Posted by: aclcoburn | September 8, 2016

Are we breaking the corporate ladder?

During our class discussions, I am continuously struck by the notion that I am contributing to the societal double standards that I am not only restrained by as a woman, but also trying to break.

In the Carli and Bukatko reading, it describes how men and women have different communication styles. Not only are there gender differences in communication, but those differences correlate to the effectiveness of the leader’s reception. For example, if a woman is giving a speech, it is better that she seem more tentative than aggressive. Her audience is more likely to find her agreeable when she is not displaying “masculine” qualities. If a man is giving a speech, however, he has more flexibility with how he communicates, verbally and nonverbally. His audience will likely respond the same way to him regardless of which style he uses.

As I merge this information with our other readings and previous class discussions,  I realize there is more at play in the difference of communication styles. “Style” implies that it is manufactured- emphasis on the pun here. For something to be a style, it is created, widely accepted, and promoted in society. In this case, gender communication styles have been so deeply rooted in society and culture that the differences begin to be noticed at preschool age levels. There is some argument to be made here, then, that part of this could be biology. Because boys and girls interact and communicate differently at such a young age, before they can be nurtured or taught differently, that the differences must be biological. I would argue, though, that even at such young ages boys and girls can pick up societal norms.

Fast forward to these same preschoolers now entering the workforce. They have been reinforced by society as to what communication styles are most used by which gender and have now had their own experiences with leaders. Women leaders are more humble, speak more kindly, are more engaging, are more participative, and are more likely to value teamwork, task delegation, and collaboration. “An international study that included a focus on the millennial generation documented that they tend to view women’s approach to leadership as preferable…yet not represented within the organizations that they are entering. Disconnects are organizations lacking integrity, not focused on the common good, little inclusion, lacking social responsibility, minimal coaching/development, and no shared leadership/collaboration” (Kezar, p. 127). I value these traits in a leader, whether that leader is a man or a woman. Why, then, if these traits are more common amongst women leaders, are there not more women leaders in the corporate world? If this style of leadership is so favorable, why do we not hold organizations more accountable to these standards? How are there not more women CEOs, CFOs, etc.? Where are we breaking the corporate ladder for women if their style of leadership is preferable?


  1. The quote and description you have from Kezar really stuck with me too. I really do not understand how women are not the more dominating force in the leadership realm if a woman’s style is more favorable. I honestly do not understand how something can be favored by most people, but still not widely accepted. (Stepping back from using a people example and switching to a really bad/easy example) If I favor apples to bananas, and I have the choice of both, I am going to chose apples every time! I don’t understand why it isn’t that easy with leadership. I do understand that much more goes into it than just picking a fruit. I am just more confused than anything as to why we favor something but don’t pick it.

  2. The first thoughts in you post were particularly meaningful to me. Ever since we started studying the different leadership and communication styles in class I keep thinking about my own “style” and especially how much control I have over it. In writing emails to professors and especially in writing a job application email, I struggled a lot with how to word things. I kept writing a sentence and then looking at it and thinking “I have been trained to write like this be society because i am a woman. I should make it more assertive.” But then I’ll look at the revised sentence and think “Is that not polite enough? I do want this job!” and most confusingly, “How will this email be received by the person reading it knowing that I am a girl?”.
    Now I think it’s safe to say I do overthink things a bit, but really the information we are learning about ldsp/communication styles and their reception is messing with my head!

  3. “[I]f these traits are more common amongst women leaders, are there not more women leaders in the corporate world?” This quote from your essay is quite interesting. From our various class discussions and class readings, I am beginning to wonder if there really is a true female way of leading? I definitely agree with your emphasis and understanding on how early children are introduced to gender norms and social expectations at an early age. I also agree with your point that communication plays a major role in gendering society’s expectations for males and females. However, I disagree your idea of a women style of leadership. Many researchers have been debating the concept of a female leadership stye. Yes, research has shown that women tend to have a more democratic and collective style of leadership than men do. Furthermore, women more often than men, adopt a transformational style of leadership (Eagly & Carli, 2007). However, Eagly and Carli’s (2007) found small differences in actual male and female leadership styles. It is also hard to determine how important these small differences are for the leadership equation (p.134). Besides, some research even points to the dangers of promoting a female way of leading(Eagly & Carli, 2007). To answer your question I posed at the beginning, I do not think women necessary offer unique traits for leadership. I do not think there is a true female way of leading just like there is not a true male way of leading. Gender stereotypes and social norms stand in our way of progress. Our society needs less black and white and more grey when it comes it leadership. Man or woman offers his/her own unique abilities, ideas, and behaviors as a leader.

    -Allison Baltz

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

  4. I also found the role of communication between men and women extremely interesting. It does go all the way back to preschool. As a society how to we teach children to not act like the gender stereotype? It doesn’t see very possible. Possibly we can just teach children to stand up for themselves and just be them; but they still might conform to gender stereotypes. I think it might take a very long time to get the stereotype out of children. But i do believe we can teach them over and over again a man or woman can do anything. We need to break the walls down of children to think a man or a woman can do whatever they want. So that later down the road there will be more women leaders out there. Women have the traits to be amazing leaders, they just need to be taught that. It took me almost 20 years to think that, imagine if I was 10? This way that “ladder” wont be broken because everyone would be on the same playing field. Everyone would be use to both men and women as leaders.

  5. I really like what you had to say about the leadership style and its effects in the work force. That being said, when you said “I am continuously struck by the notion that I am contributing to the societal double standards that I am not only restrained by as a woman, but also trying to break.”, it was something I could totally relate to. I am going to school to be an elementary school teacher and occasionally I feel guilty because I feel as if I am part of that double standard. With so many teachers being women, there is the idea that it is a feminine job and although I still want to teach children, I also feel that I will not be helping to break the double standard with my choices. I know this is not the route you took on your post but it just got me thinking about that.

  6. I think that the way in which communication is received, interpreted and effective differently for men and women is interesting. For one, I think society seems to value, and take more seriously masculine traits. I think thats part of the reason why there is a little more flexibility for women to assume those traits. An example being, women can wear pant suits but men can’t wear work skirts. I think that it is because society values masculinity more then femininity in general, so when a woman takes on more masculine traits, she is, in a sense, adding value. Where as if a man takes on more feminine traits, there is less flexibility and acceptance because he is devaluing his higher status of being a masculine man. All of this to say, it’s interesting how this idea plays out in communication. The more masculine approach, whether it’s preferable or not, seems to take the cake almost every time. I wonder if society is fighting itself. It is adjusting societal norms over time to allow for women to assume more roles of power, but at the same time fighting back when women climb higher then what is comfortable.

  7. I think there is an interesting point to be made here about the differences biologically between boys and girls. Although it is society that teaches these norms about the way boys and girls should act, I do believe there is a difference in us biologically that is undeniable. I think we act a certain way based on the chemicals in our bodies. Therefore, I do believe that communication and leadership styles difference across gender due to a disposition we have at birth. However, now that society is shifting, I believe that these specific communication and leadership styles can vary despite our gender, which makes me question whether or not we are just born with these types of qualities regardless of gender. Then, if we can embody these traits and specific styles of leadership regardless of gender, why aren’t women in the higher corporate ranks? I believe that society is to blame for this discrepancy in leadership. Therefore, it isn’t impossible to change society, and it is slowly but surely becoming an epidemic that women are seeing more and more higher leadership positions. I believe it is only a matter of time before we are at the top of the corporate latter, in equality with men.

  8. It is very interesting to see the gender differences in communication. If is often odd to see a woman portray more “masculine” qualities and “feminine.” Women are expected to be soft spoken, kind, and easy-going and are criticized for being aggressive, or too upfront. It seems as if women and men have to comply with societal norms or stereotypes set out for both genders in order to be accepted. However, women are held to a high standard than men, for what reason, I am not sure.

  9. I think it the communication standards are very interesting. I think something really interesting to evaluate is the different ways we communicate in families. Like the standard in the family is that the mother praises the children and the father is the disciplinary. In my family growing up my father would say things like good job and proud of you but my mom was always the one who communicated just how proud she was. Sometimes, when my dad was not vocal enough about our accomplishments she would “talk to him” for us. I think now, especially with both parents often working or something the male staying at home to raise the kids might help curve that communication problem between male and females

  10. Your thoughts on the differences in styles is really interesting to me. In one of the most recent articles we read about the Great Women Theory of Leadership, it discussed the idea of degendering leadership. It said one of the ways that we can help in this process of degendering leadership is to look at it from the functional perspective of leadership, meaning that people focus more on the actions that leaders take rather than on the different styles or traits associated with the leader. Doing the latter puts more emphasis on styles/traits that women have compared to men. It is this comparison in style (i.e. women being more communal and men being more agentic) that causes problems in leadership and in communication. I wonder if actually putting this functional perspective would actually work and would help with the disconnects some organizations experience.

    • P.S. I really appreciated your pun 🙂

  11. I love this post! You are completely correct in thinking boys and girls are taught different mannerism even as young as pre-school. Anne Fausto-Sterling has some interesting literature on this “gendering” practice. Turning to a leadership focus communication is such an integral part of leader/follower relationships, so the fact that gender expectations are so ingrained in communications really affects how women lead. I’ve been especially aware of this in how Hillary Clinton’s speeches are received. She was repeatedly criticized for sounding “angry” during her DNC speech and just last week Reince Priebus told Hillary she needed to “smile more” during her speeches. To which she responded “This is what someone who takes the position of President seriously looks like.” Regardless of your political views, I just don’t believe a male candidate would be asked to soften and smile more during their addresses. It speaks to the extent the labyrinth affects women’s attempting to lead.

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