Women Leaders Research Study

by Agota Alvarez


There is some evidence to suggest that the status of women in the workplace has improved in recent years (Carli, 2010). For example, more women are earning bachelor’s and advanced degrees, and the gap between women’s and men’s salaries has started to shrink (Carli, 2010). However, although the emergence of women in leadership roles and in the overall workforce has steadily increased, progress is occurring slowly. From 1970 to 2009, women’s representation in the workforce increased from 37 to 48 percent, however at this paper’s writing, only 26 percent of all CEOs in the United States are women, with only 2 to 3 percent of women serving as CEOs in Fortune 500 companies (Barsh & Yee, 2011).

One factor that might help explain this lack of women in top leadership is the unique challenges experienced by women in the workplace compared to males. For example, society has general expectations of male and female behaviors and personality traits, as well as expectations for the behaviors and personality of leaders.

The problem for women leaders arises when gender expectations do not align with expectations for leadership behaviors shared by the general public, causing negative judgments of women as leaders (Johnson, Murphy, Zewdie, Reichard, 2008). Women, historically, have faced increasingly more challenges in a workplace setting than men; however, those women who have successfully filled leadership positions offer an interesting insight into the personality of a successful woman leader. The purpose of the current research is to explore the personality traits related to successful women leaders and to determine which challenges women leaders experience most in today’s workplace.

Personality and Leadership

Numerous studies have explored the relationship between personality and leadership. For example, a meta-analysis by Judge, Bono, Ilies, and Gerhardt (2002) found extraversion to be the most important trait for effective leadership, followed by conscientiousness and openness to experience. Furthermore, Powell, Butterfield, and Parent (2002) found that traits traditionally considered “male,” such as assertiveness and self-reliance, are viewed as necessary for effective leadership.

This study seeks to explore the personality traits that are characteristic of successful women leaders.

Barriers to Women Leadership