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, despite the emergence of women in leadership roles and the steady increase of women in the overall workforce, progress is occurring slowly.
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, causing negative judgments of women as leaders (Johnson, Murphy, Zewdie, Reichard, 2008). Women, historically, have faced 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 female leader.
For women who have been able to obtain a leadership position, there are still inevitable hardships to face and sacrifices to make (Slaughter, 2012), such as the challenge of combining career with family and dealing with unfair treatment in the workplace. Many successful women leaders develop coping strategies to help overcome some of these challenges, such as reworking their own definitions of success in the roles of both leader and mother, learning from role models,
managing time effectively, or making a conscious effort to maintain relationships with family members (Carli, 2010).
Furthermore, women in leadership often experience stereotype threat, a phenomenon that occurs when a member of a group engages in an activity or performs a task for which a negative stereotype about one’s group exists (Steele, 1997). As a result, the individual may have anxiety over being judged or treated stereotypically. Research suggests that the presence of this threat may subconsciously lead one to underperform and conform to the very stereotypical behaviors that he or she was trying to avoid (Steele, 1997; Nguyen & Ryan, 2008). Furthermore, research suggests that if women leaders adopt a more masculine style in response to stereotype threat, they are rated as less warm by their subordinates and the subordinates are also less willing to comply with the requests of the women leaders when compared to male leaders who made the same requests (von Hippel, Wiryakusuma, Bowden, Shochet, 2011). The purpose of the current research is to explore the personality traits associated with successful women leaders and to determine which personality traits help women leaders overcome the challenges they experience most in today’s workplace.
Method & Results
Eighty-five women currently in senior leadership positions participated in this study.