Posted by: katherinestine13 | October 5, 2016

Age Is But a Number

At the PLP speaker event tonight (or last week for most of you reading this) I, like the majority of folks around me, was struck by how young Miss Suzanne Scheuble was. I could see why President Trible wanted her to come speak to us: she is a young woman, the age of many audience members, who has accomplished something great that contributed to society in a unique and compassionate way. For an added bonus, she lead the push for this achievement in a completely different culture than the one in which she was raised. This young woman can be seen as an incredibly dynamic leader who is (don’t scoff) “leading a life of significance” as Trible would say, with a wave of his hand.

As I was thinking about young Miss Scheuble, I wondered what kind of impact age has on women leaders in particular. Is the influence of age different than that of male leaders? Is there a certain age where women are considered more effective as leaders? This idea of age as an important demographic that impacts leadership is an idea that we only briefly touched on in class, and I wanted to go a little deeper. I did a little research and found a Business Insider article that was rather interesting. First of all, it said that women leaders had an effectiveness rating of 54.5%, whereas as men had an effectiveness rating of 51.8% (Sherwin, 2014). This piece of information is rather interesting (and significant enough to do another entire blog post on, but I’ll leave that for later), however it went on to discuss effectiveness over time (change in age of the leaders). Researchers found that starting off at the age of 25 there was no difference in effectiveness at that particular age. Then, between the ages of 26-30, males were primarily more effective. However, as age increased, effectiveness of women increased, especially after the age of 40.  (Sherwin, 2014). So why exactly is this? It mentions that after the age of 40 men simply assume they’re doing fine as leaders and don’t really request more feedback (Sherwin 2014). It doesn’t however explicitly say why women keep improving their effectiveness after 40, but I can speculate a reason that goes back to what we’ve discussed in class: because of the society we live in, women feel like they have to try significantly harder to be respected as leaders. So they keep striving and keep receiving feedback in order to continue improving effectiveness. (The article goes on to discuss the other components, such as competency and differences in function involved in the data, which I encourage you to read the article (link below) if you’re interested in learning about those.)

Although this study is interesting and informational, it doesn’t even include Suzanne’s age (20), or the age of any PLP students for that matter (~18-22). Does this mean she is a “token” young female leader? Furthermore, does it mean that in general we, as students of leadership, who are practicing leadership in multiple roles, can’t be effective? I know none of us are currently CEOs of major corporations, but the contributions we are making as leaders (for the most part) is having an impact on our communities and our society as a whole. So, what does this information mean for us as young leaders in our society? And what does it mean for young women leaders around the world? Do you think young women like Suzanne are one in a million, or is it possible to accomplish as much as she has at such a young age?



Sherwin, B. (2014). Why women are more effective leaders than men. Business Insider


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post. I have honestly never really thought much about the influence of age and effectiveness for leaders. However, I do believe that our society has a secret stigma when it comes to age. For example, we tend to believe that only old adults can accomplish great feats. Some of this statement is biologically and socially true. As kids, we do have less developed cognitive skills needed for effective leadership; socially, we also are limited by our parent’s rules and lack of independence. Beyond these obvious obstacles, young leaders have the potential to thrive. As students of leadership studies, we are not wasting time or being ineffective in our leadership roles. Leadership represents a learning process that occurs over time. Each leadership position we take or every leadership class we complete, we have gained a new set of tools to add to our tool belt. We can pull out these tools at any time or any age and use. It is a combination of true passion and picking the right skills at the right time to be a successful leader. This is exactly what Suzanne did.

    Yes, Suzanne is a very unique individual who was able to achieve greatness at such a young age. Her unusual success does make her a token because there are so few others to compare to. Hopefully, in time, this situation can change and more young leaders will emerge. But in this situation, I do not think Suzanne’s gender is taken into account. Age seems to trump any other factor. Regardless if Suzanne was a male her outstanding success as a young leader would take over. From the article, you point out that women leaders are seen as more effective as they age. This seems so ironic to me. As Wilson (2007) explains, our society is youth obsessed. We value beauty and appearance. Older women are often ignored or overlooked especially in the media industry (p.136). Furthermore, I agree that women’s perceived effectiveness with age may stem from their drive for constant improvement. However, what baffles me is that the need for continuous improvement is never a bad thing and should not be based off gender. No matter how long someone has been a leader, improvement can always be gained. This rule should apply to any gender or any age. This is the quality that young leaders need to take hold of, and use in their success.

    Wilson, M. C. (2007). Closing the leadership gap: Add women, change everything. New York City, NY: Penguin Group.


  2. At the beginning of your post before you said where the age break off starts I was trying to decide on my on where the divide would be. For a quick second, I thought it might be women who start at a younger age over men. Studies have shown that women mature faster and at younger ages than men. So I thought this would come into play. After reading your post through and reading the article, I definitely see where they are coming from. I do agree that men come to a “stand still” in leadership while women keep pushing themselves to be better and prove themselves. I feel like this is what we talked a lot about in class this semester.

    Now, age. This is a topic that I think needs to be talked a lot more about in relation to leadership. As Suzanne proved at the PLP speaker, age doesn’t matter when it comes to leadership. It doesn’t matter what age you are, you can always make a difference. I think that is a topic that needs to be discussed more on this campus, especially through PLP. President Trible always talks about leading a life of significance. I think the campus needs to elaborate more on that topic. Yes, we are all able to lead a life of significance. We are able to even if we are male or female, gay or straight, young or old. I don’t know if everyone understands that. A college campus is a great starting ground for students to start leading that life of significance or teaching young students that it is not just talk. I just do not think that young poeple know that they are able to make a difference in the world and they shouldn’t feel held back by their age.

  3. While reading your post I wasn’t sure where you were going with the age of women leaders. I like that you tied it in with when they are most effective, at what age. The older a female leader gets, the more effective she gets because she knows that she has boundaries to overcome and takes feedback to improve herself. I find interesting also, that women are more effective as leaders by almost 3%. I think that is because women know they have a challenge, so they take it and use it to their advantage to become better leaders and shape their leadership into what the followers need by listening to criticism.

    But I also agree with Allison, I honestly do not think that Suzanne is a token you women leader. I think that there are excellent young women leaders throughout history such as Joan of Arc, who was only 19 when she died so she was very young in her mission. Malala Yousafzai who is a strong advocate for women’s education everywhere, Queen Victoria who came into power at a very young age and completely changed and improved Great Britain, even during her early reign. While these are very prominent historical and current women leader figures, I think that they accomplished a lot a young age. But I also think that at the young age of 18-21, women don’t think about their gender causing any problems in regards to their leadership. Women leaders are everywhere at our age especially on college campuses. While they may not be making an impact in another country, often times they are creating impacts that are very important for the college community, neighboring communities, or even national organizations. These women may not be as well heard about as say Malala or even Suzanne, but I still think they work hard and are leaders in their communities. I think that this is why women are even more effective as they get older because they start out in leadership positions so young.

  4. I definitely think there can be a stigma attached to younger women in the work force. On one hand, there’s the normal stereotypes attached to all “youths” of being inexperienced, potentially immature or irresponsible, etc. But I think these can be particularly difficult for young women to overcome, because it’s tough to prove their drive or competence without coming off as too ambitious or too much of a know it all (double bind sort of situation). I also think sometimes there’s sometimes the assumption that a woman is only working until she can find a man to supporter her and then she can quit to go off an have kids. This in large part is supported by mainstream media which is filled with depictions of husband hunting woman, desperate to find a man rather than desperate to get that big promotion.

  5. The whole idea of age intermingling with gender intrigues me. It might sound a little overdramatic, but there are times in life where I have felt like I was struck by the triple-whammy: female, blonde, young. I jokingly call it Elle Woods Syndrome–there would be often be times where I felt underestimated because I was just a teenaged girl, and a blonde one at that, as if my age and appearance diminished my capacity to understand the world around me. I remember vividly at times trying to voice my opinion on important matters as a high school student, but being written off as just an “overdramatic teenaged girl,” even though I had (and still have) several valid concerns.

    But then again, I also had many teachers who invested in me and saw my youth as an advantage–I hadn’t yet become jaded to the world, so I could look at it with fresh eyes and the desire to make change. They saw it less as me not having enough experience to be a leader, and more as me having so much room to grow and learn, not yet hindered by those experiences.

    Still, as valuable as that is, I just feel like young women are underestimated. I without a doubt think that they have the capacity to lead well, especially when they have a mentor and encouragement, but I don’t know that the potential is tapped into.

    On a side note, the fact that older women received better ratings as leaders doesn’t surprise me, even though we talked about the lack of representation of older women. I think older women have a certain amount of leeway–they are seen as the matronly figure, perhaps a little grouchy and naggy–so if they act aggressively, I think it is received with less resistance than an aggressive younger woman. Perhaps we subconsciously feel like older women have battled through life long enough to earn our respect, aggressive or not. Either way, even though their media representation is not great, I think little old ladies are some of the best leaders, and I think others will agree.

  6. I have wonder about age and leadership before as well. It was initially on my mind because I have felt like, maybe due to my naiveté, or lack of experience, I’ve only ever felt less capable than others because of my age. Which i thought had nothing to do with gender, but as I think about it again, I’m not sure that is entirely true. I find myself under qualifying myself a lot, “I’m too young,” “I don’t have enough experience,” but is that coming from a place of truth or from my deep rooted subconscious, that is telling me to be a “good” and “polite” woman so, I should be modest. Because I wonder if guys my age experience the same doubts, or they feel like, “I am capable, I’ll learn, I’m going for it.” If, so, is that because society tells males to be self confident and women to be modest?

  7. I think that it makes a lot of sense that age has an effect on leadership effectiveness. It seems logical that the more you do something, the better at it you will become. Its certainly a learning process, and the more one gets to know their followers the more effectively they will be able to exercise leadership. For those of us who are just college students of leadership, we haven’t truly had the means of exercising leadership, on a large scale or in a setting where there is something at stake (money, jobs, production, etc.). We can certainly be effective leaders in our everyday lives through our friendships, in classes, or in our extracurriculars, but even then we only have at most four years of experience doing so. Suzanne is a different case- she has taken up responsibilities that most of us could not even dream of having at this point. She is effective in her leadership simply in the fact that she is pursuing this passion of hers, while the rest of us are effective in pursuing our own forms of leadership. But the same goes for all of us and Suzanne, the longer we act as leaders the better at it we will become and the more effective we will be. I think this should serve as inspiration for us to pursue leadership roles and remain as consistent in them as we can be and learn from our mistakes. Young women should be encouraged that they can be leaders regardless of the age data, because while leadership effectiveness can be measured in years, leadership ability applies to anyone who pursues it, just as Suzanne did.

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