Title

Problem of Gender Essentialism and its Implications for Women in Leadership

Publication Date

6-21-2018

Abstract

The study of women's leadership has burgeoned in recent decades. One significant thread of conversation revolves around the belief that women differ from men, and the corresponding implications of such differences for the practice of leadership (Calás & Smircich, 1993; Ng, 2008). This approach leads to an instrumental perspective on leadership: How can organizations best leverage the supposedly inherent differences that women and men bring to the workplace to the benefit of the organization? This difference and instrumentality approach, however, fails to question the taken‐for‐granted assumptions of gender‐based difference, assumptions which flow from essentialist views of gender as both monolithic and immutable. Essentialist assumptions are widespread, both societally and organizationally, and are often treated as normative. For example, beliefs that women are always more emotionally attuned than men, or that men are automatically more competitive than women reflect essentialist assumptions. Such assumptions are troubling in that they fail to adequately account for the many, varied realities of women's (and men's) experiences, and, by extension, their ways of leading. The recent Women and Leadership Theory Think Tank Report (Storberg‐Walker & Madsen, 2017) drew attention to the problem, calling scholars to “make meaningful descriptions of women's leadership without essentializing” (p. 7).

Keywords

Leadership in women

Publication Title

Journal of Leadership Studies

Volume

12

Issue

1

First Page

56

Last Page

61

DOI of Published Version

10.1002/jls.21565

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