Demonstrations of stereotypically gendered traits are visible in almost every aspect of society. The media often portrays women as patient, soft-spoken, empathetic, and a slew of other feminine aligned characteristics. On the contrary, men are often portrayed as strong, commanding, and decisive. These associations are so often posed as countering each other, being opposites with little to no overlap.
These stereotypes are heightened in the professional sphere, especially when an individual is in a position of leadership. Below is a graph based on a study conducted by Alice H. Eagly, and brought to attention in an article by McKinsey & Company. In this graph, we can identify leadership behaviors that are more frequently applied by men and women, and which ones are applied similarly.
This chart provokes multiple observations and conclusions. There is undoubtedly a spectrum of leadership characteristics that are considered feminine and masculine as demonstrated the significance of these differences. Some are considered undeniably feminine, like people development, and others are considered undoubtedly masculine, like control and corrective action.
There are, however, traits that fall in the middle of this and are equally applied by men and women, like intellectual stimulation. This view, however, is highly reductive and harmful to any successful and healthy model of leadership. It is necessary, to be a leader in this day and age, to be unafraid to portray characteristics that are both masculine and feminine, thus rendering them extricable from their prior associations. These stereotypes are problematic in that they discourage men from demonstrating feminine traits in the workplace, and vice versa, even when those traits may be what is necessary for the situation.
Even the very foundation of this idea is flawed. It is misconstrued that men have only masculine traits and women have exclusively feminine characteristics. This is an intensely archaic and misogynistic concept. Often, it is construed that gender stereotypes are at odds with each other. However, it is important to challenge these notions and let go of rigid stereotypes to evaluate more effective models of leadership in a way that isn’t gender-biased but instead embracing the diversity of both.
A truly successful leader must be able to embrace characteristics that are both stereotypically masculine and stereotypically feminine. We must stop looking to gender-centric models, and instead start looking toward a more human-centric model: a model in which traits are viewed not for their attachment to certain gendered stereotypes, but instead how they can be optimized in a position of leadership.
Increasing gender diversity is critical to expansion and success, especially in the model of transformational leadership. It is necessary to have an open mind and shed bias and stigma associated with presenting traits that do not align with your gender to effectively evolve and change to be the best leader possible. It is exciting to see how diversity in the workplace will continue to shift in the contemporary age, and how we as a society will continue to break down these futile binaries that are only getting in our way.