Gender, Formal Authority, and Leadership

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Abstract

Do women and men in official leadership positions act similarly toward their subordinates? The majority of research in the area of gender, leadership, and formal authority addresses this question. One might think it would be easy to answer, but such is not the case. Available empirical evidence provides only contradictory answers. For example, a number of studies show no gender differences in leadership behavior, measured by subordinates’ perceptions of their leaders’ behavior or by observing actual leader behavior (Adams, 1978; Bartol, 1973; Bartol & Martin, 1986; Birdsall, 1980; Camden & Witt, 1983; Day & Stogdill, 1972; Dobbins & Platz, 1986; Donnell & Hall, 1980; Instone, Major, & Bunker, 1983; Koberg, 1985; Osborn & Vicars, 1976; Rice, Instone, & Adams, 1984; Terborg, 1979).1 Other studies, however, find evidence for gender stereotypic behavior where women leaders are more person oriented (considerate, appreciative, supportive) than men leaders (Gupta, Jenkins, & Beehr, 1983; Statham, 1988) who are more task oriented (directive, instructive, and commanding) (Baird & Bradley, 1979; Eskilson & Wiley, 1976; Fowler & Rosenfeld, 1979). In contrast, yet other studies find men leaders to be more person oriented than women leaders (Winther & Green, 1987), and women leaders to be more task oriented than men leaders (Bartol & Wortman, 1979; Helmich, 1974). Finally, Eagly and Johnson (1990), in a meta-analysis of leadership behavior, conclude that women leaders are slightly more person oriented and less task oriented than men leaders.