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Fallacy of Gendered Norms of Leadership

The role of gender in carving a good leader has always been a matter of great debate between the Human Resource professionals and human right activists. There are two extremes – one advocating women as the supreme and the other associating leadership with masculinity, portraying men to be the natural leaders. Both these schools of thought have their own vices and the reality is lost somewhere in between. Major weakness of both these arguments is that they have overemphasized gender and are not even ready to accept the human nature and competence.

Leadership is a trait that is not everybody’s business let alone women. People who try to find it out in some specific gender or creed are misguided by their whim. Leadership is a characteristic that is mostly God gifted and is not gender specific. Women can be as good leaders as men can and vice versa. Main problem with such debate emphasizing gendered norms of leadership arises from the fallacy of generalizing the definition of leadership. There are various turfs of leadership including corporate leadership, political leadership, war heroes, social service sectors and the list goes on. Anybody irrespective of the gender can be a perfect fit for leadership role in one or more of these fields. There can be persons who are capable leaders in one field then the other irrespective of their gender. As such, any primacy of being a good leader is not gender specific but is competence driven. There may be certain fields where a leader can have some gender-oriented benefits but that should not be construed as gender discrimination as it may be the natural ability of that particular person. We should appreciate that not all the people in this world are bestowed with the equal capabilities and skills. This difference in the abilities and skills is very much part of the scheme of the nature in this diverse universe. A particular gender may only sharpen and refine those skills better than the other gender. Nevertheless, this is also not a universal rule and a person can be good at all the abilities and skills irrespective of the gender.

The misconception that only men can be the good leaders evolved form the fact that men have held and still hold most of the leadership positions. However, now this gender paradox is changing but still slowly. There is a gradual appreciation of the fact that the leadership is a blend of various qualities. A leader needs to be warm and nice on the one hand, which is considered as a woman expertise, and competent and tough on the other, which is generally presumed to be masculine behaviour. However, to be an effective leader one must exhibit both of these behaviors. Therefore, it is not matter of gender but the combination of traits one possesses. Word leadership has many different manifestations and it requires a diverse set of traits and behaviours to be successful as a leader. What differs among individuals is what they are expert in and not the gender they possess.

This gender bias of associating effective leadership to the male is not confined to Eastern conservative societies but is also common in developed Western countries. A study reported by Heather Murphy of the New York Times revealed that almost all the men and women when asked to draw an effective leader sketched man. Nilanjana Dasgupta of University of Massachusetts explained, “When people are consistently exposed to leader who fit one profile (male), they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in future.”

 

Although this gender bias of underrating and misjudging females as leaders has its roots in history but even history can be quoted to highlight great female leaders. To quote few; Catherine-II, the Empress of Russia, Florence Nightingale a social reformer and founder of modern nursing, Joan of Arc, National Heroine of France, Queen Victoria, Razia Sultana, Rani Lakshami Bai famous as “Jhansi kee Rani” and the list goes on to include Benazir Bhutto from recent history of Pakistan. They were all as effective as anybody can be irrespective of the gender.

Relating effective leadership to any specific gender is a fallacy. The only thing that matters is the competence of the person and the leadership attributes he or she possesses. As some male candidates may have an edge over the other male candidates and some females have an edge over the other female candidates, The same stands applicable when comparing males with females and vice versa. It is not the gender but the capabilities that matter. When it comes to professional competence what differ among the individuals is what they are expert in and not he gender. Gender is just an ingredient of the whole recipe of leadership.

Despite a deliberate effort of the reformers, our society and corporate culture still embody this gender bias. The “think Manager, think male” gender norms are still holding women back limiting opportunities for the females. Women leaders have to navigate through this tension with more power. They will have to overcome their “Gender Confidence Gap” and bridge it with self-confidence without being apologetic and taking pride in Feminine Leadership.

Both men and women will have to get rid of their both conscious and unconscious biases as to who can be the effective leader. We believe in gender empowerment and gender equity and want equal rights for all people based on their competence and abilities. However, as the females have been ignored and have been denied equal opportunities, giving them a preferential treatment and supporting them to climb the ladder in a society moving slowly away from the hackneyed patriarchal culture can be justified as a corrective action.

(The writer is a sales and business specialist based in Islamabad. He can be reached at nadeem_naj@hotmail.com)

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