Problem of Gender Essentialism and its Implications for Women in Leadership
Cook School of Intercultural Studies
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).
Leadership in women
Journal of Leadership Studies
DOI of Published Version
Dzubinski, Leanne M., "Problem of Gender Essentialism and its Implications for Women in Leadership" (2018). Faculty Articles & Research. 320.