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Are Leadership Preferences Gendered?

This article by Sandra Groeneveld and Sophie Offringa examines the consequences of stereotypical beliefs regarding gender, traits, and leadership styles for manager preferences in public organizational contexts that differ as to the gender composition of their workforce.

Sandra Groeneveld, Sophie Offringa
04 July 2023
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It is hypothesized that employee preferences for male, agentic, and/or transactional managers relative to female, communal, and/or transformational managers are stronger in male-dominated contexts than in female-dominated contexts. Hypotheses are tested through a conjoint survey experiment among 2,757 Dutch public sector employees in education, police, and defense.

Findings show that there is a stronger preference for communal managers over agentic managers in both contexts, independent of the manager’s gender. In contrast, employee preferences for transactional leadership relative to transformational leadership are stronger in male-dominated contexts than in female-dominated contexts and vice versa, also independent of the gender of the manager. 

The contribution of this article is threefold. First, theoretically, it contributes to the understanding of the mechanisms behind stereotyping and prejudice toward female leaders by comparing employees’ preferences between different public sector contexts. Second, methodologically, the survey experimental design allows for disentangling the role of a manager’s gender, agentic, and communal traits, and leadership styles in employees’ preferences for a manager, whereas, to date, the perceived associations between these various manager characteristics remain unclear. Third, practically, with this research, knowledge is gained on variation in prejudice and stereotyping across different organizational settings.

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