análisis de Balances Ibéricos (SABI)
• The presence of women on the board had a negative and significant effect on firm performance, measured by the return on equity (ROE).
4,000 Spanish hotel firms
• No evidence of underperformance of firms with more women on executive teams.
Desvaux et al. (2007)
Large European corporations
• Gender diversity was associated with better financial performance.
United States of America
Carter et al. (2003)
• A positive relation between the diversity (representation of women, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and other minorities) of boards and firm value was found.
Krishnan and Park (2005)
Top management teams
• A positive relation between the proportion of women on top management teams and organizational performance was found.
Joy et al. (2007)
• Companies with more women board directors outperformed the others.
Adams and Ferreira (2009)
1,939 US firms
• A negative relation between firm performance and female representation on boards was found, but they further found: (a) Female directors had fewer attendance problems than male directors, (b) gender diversity on boards reduced the attendance problems of male directors, (c) female directors were overrepresented on monitoring committees but underrepresented on compensation committees, and (d) the proportion of female directors was associated with more equity-based pay for directors.
Dezsö and Ross (2012)
Panel data from 1992 to 2006 of Standard & Poor’s 1,500 firms
• Female representation in top management improved firm performance but only when the firm strategy focused on innovation.
Relation between female representation to organization’s social responsibility
Matsa and Miller (2013)
Norwegian corporate boards
• The mandated addition of women to Norwegian corporate boards was associated with smaller workforce reductions, which were attributed to women’s greater concern with the welfare of employees and their families.
United States of America
• The proportion of women on corporate boards in the Fortune 500 predicted the companies’ philanthropy and charitable giving.
Matsa and Miller (2012)
Private firms in the US
• Firms owned by women were less likely than firms owned by men to lay off workers when confronted with a period of financial stress.
Most conceptual and empirical papers discussed so far have considered male and female gender roles to be opposed. However, there is also another possibility, which is to understand the two roles as complementary. Bem (1974) labeled this complementary approach androgyny or the ability to go beyond gender stereotypes and to integrate counter-stereotypical traits into the self. Androgyny combines the qualities that characterize masculinity (i.e., instrumentality) and femininity (i.e., expressiveness) in leadership and introduces a type of leader known as androgynous. Such leaders are evaluated more favorably in terms of higher personal identification with the leader and perceived as more transformational (Kark et al. 2012; Israeli employee sample) than other types of leaders. In a Spanish sample, Gartzia (2011) found that companies with androgynous employees and leaders (compared with being stereotypically masculine) made better use of communal resources as connected with organizational performance. Androgyny has an influence on positive ratings by subordinates, leadership effectiveness (Kark et al. 2012), and intergroup cooperation (Gartzia 2011). Androgynous leaders also score higher on transformational leadership and emotional intelligence (Gartzia and van Engen 2012; Spanish manager sample). Further, androgynous leaders seem to be the most effective at achieving positive organizational outcomes (Kaufman and Grace 2011; US sample; Madsen 2007; US sample). In other words, individuals who are able to go beyond gender stereotypes and identify with both traits (i.e., androgynous) are potentially the most effective leaders (Gartzia and Van Engen 2012). Therefore, androgynous leadership seems to be promising from both the management perspective (positive organizational outcomes) and the gender equality perspective (integration of feminine and masculine characteristics into the leader role and thereby a lower tendency to perceive women as less qualified as leaders, for instance).
Female Representation and Organizational Performance
Tajfel and Turner (1986) and Williams and O’Reilly (1998) suggest that homogeneity results in more cooperation and less conflict. Therefore, in the context of gender homogeneity on firms’ boards, gender diversity among group members might increase conflict by creating intragroup barriers and discrimination, both of which can slow down decision making processes and make these processes less effective. For example, de Cabo et al. (2007) found empirical support for this way of thinking in a study of the boards of Spain’s top 1,085 companies: Companies with homogenous boards considered diversity to be a hindrance. Further, using the data set Sistema de Análisis de Balances Ibéricos (SABI), Mínguez-Vera and Martin (2011) found that the presence of women on a board has a negative and significant effect on firm performance, measured by the return on equity (ROE). However, the ROE has been criticized for providing a measure of only a very narrow aspect of performance (European Central Bank, 2010). Thus, when utilizing other indicators of performance (e.g., growth and profitability measures), Marco (2012) found no evidence that firms underperform when more women are on executive teams in almost 4,000 Spanish hotel firms, one of the pillars of the Spanish Economy (INE 2012).
By contrast, the resource-based view of the firm offers competing arguments (Barney 2001). According to this perspective, gender differences could potentially act as a resource given the different contributions and complementary competences of men and women. Whereas men may be predisposed to leading in ways that emphasize competition, women may be predisposed to facilitating cooperation. Thus, better firm performance could be expected with more gender balance in the workforce and on leadership teams in particular. In line with this argument, Campbell and Minguez-Vera (2010) found positive stock market reactions to and a positive relation between a firm’s value and its appointment of female board members. Another study examined 89 European listed companies with high levels of gender diversity in high management posts and found that companies with a higher proportion of women on their management committees had better performance than the average of the corresponding sector (Desvaux et al. 2007). Further, several US studies have found a positive relation between the percentage of women on boards or top management teams and organizational performance. For instance, Carter et al. (2003) examined the Fortune 1,000 firms and found a positive relation between board diversity (representation of women, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and other minorities) and firm value. Krishnan and Park (2005) found a positive relation between the proportion of women on top management teams and organizational performance. Joy et al. (2007) found that among the Fortune 500 firms, companies with more female board directors outperformed the others. A more recent article by Dezsö and Ross (2012) examined panel data between 1992 and 2006 of the 1,500 Standard and Poors firms. They also found a positive relation between female representation in top management and firm performance but only when the firm strategy focused on innovation. Although Adams and Ferreira (2009) found a negative relation between female board representation and organizational performance, they additionally found the following results: (a) Female directors had fewer attendance problems than male directors, (b) if the board was gender diverse, it reduced the attendance problems of male directors, (c) female directors were overrepresented on monitoring committees but were underrepresented on compensation committees, and (d) the proportion of female directors was associated with more equity-based pay for directors.
To sum up, most studies have revealed a positive relation between female representation on boards or top management teams and organizational performance variables (Campbell and Minguez-Vera 2010; Carter et al. 2003; Desvaux et al. 2007; Joy et al. 2007; Krishnan and Park 2005). However, there are also studies that have found a negative relation (Adams and Ferreira 2009; Mateos de Cabo et al. 2007; Minguez-Vera and Martin 2011) or no relation (Marco 2012) or a positive relation only under certain circumstances (Dezsö and Ross 2012). As the range from positive to negative relations differs even within countries (e.g., in Spain: positive relation: Campbell and Minguez-Vera 2010; no relation: Marco 2012; negative relation: Minguez-Vera and Martin 2011), a more complex conceptualization of (gender) diversity in organizational contexts including contextual and situational factors is needed to differentiate and investigate the effects of female representation (see van Knippenberg and Schippers 2007). Further, this range from positive to negative relations is congruent with the findings of a recent meta-analysis on the relation between diversity and performance (van Dijk et al. 2012).
Possible explanations for these ambiguous results might be driven according to the contact hypothesis (Allport 1954) and the token theory (Kanter 1977). Together, the two theories help provide the understanding that when women are a minority (e.g., only one female board member), they are considered tokens, and this makes them targets of managerial stereotypes, thus pressuring them to increase performance and making it difficult for them to connect with the dominant group (i.e., men). In other words, such a context makes more salient the idea that women are minorities, thus facilitating more stereotypical gender roles and creating more problems in organizations with biased and sometimes sexist leadership beliefs. However, previous studies focusing on diversity and conflict have empirically shown that over time, the negative outcomes associated with diversity decrease when people get to know each other and have a greater appreciation for and understanding of the differences that exist in the work group (Harrison et al. 1998; Watson et al. 1993; all US samples). Thus, the length of time group members work together attenuates the negative effects of demographic diversity and accentuates the positive effects of informational diversity as group members have the opportunity to engage in meaningful interactions. In other words, lower performance outcomes in organizations with women on boards might be explained by the short amount of time that such female managers had spent on their teams. Thus, when controlling for time in longitudinal studies, it seems that negative results are not sustained and can even be reversed (e.g., Marco 2012).
Female Representation and Non-Performance-Related Organizational Outcomes
In addition to performance, several studies have examined the effects of female representation on socially relevant outcomes. Thus, when women are members of legislative bodies, they are more likely than their male colleagues to advocate for changes that promote the interests of women, children, and families and support public welfare such as health care and education (for reviews, see Paxton et al. 2007; Wängnerud 2009). Further, the proportion of women on corporate boards in the Fortune 500 is a predictor of a company’s amount of philanthropy and charitable giving (Williams 2003). The mandated addition of women to Norwegian corporate boards was associated with smaller workforce reductions, and this was attributed to women’s greater concern for the welfare of employees and their families (Matsa and Miller 2013). A similar result was revealed in a study examining private firms in the United States: Firms owned by women were less likely than firms owned by men to lay off workers when confronted with a period of financial stress (Matsa and Miller 2012).
In conclusion, according to these trends, the representation of women on corporate boards is mostly related to better performance (Campbell and Minguez-Vera 2010; Carter et al. 2003; Desvaux et al. 2007, 2008; Joy et al. 2007; Krishnan and Park 2005). Further, female representation in legislative bodies and corporate boards is related to more positive social outcomes and greater corporate responsibility, especially by companies eschewing negative or unethical business practices (Boulouta 2013; US sample; see Table 3 for an overview). Therefore, not only does the research on leadership styles suggest a female advantage in the way that female leaders enact effective leadership behavior more often than male leaders; but the effects of gender-related values, attitudes, and ethical tendencies also warrant attention over and above performance as a sole and narrow indicator.
However, regarding the comparison of the studies within and between countries, there are some limitations. First, the majority of studies on the relation between female representation on boards and organizational performance have been conducted in the United States and have found positive relations. In addition, we do not have Spanish results on the relations between the representation of women on boards with organizational caregiving and corporate responsibility. Second, the relation between female representation and organizational performance in Spain ranges from positive to negative. Although these results are in line with the results of the meta-analysis by van Dijk et al. (2012), cultural influences might exist. A further explanation could be the use of different operationalizations of performance in the different studies. To clarify the causes of these different effects, more research using standard operationalizations of both organizational performance and organizational corporate responsibility is needed to compare these study results both within and between cultures and to detect possible cultural influences.
This review of the existing literature on gender and leadership focusing on the comparison between Spain and other European countries and the United States revealed several interesting and relevant differences. First, focusing on possible antecedents and underlying mechanisms for the underrepresentation of women in top management, our review revealed that gender roles are perceived to be dynamic and that individuals believe that they will become more similar in the future. Further, the female gender role is expected to change more quickly over time than the male gender role (López-Zafra and García-Retamero 2011; Wilde and Diekman 2005). This overall pattern can be found in Spanish, German, and US samples, although the perceived changes in the gender roles were larger in the Spanish than in the German samples (Lopez-Zafra and Garcia-Retamero 2011), and there were small differences between the US and the German samples (Wilde and Diekman 2005). One possible explanation for the stronger increase in counter-stereotypical attributes in Spain might be grounded in the rapid societal changes that have occurred and that have facilitated the shift in gender roles (Lopez-Zafra and Garcia-Retamero 2011). However, presently, gender roles still seem to affect career decisions and the advancement of women and men (Evans and Diekman 2009; García-Retamero 2006; García-Retamero and López-Zafra 2006, 2009; Hernandez Bark et al. 2014; Killeen et al. 2006; Lips 2000). Again, the pattern that female gender roles negatively affected the ability of women to move into management positions was similar across the different countries. However, it seems that this effect was even stronger in the Spanish samples than in the German and US samples (e.g., García-Retamero and López-Zafra 2009; Killeen et al. 2006). Spanish women perceived leadership roles to be less accessible and less favorable than their US counterparts (Killeen et al. 2006). Further, Spanish participants showed more prejudice against female candidates than Germans (García-Retamero and López-Zafra 2009). Thus, it seems that although participants in Spain expect the female gender role to undergo more changes in the future, the present incongruence between the female gender role and the leadership role is stronger in Spain than in the US or other European countries such as Germany.
Second, regarding gender differences in leadership, we found that female and male leaders enact slightly different behaviors such that women more often use the effective leadership styles of transformational leadership behavior and contingent reward (Eagly et al. 2003; Gartzia and van Engen 2012; Hernandez Bark et al. 2014; López-Zafra et al. 2012; Vinkenburg et al. 2011). We found this pattern in all countries (e.g., Gartzia and van Engen 2012; Vinkenburg et al. 2011), and it is congruent with the results of the meta-analysis by (Eagly et al. 2003). As the female gender role seems to have a stronger effect in Spain (see paragraph above), and transformational leadership is more congruent with the female gender role, we maintain that finding a similar pattern in Spain and other countries is not surprising.
Third, the representation of women on corporate boards is associated with various positive effects. In most of the studies, higher female representation was related to better organizational performance (e.g., Joy et al. 2007; Krishnan and Park 2005). Finally, higher female representation (on boards or in legislative bodies) was found to be related to more ethical business practices and more corporate responsibility (e.g., Matsa and Miller 2012, 2013; Paxton et al. 2007; Wängnerud 2009; Williams 2003). However, in the Spanish studies, the relation between female representation and organizational performance ranged from positive to negative, and none of the studies focusing on ethical business practices and corporate responsibility were conducted in Spain. To be able to conclude whether the difference in the relation between organizational performance and female representation on boards is culturally influenced and therefore different in Spain or whether this difference is based on the different operationalizations of performance and/or female representation, more research with standard operationalizations is needed. Further, because organizational corporate responsibility strategies were not included in the Spanish studies, we were not able to make a comparison between the countries. Nevertheless, because the relation between corporate responsibility and female representation on boards is in line with the female gender role, we assume that this relation can also be found in Spain rather than just in countries such as Norway or the United States. However, this is just our assumption based on the results of our comparison on gender roles and gender differences in leadership. Therefore, it needs to be examined in future research. Indeed, as the need for a standardized operationalization applies to organizational performance, it also applies to the operationalization of corporate responsibility. Without using the same operationalizations, generalizations and comparisons across results are hardly possible—between studies conducted within one country or across countries.
Spain’s unique gender equality development (e.g., Cooke 2009; Threlfall 1985; Valiente 2005), its actual economic situation (e.g., European Commission 2013; Eurostat 2013a), and Spanish individuals’ perceptions of the potential for gender role changes in the future (Lopez-Zafra and Garcia-Retamero 2011)—all of which seem to come along with more prejudice in the present (García-Retamero and López-Zafra 2009; Killeen et al. 2006)—make Spain a very interesting country for (future) research.
As Einstein famously put it, crisis brings progress because it is in crisis that invention is born (Einstein, 1955; as cited in Hawel and Blanke 2012). Thus, does the crisis offer a possibility for change toward gender equality? The glass cliff effect refers to the finding that female leaders are more likely to be appointed to precarious leadership positions (Ryan and Haslam 2007). This means that women are more likely to be appointed to leadership positions when an organization is experiencing poor performance or when the positions include an increased risk of failure. Considerably, one might argue that the glass cliff effect implies that women are more likely to become leaders in times of economic crisis when more organizations might perform poorly and the risk of failure might be higher. To further explore and explain the glass cliff effect, (Ryan et al. 2011) proposed and empirically tested the think crisis-think female association in three samples (mainly US participants). They revealed that the think crisis-think female association can be explained by the assumption that individuals with female traits are believed to be good at managing people, tend to take responsibility for failures (i.e., blame themselves), and are better able to cope with stress. Gartzia et al. (2012) examined in a Spanish sample (comprised of employees and managers) whether male leadership role models (instrumental vs. expressive) and participants’ sexism levels influence the think crisis-think female association. As expected, the exposure to instrumental male role models decreased the likelihood that an organization would select a female leader or a personally oriented leader for an organization in crisis compared with a control or instrumental-role-model condition. Further, more sexist participants were less likely to select female leaders in times of crisis. Additionally, Brown et al. (four US student samples and one US online sample; 2011) found that individuals under threat prefer change instead of stability, that female leaders are associated with change, and that threat reduces the preference for male leaders. Therefore, despite the fact that the think crisis-think female association does not necessarily comprise the recognition of the potential of women’s leadership, it might have positive long-term implications for women’s representation in management and redound upon the economic crisis providing a change in gender equality. Especially due to the rapid societal changes that occurred after the end of the dictatorship and due to individuals’ gender-role-change predictions that were larger in Spain than in Germany (Lopez-Zafra and Garcia-Retamero 2011) or the US (Wilde and Diekman 2005), it might be the case that Spain is well prepared to convert the current crisis into an opportunity for gender equality development.
On the other hand, there might be a return to traditional views, including a regression toward more traditional gender roles because these roles seem to provide security in times of crisis. Research participants expected changes in gender roles in the future, but in the present, the prejudice against female leaders is still stronger in Spain than in Germany (García-Retamero and López-Zafra 2009), and the incongruence between the female gender role and the leadership role is more influential in Spain than in the US (Killeen et al. 2006). Therefore, perhaps the crisis is strengthening the influence of the traditional female gender role and is thereby contributing to maintaining gender inequality in management.
Hence, the financial crisis and its effects might provide a unique opportunity to conduct longitudinal studies to examine the development of gender roles and stereotypes over time in times of social crisis with economic insecurity. Indeed, there is a lack of research regarding the questions of whether and how social crises and economic insecurity affect (a) the perception of gender roles, (b) the organizational perception of effective or desirable leadership, and (c) the relation between female representation on boards and organizational performance and organizational corporate responsibility behavior. It is essential for such designs to include information on how the people perceive the crisis (e.g., as a threat, as producing feelings of insecurity about their own future, etc.) to create a more detailed picture of which aspects of the crisis affect the gender roles themselves and which aspects affect the changes in and relevance of gender equality.
Further, it would be interesting to examine whether and how changes in both female and male gender roles—independent of a given crisis—relate to what is perceived as ideal leadership behavior. For example, an experimental vignette study design could be used to examine such relations. When conducting cross-cultural research, variables such as traditionalism, power distance, or masculinity should be included. With their inclusion, researchers could deduce the relation between these variables and gender-equality-related research questions on both an individual and an aggregated cultural level.
Another issue is the use of student samples. Of course, studies on students’ perceptions of gender roles and how these roles might influence their career aspirations are relevant; but the generalizability of such results is also restricted.
Furthermore, in most of the studies, the relevance of the incongruity between the female gender role and leadership roles to prejudice and career development seems to be fully explained (Evans and Diekman 2009; García-Retamero and López-Zafra 2006, 2009; Killeen et al. 2006). However, we currently have information on correlations but not much about causality. Therefore, experimental studies examining causal directions to uncover the influences on gender roles themselves could confirm and expand on the assumed relations and begin to work toward figuring out how to begin to design gender equality interventions. Moreover, studies are needed to examine the (in) stability of beliefs about gender roles and leadership, how they change across the lifespan, and how they are affected by critical life events (e.g., marriage, childbirth), by the changing public representation of women, men, and leaders in the media, or by legislation on gender equality and family policies. Only when we know more about potential moderators such as industry, perceived prototypicality, (cultural) values, and long-term effects will we be able to develop effective and contextually/culturally appropriate gender equality strategies and interventions, which will be essential for strengthening gender equality in organizations and society.
Although there have been changes from the past to the present toward gender equality, and we have accumulated a substantial body of knowledge about gender roles and gender and leadership, there is still a lot that needs to be explored.
The present overview sheds light on the development of the complex and intertwined issues of gender and leadership. We began with the think manager-think male association (Schein 2001) and the role of congruity theory toward female leaders (Eagly and Karau 2002) as explanations for the low percentages of women in leadership positions. We hope that our review has shown—despite the differences between countries—the similarity in the overall patterns: Individuals believe that gender roles are becoming more egalitarian and especially see an increase in agentic characteristics in the female gender role. Female leaders enact slightly more transformational leadership behavior but are also expected to do so as this is more congruent with the present female gender role. Also, there is a positive relation between female representation and organizational performance. However, the global financial crisis has had a negative impact on the working world, with most companies currently facing substantial challenges under severe economic pressure. In such a reality, the status quo has been seriously challenged, and the think crisis-think female association has flourished. Theoretical perspectives such as the resource-based view of the firm have contributed to an understanding of the current situation, emphasizing the different but necessary contributions and complementary competences of men and women. The necessary next step within such a development (from think male to think female) seems to be the think manager-think androgynous association because androgynous leaders seem to be the most effective leaders due to their successful combination of both stereotypically masculine and stereotypically feminine identity traits. One intriguing question is whether the deep crisis in countries such as Spain will make them entrepreneurs and leaders of such societal change or whether it will drive them to more traditional roles and gender models at least during the time of the immediate crisis.
The progress of more female representation in the upper echelons may be radical and fast or continuous and slow, but there is little doubt that it will eventually happen.