Posted by: emilysenesac | February 6, 2019

Undervalued Female Leader Qualities

Recently, while updating my LinkedIn information in the hopes of finding a job (as I’m sure all my fellow seniors are currently doing), I stumbled across an article entitled “Leading Like a Woman” by Andrea Heuston. Intrigued by the potential connection to our class discussions, including the most recent one with the Dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences, I clicked on it and wasn’t disappointed.

Essentially, Heuston’s discussion continues to address the lack of women represented in higher-up leadership positions, as well as naming some possible reasons why this is happening: societal expectations, institutional bias, etc. However, she also made the specific point of naming a few qualities that female leaders have that men do not, and they were not like the ones we previously named in class. While the readings that we have touched on have referred to female leaders as “nurturing”, “warm”, and “collaborative”, Heuston takes a different approach.

She outlines three qualities of female leaders that set them apart from and even above their male counterparts: grit, passion, and tenacity. I found these described traits as being significantly more aggressive and assertive than the typical description of female leaders that we have been reading about. I find this to be an interesting divergence in our understanding of the subject, and I think that it paints a more powerful picture of female leaders. While they have qualities that differ from men, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “soft” or lesser in any way. In other words, this article gave me an entirely new perspective on what women can bring to the table as leaders, and I think the listed qualities are very important contributions to the overall discussion!

In my own personal experience, there haven’t been many times where a female leader that I’ve worked with has been in any way soft or nurturing. Rather, I have found them to be very intimidating (even more so than the men, at times) and far more assertive and dominant than the conclusive studies have shown women to be capable of. Granted, I have worked primarily in the editorial and publishing industry, which tends to be more of a male work environment–so, maybe the women I have worked with have felt the need to assert themselves. However, the above article, in conjunction with my personal experience, has shown that there is another potential side to female leadership in terms of the traits that they possess, and how those traits measure up to their male counterparts.



  1. This was a great contrast to what we have been discussing in class. Many of our discussions are generalizations of women such as them being warm, nurturing, etc. so it is important to take a step back from the generalizations and the societal gender biases to remember there are other qualities as well. Grit, passion, and tenacity are awesome words to describe those female leaders than stand out and take on high profile positions. They give more value to women in which they deserve.

    We talked about women more typically taking on behind the scene roles because they are more inspired by the work and the benefits of others rather than the self satisfaction. This can be considered passionate rather than behind the scenes because it gives women the value of being driven toward things they care about rather than just being seen as nurturing.

    The women who do take on those “masculine traits” are more aggressive which we have discussed to be difficult with the double bind places on women but the ones who make it there can be thankful for their more aggressive traits. The double bind makes it more difficult for women but there are still many women who do have the more stern leadership qualities of grit and tenacity which should be valued and not put down by others due to gender stereotypes.

  2. I thought this article was very interesting and a useful asset to our class discussion. We have mainly focused on women who are soft and nurturing, or taken the opposite route and discussed assertive women who have men-like characteristics, causing opposition in the workplace environment. There does not seem to be a middle road for women. However, this article argues for different traits that allow women to be great leaders, using their grit and passion to excel. It brings about a new perspective on women and leadership, and I love the idea of passion be the driving force behind success. Passion is not something associated with women or men; instead, it has a positive connotation with the determination to succeed and focus on the driving aspects we have as individuals. Instead of looking at women leaders as aggressive or agentic, they should be thought of as having passion for what they believe in.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article, and I think it brought up a lot of great points. One part I really liked is when she said that women are actually passionate, not emotional. Many people view women as being overly emotional, but this characteristic mistaken for being emotional is actually just passion. I think this was an important point to bring up because in my experience, individuals tend to look down on or tune out women if they sound like they’re being too emotional. However, people need to realize that these emotions women display simply illustrate their passion and perseverance. Women typically do show more emotion and feeling than men, but I think this works in our favor and proves our persistence and drive to succeed. Thanks for sharing, this article brought up a lot of unique perspectives!

  4. I love that you found an article that ascribes women to having more assertive sounding qualities. I was getting a bit sick of the articles constantly calling women all of these “soft” adjectives like nurturing and collaborative. I am not a soft leader and I am a woman, so the repetitive calm and soft adjectives were getting to be bothersome. I am definitely more of a woman leader with passion and tenacity, but that doesn’t mean I’m aggressive or soft: it just means I am passionate and tenacious! I also agree with what you were saying about women leaders sometimes being more intimidating than male leaders at times. I think this can tend to happen when women see a woman leader who seems perfect or flawless. We attach a certain celebrity, god-like glowing quality to them because in a way, they are a role model to us and that can be very intimidating when you work under/with them. I don’t think women feel this way as much with male leaders because usually we either just want to work with them, or beat them at their job. In this way, it is not so much a need to collaborate and relate and become, but more a competitive desire to overcome or just work. This is why I think women working with other women is so important because something significant can come out of it. This isn’t to say women shouldn’t work with men, but there should be a good mix of both because there is something to be gained from all of it.

  5. I love both your input as well as Andrea Heuston’s outlook. In some cases, I think that women leaders do offer more nurturing or communal leadership styles; at the same time I also believe that women offer even more. Grit, passion, and tenacity are three great identifiers for a lot of women leaders. The female leaders in my life have exhibited a lot of those, especially through sport. I had one coach in particular that embodied all of these traits. She expected grittiness out of us each and every day at practice, was passionate about soccer, and trained us with a tenacity that I’ll never forget. It was the “tougher” traits that really had more of an impact on me. She wasn’t particularly nurturing, but she indicated that she cared about us through those three traits mentioned above.

    I think that context plays an important role as well. There are some settings (such as in sport) where those traits are welcome and often important when coaching young women. In other settings, a more communal leader may be necessary. While many of my coaches have had an impact on me by utilizing the tougher traits, other female leaders have been important by being more nurturing; specifically, many of my teachers throughout high school sometimes filled that role. It may also depend on the person. Some people need that nurturing leader to act while others may require more straightforward and “tough” leadership. I’d be interested to see what the research says about other traits that women bring to leadership.

  6. The article you discussed offers a great contrast to what we have been discussing in class. At times, I have felt disconnected from the material we are studying because a majority of the female leaders in my life have been more assertive, tenacious, and outwardly passionate, than those discussed in our reading. In my opinion, what it boils down to is context and professional environment. As you mentioned, you have worked in a primarily male-dominated field – as have I. My experiences with the women in these sectors have shaped my into the more assertive-leaning leader that I am today. However, I do recognize that had a chosen a “more feminine” field, where female leaders are more nurturing and compassionate, my primary leadership qualities might be different. At the end of the day, I think the leadership qualities that one should practice should be true to themselves and the field that they work in – that is how a leader will be most successful.

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