Posted by: kaitlyncarter30 | August 31, 2016

Traits of Women Leaders

One thing that really struck me in the chapter 6 reading of Eagly and Carli were the traits that women typically have over men. I was reading this while I was with a friend and we got into a lengthy discussion about this. The chapter says, “It is a good thing for women to be nice, nurturing, and kind, and for men to be strong, assertive, and ambitious.” (2007, p. 87). In the reading they even said that men are more self-confident than women.

I understand the reasoning behind this. Women, especially those who are leaders, are generally viewed as weaker, nicer, and “mom” like. Men on the other hand are dominant and hard hitting. If men are not like this then they are viewed as weak. Society has engraved this into our minds. Stepping back from the leadership role for a second and just talked about general people, I asked myself, “Why can’t men be nice?” Why is that a trait of women and women leaders? I thought to be nice or kind was a trait that all humans are supposed to have. Being a nice and kind person is what we were taught growing up. Why is it when we are talking about grown up men and women only the women are seen or suppose to be nice?

Even though this threw me off a little bit while I was reading, I still agree with it to an extent. More women in a leadership role have to be nice. Not because they want to be nice or that is their nature, but because society says women leaders have to be nicer or kinder to succeed. If they are too assertive or self-confident then society often shuts them out, or doesn’t let them progress. Don’t we want the people we are around to be “nice”, confident, and not afraid to be themselves?

I am a woman. I hold leadership positions. I am nice. I am kind. I am self-confident. I am ambitious. But if I ever feel like I am “overstepping my bounds” I apologize. I do this because I feel like sometimes I have to apologize for being “too much”. Why don’t men in leadership positions have to do this?

Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.


  1. Yes! Being humble, modest, kind, and selfless are not words that should ever be gendered because I believe that these are some of the key components to leadership regardless of gender. I wonder why these words have become associated with femininity? To be assertive should not reject humility. The definition should be changed in regards to leadership. I believe a leader can be bold but not overbearingly harsh regardless of gender.

  2. One of the things I couldn’t help thinking when “The Devil Wears Prada” came up in class, is that Miranda Priestly wasn’t a good leader because she is so mean. I know a lot of people may not agree with this because she was effective as a leader, and still others will say that the meanness was only considered a problem because she was a woman and it made her a “bitch” rather than just a hard-ass, task oriented boss.
    But shouldn’t leadership require at least a fraction of humanity?
    When we talked about other women leaders in television, like Dana from Sports Night and Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy, they got away with avoiding the “nice” bind often imposed on women leaders. They did so by being good leaders who are assertive and confident, but also clearly care about their followers. And shouldn’t that be expected from all leaders?

  3. This makes me think about how kids grow up. I know almost every woman will know what I’m talking about when I say that little boys get away with murder. When I was a child, little girls were expected to be sugar, spice, and everything nice. I was told to share my toys and smile other people; physically hitting or hurting anybody else was absolutely out of the question. I’m not at all complaining about this–I think that’s what good parents should instill in their children. However, I remember getting to fifth grade, and a boy in my class was upset because he didn’t like my friends and I playing with his friend. This boy responded by punching me and pushing my friends onto the ground. Obviously the physical harm wasn’t really a big deal, but I remember reporting it and being told that “boys will be boys” (or something along those lines). Nothing was done.

    I remember that day because I kept thinking about how unfair it was. I had gotten in trouble for much less serious things; if I had punched somebody–even if it wasn’t that hard–I know without a doubt that I would have gotten in trouble. So why the double standard?

    Little girls–and grown women–are expected to be nice and sweet. We are told not to hit, punch, scratch, bite, or yell. We are told that behavior is shameful. I agree, to a certain extent–I obviously do not condone physical violence. However, little boys–and in turn, grown men–are in a way EXPECTED to be violent and aggressive. How many times has the phrase “boys will be boys” been uttered, both about little boys playing too roughly and young men sexually assaulting women? Why are they not expected to play nice as well? I have the same questions you do, except that I’m wondering why this behavior happens even in childhood, when parents should be teaching their children–regardless of gender–to be kind, or at least decent, members of society.

  4. The phrase that stuck out to me was “why can’t men be nice?” I think of the common phrase most college boys use: nice guys finish last. This is not something I support. Why is it that we have this expectation that if a guy is nice they won’t get anything done. This is FALSE. I have seen it that by being nice and kind you can get places, you are more well liked and respected, regardless of the field you are in. But still some people would not like to have a boss who is nice to them (this is just baffling to myself) because they see them as incompetent. I have seen this first hand happen. Someone might structure their office in more of a team setting and never be mean. Yet other departments judge the leader, but they do not see how the employees under the male, team-oriented leader, is liked and respected. When a male leader is nice to their followers they strive to be a better worker. Its not a friendship per say, but its a need to please. Because the male boss is being kind to his employees, they will work harder for him. Nice guys DONT finish last.

    • I agree with the idea constructed about the phrase “nice guys finish last” because it is widely believed that if a guy is nice, he is also assumed to be a pushover. Therefore, being completely differentiated from what the U.S. categorizes as “successful leadership qualities” (assertive/ambitious/etc.) While it doesn’t make it right or fair, I still would argue that the assumption is held by many.

      However, I would agree with you, Chase about judging qualities of a leader. I strongly believe that there is a difference between leading and being a leader. In fact, I would say that qualities such as politeness, empathy, and passion are great qualities to have regardless of your gender. Moreover, if I had a male supervisor that treated me nicely and with respect I would in turn have more respect for my position.

  5. Relationship management and leadership go hand in hand, but can severely alter the way others perceive the leader. A age old text by Niccolo Machiavelli which states “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both,” which has been adopted by leaders for centuries. While nurturing leaders are more focused toward positive relationship management, and the workplace dynamic is changing and today it is easier to see more attempts at collaboration and transformational leadership. Today being feared in the workplace is something that is not supported and it can be seen through organizations actions such as allowing interns to have Q and A sessions with executives and giving them presentations. Seems to look like the gaps are shortening and leadership often falls into unofficial roles and the workforce being more inclusive. Thus, slowly the stigma of being feared is slowly changing as the workforce becomes more dynamic from gender and culture.

  6. Kaitlyn, I am proud to read your last paragraph because the sentence structure that you used conveyed a tone of direct independence, confidence, and hesitation. “I am a woman. I am kind. I am self-confident.” I personally can relate to this because I believe that I am nice, kind, and ambitious as well. However, I simultaneously wonder why there is a double standard for men in leadership positions.

    My most recent example of this is running for President of my honor society. In which, I now have a slew of responsibilities including leading monthly meetings. During these meetings I find myself to be overly grateful for the members showing up & contributing towards the meeting. In the back of my mind I keep having the thought that maybe if I am nicer, then the members will want to come to the meetings, and they will want to contribute more. However, I also have running through the back of my head that if a man was in my same position he might only be concerned with successfully getting through the meeting and moving on with his day.

    I think that you should stop apologizing for being “too much” because part of being a leader means that you are to seek and attain your goals.

  7. To answer your question, I believe that men do not have to apologize for being “too much” because historically men are expected to be that way. It all comes back to our gender expectations and social expectations. As women, we were taught by our mothers and grandmothers to be polite and not outspoken. For many of them, that was considered rude. However, I believe we should stop apologizing for being outspoken. We can still be kind and assertive. There is no reason why the two traits can’t work together for our benefit. It’s 2016 and we are in a very different social state than our mothers and grandmothers. The association of women to traits such as kind, caring, communal, and communicative doesn’t have to stop. We can be associated with those characteristics and still lead. Apologizing only makes others aware that you’re not confident in your own abilities and assertions. Confidence is the key to breaking the gender stereotypes and expectations. I strongly believe as a society we can break the idea that certain leadership traits are only acceptable in men, but that starts with women’s assertion that they are competent and confident in these traits.

  8. I completely agree, it’s a bit of a double standard and I think it has to do with the difference in how boys and girls are raised. We’re all taught in our childhood to be nice and caring toward others, but it gets to a certain point where it’s expected that boys be tough and don’t show those emotions. That includes not apologizing. I find myself apologizing for the littlest, most meaningless things, and when I made a point to notice how much I did it, and who I said it to, I noticed that when I said sorry in a situation involving a man, not only should I probably not have said sorry for something so small, they almost never said it back. Somewhere along the line, men are no longer expected to be kind (as leaders specifically), yet women are still required to if they want to succeed in their positions.

  9. Something else we talked about in class that relates to this is that when men are seen to be “nice” or “nurturing” they’re commended and even praised for it. In the United States nowadays we essentially applaud the men we see out pushing the stroller or sitting at the park while their kids play. This is more of a side note, but last semester, I studied in Spain and when men were out walking with their children, people wouldn’t even bat an eye. I even pointed out how great I thought it was that I saw so many men pushing around strollers to my host mom, and she basically just gave me a weird look. This was so normal to her. Why isn’t it normal here? Why can’t men be seen as nurturing the way women are? When people see men in leadership positions that are both kind and assertive, they praise them for it. But this is expected of women leaders today.

  10. There’s a joke that my mom used to tell, “When a woman trips over a misplaced object on the floor, say a purse or a lone shoe, she immediately apologizes- ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see that there.’ But when a man trips over this object, he’s immediately frustrated- ‘Who the hell left that there?!'” I know it’s an oversimplified way of constructing how men and women react to tripping, but now having read your post and the class readings, I have a new perspective to the joke. I agree with you, Kaitlyn, that there are “natural” tendencies in men and women and that one natural tendency with women is niceness. But how much of these natural traits are biological versus taught, nature versus nurture? Am I too far into the nurtured part to be able to decipher between the two? And is society too rigidly set on stating that women should be nice and men should be assertive?

  11. I find this post very interesting because you discussed issues that i’ve either overlooked or never took the time to analyze before taking this class. During class discussions, I find myself guilty of doing certain things or categorizing certain traits based on gender. It is true that women feel as if they have to apologize for everything little mistake that has been made. It has become a habit for most women but we do not recognize the issue until it is brought to our attention.

  12. I completely agree with these thoughts! This idea of women being nice vs men being nice is something that has stuck out to me throughout these first two weeks of class. I agree that women are expected to be more apologetic than men when in leadership positions and clearly, this is not fair. In the readings there is this discussion of how women leaders are expected to be both ambitious and nice and my automatic reaction is, “well yes, of course they need to be both ambitious and nice — both are important parts of leadership.” If I am dealing with a manager of a store — regardless of gender — I have the full expectation of being assisted well while also being treated kindly. Some of the readings seem to be complaining about this idea that women are expected to be kind when men are not and the problem I see is that men are not expected to be kind. First of all, I have encountered countless kind leaders who are men so this is absolutely a generalization. And secondly, rather than women saying “if men don’t have to be kind, then why should we have to be kind?” I feel like we should be encouraging BOTH genders to be kind. I do not feel comfortable with this idea that niceness is seen as something primarily feminine; I would like to see this as being something primarily human (not just by gender).

  13. Very interesting take on that chapter, I have to say I agree! Why is it that men are almost given permission to be “mean”? Being nice is very important to me, but I do have friends who overlook some really great people, specifically guys, because they are drawn to more pronounced characteristics in them. Nice can slide to the back burner for men, but it is always expected for women no matter what role they are in. Sometimes I think that people, especially women, are attracted to the bad boy type. To me, that mean attitude and arrogance could sometimes be perceived as a somewhat protective nature for men (like don’t mess with me or my people, I know what I’m doing), and in that case I would say women are more likely to accept the male leaders position and be totally fine with it. But this is not reciprocated for women, strong bold attitudes are not appreciated as much as being nice and motherly. They don’t make others, especially men, feel confident and safe. I would argue it makes males feel uneasy and inferior when women try to act like a “male leader” with those certain bold qualities without niceness.

  14. I agree with this very much. Before this class, I did not think much about the personality qualities that women are expected to have. I definitely assigned certain personality traits with certain genders, but did not even realize it. I agree with the idea that “nice” is not gender-specific. I think that every person should be caring, compassionate, and nice. I think it’s interesting how the study of leadership is moving more towards the idea that relational leadership is the overall most effective kind. I would be interested to see how the typical idea that leadership is masculine/agentic would conflict with relational leadership, which tends to be more communal.

  15. Going off your pondering and observation about women being held to a different “niceness” standard, its as if we, as society, don’t expect very much from men. Regarding being nice, a woman is expected to be nice so she is not highly commended for that behavior. However, when a man is nice, there is a large positive reaction to his niceness, as if it wasn’t expected. Which, I agree with you, is kind of bizarre that being nice isn’t a universal human expectancy. Also, when a woman is in a leadership role, it is expected/assumed that she must be very smart, driven and talented in order to get where she is now. But with a man in a leadership role, I don’t think there is any real thoughts as to how he got there. As if just because he is male, that qualifies him enough. Does society think that it takes a special kind of woman to be a leader and a pretty average man to be a leader?

  16. I agree with your questioning of why women must apologize for behaviors that are expected in men. It takes a lot to be a leader, and with more and more women stepping up and taking on more challenging leadership roles, we have to take on these “harsher” traits. The only way to move past the stage where we constantly feel the need to apologize it to keep pushing through and shrug off the idea that we need to explain away those behaviors. It is also crucial that we act as role models for younger girls, so they can see successful women who don’t apologize for breaking gender roles/stereotypes.

  17. I think the way you conclude this post is extremely powerful and enlightening. It is possible to be a nice, kind, confident, woman in a leadership position–and this is often what we strive for. Since one of earliest classes when someone brought up women’s use of the term “just” and implicitly apologizing for overstepping social expectations, the question of why women apologize has been turning in my mind as well. In my own personal experience, I always viewed this as a form of self doubt. It wasn’t until we discussed it in class that I started to wonder where this doubt came from and why it was so predominantly expressed among women leaders as opposed to men. My question is, what would happen if we stopped apologizing? Would it convey a greater sense of self-confidence and efficacy? Or would it be percieved as rude, bossy, or out of place?

  18. I completely agree with where you are coming from Kaitlyn. Being a women in many leadership positions on campus, it is important to do what it takes to get the job done. Sometimes it means being nice for respect when other times it requires that I am a little firmer to make deadlines and such. At home I am a substitute teacher and a lot of times, high schoolers do not respect me when I am their sub for the day. That being said, I always just assumed that it was because I was barely older than them but now I’m beginning to think maybe the men do not respect me because of my age combined with the fact that I am a women and a substitute so why would they treat me with respect?

Leave a Reply to chaselaing14cnuedu Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: