Stereotypes in Leadership

I find it to be somewhat ironic that my intention for today was to write about stereotypes. I certainly could not have predicted that I would be a living embodiment of a tired and harried working mother who can’t keep track of her own schedule. But here we are!

Stereotypes are generally pretty ugly. I’m not going to list them here, but I’m willing to bet you can all think of one that generally reflects poorly on you.

What I really wanted to talk about today is actually women in leadership roles. It’s never been more apparent that women are being villainized for pursuing leadership roles that we are actually more qualified for and generally are more successful in every metric. In a recent study done by Pew Research women are perceived as being better at working out compromises, being honest and ethical, working to improve quality of life, and mentoring others. An even more recent piece from the Harvard Business Review confirms these findings. In our leaders, both in politics and in business, these are all things we’re looking for in our leaders. We want those in leadership positions to care about us. But when we have leaders who, far and above, are doing exactly what we’re looking for we view them as incompetent. When they do what we hate, they’re viewed as competent. For women this really leads to a double bind, do we want people to like us (and be quantifiably better leaders) or do we want to be viewed as competent (and quantifiably worse leaders)?

If you’re in a leadership role, I would be interested to hear what you are doing to help men and women be better leaders and to redefine what competence looks like in your organization.



Student Leadership.jpg
Student Leaders in Action – February 2010


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