Descriptive self-stereotyping and women’s leader self-efficacy: Can communal leader characteristics make a difference?
Author: Simone van den IJssel, 12265993
University of Amsterdam, Master in Business Administration
Faculty of Economics and Business
Track: Leadership & Management
Supervisor: Tanja Hentschel
Date: June 25, 2021
EBEC approval: 20210330110322
Statement of originality
This document is written by student Simone van den Ijssel who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document. Hereby, I declare that the text and the work presented in this document is original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it. The Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Amsterdam is responsible solely for the supervision of the work, not for the contents.
Table of contents
Abstract ... 5
Introduction ... 6
Theoretical Framework ... 9
Leader Self-Efficacy ... 9
Gender and Leader Self-Efficacy ... 9
Descriptive Self-Stereotyping ... 11
Agency versus Communality ... 11
Agentic versus Communal Self-Stereotyping and Leader Self-Efficacy ... 12
Communal Leader Characteristics ... 15
Conceptual model ... 17
Method ... 18
Data sample ... 18
Design and procedure ... 18
Measures ... 19
Results ... 21
Descriptive statistics and correlations ... 21
Testing the hypotheses ... 22
Mediation analysis ... 22
Moderated mediation analysis ... 24
Discussion ... 25
General discussion ... 25
Practical implications ... 27
Limitations and future research ... 28
Conclusion ... 30
Acknowledgements ... 31
References ... 32
Appendix ... 42
Survey invitation ... 42
This study investigated the relationship between gender and leader self-efficacy, thereby serving the purpose of exploring potential reasons that might be hindering women in becoming leaders. Building on the Social Role theory and the Lack of Fit theory, I explored whether agentic versus communal descriptive self-stereotyping could explain the relationship between gender and leader self-efficacy. While also examining whether perceiving leaders as being highly communal could impact the strength of this relationship. Using a sample of 436 male and female adults in The Netherlands, I conducted a linear regression analysis, a mediation analysis, and a moderated mediation analysis. As expected, the results showed that women have lower leader self-efficacy than men. Additionally, the results showed that this relationship can be explained by men’s and women’s descriptive self-stereotyping. Indicating that women have lower leader self-efficacy than men as a result of women’s tendency to ascribe more communal than agentic characteristics to characterize themselves. Yet, I did not find evidence that shows that this indirect effect depends on whether successful leaders are perceived by the participants as highly communal. Finally, I proposed limitations as well as implications for future research and practice.
Key words: gender, leader self-efficacy, agentic and communal descriptive self-stereotyping, communal leader characteristics
Reaching gender equality in leadership positions is a worldwide challenge, since men still occupy the majority of leadership positions (Catalyst, 2020). According to the latest findings of the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it is estimated that “it will take another 267,6 years to close the gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity”, because there is an enduring lack of women in leadership positions (World Economic Forum, 2021, p.
5). According to the United Nations (UN) (2021a), it is important to reach gender equality in leadership positions, because it is a basic human right as well as a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. For this reason, the UN came up with the sustainable development sub goal number 5.5: “Ensure the full and effective participation of women and equal leadership opportunities at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life” (United Nations, 2021b, p.1.). This goal was developed by 193 countries within the UN, which clearly indicates the practical relevance of this research.
Given the importance of this topic, a considerable amount of research has been dedicated to this theme, resulting in important contributions. For instance, we know that there is no actual significant difference in leadership abilities and effectiveness between men and women (Paustian-Underdahl et al., 2014; Place & Vardeman-Winter, 2018). Similarly, there is evidence that shows that in some aspects (e.g., transformational leadership) of leadership performance, women perform slightly better than men (Eagly, 2007; Eagly et al., 2003; Eagly
& Carli, 2003; HBR, 2021; Martinsen, 2016).
At the same time, we also know that stereotypical characterizations of women as held by others, result in negative judgments about women’s leadership abilities (Eagly & Sczesny, 2009; Heilman, 2012; Hentschel et al., 2019; Peus et al., 2015). Likewise, there are prominent findings, which show that women still face large disadvantages when pursuing leadership positions, such as gender discrimination, patriarchy, and gender bias, which is prejudice
solely based on women’s sex (Eagly, 2007; Ellemers, 2014; Heilman, 2001; Madsen &
Andrade, 2018; Powell et al., 2002; Schein, 2001).
However, we know little about the gender self-characterizations of women and whether this influences women in feeling equipped for leadership. What we do know about gender self-characterizations as found in U.S. studies, is that women self-describe as having less agentic characteristics than men and especially as less assertive, and less competent in leadership (Hentschel et al., 2019). Whereas men were found to self-describe as having less communal characteristics than women (Hentschel et al., 2019). In the Dutch context, gender self-characterizations may differ to a similar extent. Yet, research to date has not considered both levels of agency and communality jointly in determining whether women have lower leader self-efficacy than men. Understanding whether women view themselves as having more communal than agentic characteristics is important, because it can provide a deeper understanding of whether these self-characterizations might ultimately relate to whether or not women choose to strive for a leadership career.
This relationship between gender, self-characterizations and leader self-efficacy may depend on individual differences between men and women as to how communal or agentic successful leaders are perceived. Meaning that women may only negatively judge their own leadership abilities if they describe successful leaders in the traditional way, namely as having highly agentic and little communal characteristics (Heilman, 1983). This is because leadership has been traditionally interpreted as a masculine enterprise (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Schein, 1973). Whilst, if they perceive successful leaders as having highly communal and little agentic characteristics, the relationship between women’s self-characterizations and their leader self-efficacy should be ameliorated (Heilman, 1983).
In short, the purpose of this study is to contribute rigor and relevance to the ongoing debate about achieving gender equality in leadership positions. First, I will extend the
literature by investigating the interplay of agency and communality and its influence on men’s and women’s self-characterizations, because up to now research only compared the two genders instead of these two dimensions. Second, I will generate new insights in how gender self-characterizations influence men’s and women’s level of leader self-efficacy and how this may influence their pursue of a leadership career. This is because the impact of gender self- stereotyping on men’s and women’s leadership judgment is hardly considered in research to date. Third, by investigating whether men’s and women’s leader perception influences their leader self-efficacy, I will test the Lack of Fit theory (Heilman, 1983), which might only hold for women who internalize traditional agentic leader stereotypes. Fourth, the results of this study will contribute to the sustainable development sub goal of the UN (United Nations, 2021b, p.1.), because on the one hand it informs women about the importance of observing other women succeed in leadership positions as well as partaking in tailored leadership development programs to improve their leader self-efficacy. On the other hand, it informs organizations on how to provoke a reconsideration of stereotypic gender beliefs and how to facilitate changing the image of a successful leader in order to reduce gender discrimination in the workplace.
Theoretical Framework Leader Self-Efficacy
In order to effectively address the problem of gender inequality in leadership positions, it is important to understand whether there is a difference between men and women as to how equipped they perceive themselves for leadership positions and the underlying reasons that might explain this difference. For this reason, it is necessary to understand men’s and women’s leader self-efficacy. Leader self-efficacy entails someone’s personal belief about whether he or she can succeed as a leader and meet the competence expectations that are necessary for a leadership position (Fast et al., 2014; Rehm & Selznick, 2019). The famous quote by Henry Ford (n.d.), illustrates what is meant with this concept: “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right”.
Someone’s sense of leader self-efficacy can range from high to low (Rehm &
Selznick, 2019). People with low leader self-efficacy will negatively judge their leadership abilities and do not believe that they can succeed as a leader (Rehm & Selznick, 2019). As a result, they will put in less energy to reach their goals and they will not persist when facing obstacles in leadership positions (Bandura, 1977). Whereas people with high leader self- efficacy will positively judge their leadership abilities and believe to be capable of being an effective leader (Rehm & Selznick, 2019). As a result, these people will put in more effort to become a better leader (Paglis, 2010; Quigley, 2013), persist when facing obstacles (Bandura, 1977), and self-select into leader roles (Huszczo & Endres, 2017; Lindsley et al., 1995; Paglis, 2010).
Gender and Leader Self-Efficacy
Given the enduring lack of women in leadership positions (World Economic Forum, 2021), it might be that women have lower leader self-efficacy as compared to men, which may ultimately explain their choices to pursue a leadership career. Preliminary evidence for
this confidence difference between men and women can be seen in studies that found that men tend to have higher levels of general self-efficacy than women (Fallan & Opstad, 2016;
Huang, 2012). Similarly, there is strong empirical evidence that suggests that men are more overconfident than women. For example, a study by Lindeman et al. (1995) found that compared with 30% of women, 70% of men overestimated their job performance and professional skills. This is consistent with other studies that found that women are more likely to underestimate their chances of successful performance (Erkut, 1983; Gitelson et al., 1982)
These findings may also apply to men’s and women’s leader self-efficacy. Preliminary evidence shows that men describe themselves as more leadership competent than women (Hentschel et al., 2019). Relatedly, studies have found that in male-dominated fields (e.g., leadership), the gender difference in confidence is most prominent, causing men to overestimate their own leadership abilities and women to underestimate their own leadership abilities (Klayman et al., 1999; McCormick et al., 2002; Powell & Butterfield, 2015). In addition, studies have found that even if women are successful leaders, they are more likely to attribute their success to external reasons (e.g., teamwork or luck) rather than that they attribute their success to themselves (Campbell & Hackett, 1986; Haynes & Heilman, 2013).
Following these findings, it is likely to assume that men are more likely to believe that they can succeed as a leader and thus have high levels of leader self-efficacy. At the same time, it is proposed that women have lower levels of leader self-efficacy as compared to men, which may ultimately explain their choices to pursue a leadership career. Indicating that if women do not believe that they are capable of being an effective leader, they might judge their own leadership abilities in a negative way, which might even have such far-reaching consequences as preventing women from becoming a leader at all. This is because leader self- efficacy influences the choices women make career-wise and also because low leader self- efficacy causes women to put in less effort nor self-select into leader roles (Huszczo &
Endres, 2017; Lindsley et al., 1995; Paglis, 2010). Therefore, the following has been hypothesized:
Hypothesis 1: Female gender is negatively related to leader self-efficacy, meaning that women have lower leader self-efficacy than men.
Descriptive self-stereotyping is when men and women ascribe gender stereotypical characteristics to characterize themselves (Burgess & Borgida, 1999; Eagly & Karau, 2002;
Heilman, 2001, 2012; Hentschel et al., 2019). The extent to which men and women ascribe such gender stereotypical characteristics to evaluate their leadership abilities might be an underlying reason, which explains the difference between men’s and women’s leader self- efficacy.
Agency versus Communality
Gender stereotypical characteristics can be summarized in two dimensions, being agency and communality (Koenig & Eagly, 2014; Wood & Eagly, 2009). Traditionally, compared with women, men are considered to be confident, competitive, assertive and independent, because they frequently occupy roles in which these characteristics are required (Broverman et al., 1972; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Heilman, 2012). These characteristics are considered to be agentic, indicating that men are seen as having more agentic than communal characteristics. Whereas, compared with men, women are considered to be more friendly, selfless, and caring about others, because they occupy roles in which these characteristics are required (Broverman et al., 1972; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Heilman, 2012). These characteristics are considered to be communal, which reflects that women are traditionally seen as having more communal than agentic characteristics.
So far, there is an extensive stream of literature on gender stereotyping and how this results in negative judgments about women’s leadership abilities (e.g., Diekman & Eagly,
2000; Eagly & Sczesny, 2009; Haines et al., 2016; Heilman, 2012; Hentschel et al., 2013, 2019; Koch et al., 2015; Schein, 2001; Williams & Best, 1990). Similarly, there is some preliminary evidence that shows that women ascribe more gender stereotypical characteristics to characterize themselves than men (Cadinu & Galdi, 2012). Such that women tend to see themselves as having more communal characteristics as compared to men (Hentschel et al., 2019).
Agentic versus Communal Self-Stereotyping and Leader Self-Efficacy
Yet, research to date has not considered both levels of agentic and communal self- stereotypes jointly in determining whether this leads to a difference between men and women as to how they judge their leadership abilities. Since Kark and Eagly (2009) argue that whether stereotyping leads to negative outcomes in the workplace depends on what the stereotype is weighed against, I will investigate what happens when men’s and women’s agentic versus communal descriptive self-stereotypes are weighed against the traditional male leader role.
To better understand how gender roles develop and why the leader role is considered to be a male gender role, the Social Role theory (Eagly, 1987, 1997) will be applied.
According to this theory, there are distinct gender roles for men and women that derive from the division of labor in society, because if we see more people of the same gender in a certain role, we assume that this gender is more likely to fulfill this role well, whereas the other gender would not (Eagly, 1987; Eagly et al., 2004; Wood & Eagly, 2009).
For instance, based on the human body, women are able to give birth and breastfeed their children, whilst men have greater size, speed, and strength (Wood & Eagly, 2009).
Given these individual differences between men and women, in most societies, men focus to some extent on activities different from those preferred by women, because one gender can perform certain tasks of daily life more easily than the other gender (Wood & Eagly, 2009).
This leads to a division of labor in which women frequently occupy roles, such as secretary, teacher or nurse, which require supportive and fostering behaviors (Cejka & Eagly, 1999;
England et al., 2002). Whereas men usually occupy roles, such as executive director or family provider, which require confident, assertive, and independent behavior (Cejka & Eagly, 1999). Consequently, distinct gender roles for men and women develop.
Since men have been occupying the majority of leadership positions to date, the leader role is considered to be a male gender role (Wood & Eagly, 2009). For this reason, leadership has been traditionally interpreted as a masculine enterprise (Eagly & Carli, 2003). This is confirmed by several studies who found that leaders are described as more masculine than feminine (Koenig et al., 2011; Powell & Butterfield, 2012), which is in line with the ‘think manager - think male’ paradigm of Schein (1973). Moreover, there are studies that investigated whether men and women would use agentic or communal characteristics when they were asked to describe the characteristics of successful leaders (e.g., Powell et al., 2002;
Schein, 1973; Willemsen, 2002). These studies showed that a successful leader was described as having more agentic than communal characteristics, which are the same characteristics that are more commonly ascribed to men than women (Powell et al., 2002; Schein, 1973;
Willemsen, 2002). For instance, assertiveness was a characteristic that was frequently used to describe successful leaders, which is also a stereotypical characteristic that is related to men (Dennis & Kunkel, 2004; Eagly & Sczesny, 2009; Haines et al., 2016; Heilman 2012). Thus, the leader role is considered to be a male gender role that includes more agentic than communal characteristics (Eagly & Karau, 2002).
Following these findings, it is proposed that if women self-describe as having more communal than agentic characteristics and weigh their self-characterization to the male leader role, women may perceive a lack of fit between how they see themselves and how leaders are seen in society (Broverman et al., 1972; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Heilman, 2012). This is
because the Lack of Fit theory (Heilman, 1983) suggests that when people perceive that they do not have the characteristics they think a specific role requires (e.g., the leader role), they will perceive a cognitive mismatch, which will negatively influence their self-perceptions. For women, this indicates that a perceived lack of fit with the leader role will influence their perception that they are not suitable for leader positions (Heilman, 1983, 2012).
Consequently, this will negatively influence women’s career choices as argued by Heilman (2012).
By contrast, when men self-describe as having more agentic than communal characteristics and weigh their self-characterization to the stereotypical leader role, men will not perceive a lack of fit (Broverman et al., 1972; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Heilman, 2012).
They will experience the opposite of women, namely a high fit between how they see themselves and how leaders are seen in society, because both include more agentic than communal characteristics (Heilman, 1983). Consequently, men would be more likely to think they have the characteristics necessary to fulfill the leader role well, which will positively influence men’s career choices to become leaders (Heilman, 2012; Wood & Eagly, 2009).
However, we do not yet know whether women who self-describe as being more communal than agentic will negatively judge their own leadership abilities. But, building on the Lack of Fit theory (Heilman, 1983), it is likely to assume that women who self-describe as being more communal than agentic, will negatively judge their own leadership abilities due to a lack of fit with the male leader role, resulting in low leader self-efficacy. Whilst, for men, it is expected that a high self-perceived fit with the male leader role will positively influence men’s judgment of their leadership abilities, resulting in high leader self-efficacy. Preliminary evidence for this can be seen in Powell and Butterfield (2012), who found that the correspondence between the self-description of men and the description of successful managers was higher than that of women (Powell & Butterfield, 2012). They also found that
this has remained stable over forty years (Powell & Butterfield, 2012). Yet, research to date has not investigated the interplay between the two dimensions of agency and communality jointly, which will be tested in this study. Therefore, the following has been hypothesized:
Hypothesis 2: The relationship between gender and leader self-efficacy is mediated by men’s and women’s agentic versus communal descriptive self-stereotyping.
Communal Leader Characteristics
Over time there is an increased representation of women in leadership positions. This changes how people think in terms of characteristics of successful leaders (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Davidson & Burke, 2011; Powell, 2011). Some people might still see successful leaders in the traditional way, as having highly agentic and less communal characteristics, whereas others might see them as having highly communal and less agentic characteristics. This perception depends on individual differences and external factors such as past experiences with agentic or communal leaders, the type of media that has been followed, and on changes in views of effective leadership in research (Eagly & Carli, 2003).
In recent years, views of effective leadership in research shifted from agentic leadership styles to more communal leadership styles as researchers have mainly focused on transformational leadership (Bass, 1985; Judge & Bono, 2000; Judge & Piccolo, 2004). This leadership style, and especially its dimension of individualized consideration, is about leaders who act as mentors and attune to the needs of their employees (Bass, 1985). These characteristics are considered to be communal characteristics, which are also traditionally associated with women (Broverman et al., 1972; Eagly & Steffen, 1984; Heilman, 2012).
Similarly, researchers have found evidence that transformational leadership was positively related to communal characteristics, whereas it was negatively related to agentic characteristics (Saint-Michel, 2018). Likewise, other studies found that women show more transformational leadership than men (Vinkenburg et al., 2011).
Following these findings in research on effective leadership, it can be argued that people’s perception of successful leaders might also change, in the sense that it might change to leaders having highly communal and less agentic characteristics. Therefore, it is expected that women who describe successful leaders as highly communal, will experience less of a lack of fit between how they see themselves and how they perceive successful leaders (Heilman, 1983). To illustrate, these women would describe successful leaders as caring for their employees and taking the needs of employees into account before making decisions, whilst simultaneously characterizing themselves as caring and attuned to the needs of others.
This will create a cognitive fit between how they see themselves and how they perceive successful leaders (Heilman, 1983). Resultingly, this perceived fit will influence women’s perception on their own suitability for leader positions and therefore, this may positively influence women’s career choices (Heilman, 1983, 2012). Thus, when building on the Lack of Fit theory (Heilman, 1983), it is expected that when people’s perception of successful leadership aligns with their self-characterization this leads to higher levels of leader self- efficacy. Therefore, the following has been hypothesized:
Hypothesis 3: The negative relationship between agentic versus communal descriptive self-stereotyping and leader self-efficacy is moderated by communal leader characteristics, such that this relationship is weaker when successful leaders are described as highly communal.
To summarize, I will investigate the relationship between gender and leader self- efficacy and explore whether men’s and women’s agentic versus communal descriptive self- stereotyping may explain this relationship (Figure 1). I will also investigate whether higher levels of communal characteristics ascribed to successful leaders can weaken this relationship.
Conceptual model Figure 1
Proposed model of the relationship between gender, descriptive self-stereotyping, communal leader characteristics, and leader self-efficacy.
Method Data sample
The population of this study included adults, both male and female, in the Netherlands.
In total, 689 responses were obtained for the first survey and the final sample consisted of 436 Dutch adults who participated in both survey 1, 2, and 3. Values of the participants who did not fill in all three surveys were deleted. In total, 56% of the participants were female and 44% were male (Mage = 41.9, SDage = 16.2). Of this sample, 38% held an HBO degree, 30% a Master university degree, 17% a Bachelor university degree, 12% a high school degree or less, and 3% a Postgraduate degree. These men and women worked in different industries, namely 34% in the information sector, 28.4% in the public sector, 28.6% in services, 7.6% in manufacturing, and 1.4% in raw materials. Similarly, they all had different levels of leadership experience; 41.2% never held a leadership position, 30.1% currently holds a leadership position, and 28.7% held a leadership position in the past. In total, 57.9% had managerial authority of which 25.5% in higher management, 17.9% in middle management, and 14.5% in lower management.
Design and procedure
For this study, I collected the data in collaboration with five other Business Administration Master students from the University of Amsterdam. First, we created three online surveys by means of the online tool Qualtrics, which we made available both in Dutch and English. More specifically, the first survey was designed to measure the independent variable (gender) and the mediator (descriptive communal and agentic self-stereotyping). The second survey measured the moderator (whether successful leaders are described as highly communal) and the third survey measured the dependent variable (leader self-efficacy). To counter common method bias, we decided to create three different surveys, because the temporal separation of about one week between the measurement of the variables allowed
previously recalled information to leave the short-term memory of the respondents (Podsakoff et al., 2012).
Once the surveys were created and tested, we sent the first survey via email and social media channels (e.g., WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Facebook) asking respondents to participate in a study on working behavior in organizations. We recruited the respondents with a snowball sampling method, which is a well-known non-probability sampling method whereby members in the sample identify subsequent sample members (Biernacki & Waldorf, 1981). In survey one, we asked the participants to fill in their email addresses so that we were able to send survey two (seven days after they filled in survey one) and survey three (seven days after they filled in survey two). Every two to three days, we sent reminders through Qualtrics to remind respondents to complete all three surveys. The email addresses were later removed from the data set in order to make the respondents anonymous.
Gender: Gender (e.g., male, female, other) was measured as part of the demographics
at the beginning of survey 1. For the analysis, I created a dummy variable for gender and assigned men as the baseline group with value 0 and women with value 1. One response of a participant who indicated “other” was omitted for this study, because I aimed at comparing men and women.
Leader self-efficacy: Leader self-efficacy was measured using the validated 4-item
scale adapted from Rehm and Selznick (2019). The items included: “I believe I have the ability to be a leader”, “I know how to be a leader”, “I see myself as a leader”, and “I know how to lead others”. Participants were asked to rate the items on a 7-point Likert scale with responses ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”). This scale showed high internal consistency, which increased the reliability of the findings (α = .92).
Descriptive self-stereotyping: Communal and agentic descriptive self-stereotyping
was measured using the validated 26-item scale adapted from Hentschel et al. (2019). In total, 11 items measured descriptive communal self-stereotyping (e.g., “I see myself as…” followed by different characteristics such as “sentimental”, “communicative”, and “understanding”).
Another 15 items measured descriptive agentic self-stereotyping (e.g., “I see myself as…”
followed by different characteristics such as “competent”, “achievement-oriented”, and
“assertive”). Participants were asked to rate themselves on a 7-point Likert scale with responses ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”). Both scales showed high internal consistency (α = .82 and α = .85).
Finally, in order to test the hypotheses, I created a difference scale by subtracting the scale mean of the descriptive agentic self-stereotyping items from the scale mean of the descriptive communal self-stereotyping items. This indicates that people who score higher on agency than on communality will have negative scores, whilst people who score higher on communality than on agency will have positive scores. People who score on both agency and communality similarly high, will have scores close to 0.
Communal leader characteristics: Communal leader characteristics were measured
with the validated 3-item scale that measured supportive leadership characteristics adapted from Rafferty and Griffin (2006). The items included: “considers employees’ personal feelings before acting”, “behaves in a manner which is thoughtful of employee needs”, and
“ensures that the interests of employees are considered when making decisions”. Participants were asked to describe successful leaders and answers could be given on a 7-point Likert scale with responses ranging from 1 (“strongly disagree”) to 7 (“strongly agree”). This scale also showed to be reliable (α = .75). 1
1 I did not use the MLQ (Bass & Avolio, 1997) to measure individualized consideration. Instead, I used the refined version as developed by Rafferty & Griffin (2006), since they found evidence for the need to distinguish between supportive and developmental leadership when measuring individualized consideration.
Results Descriptive statistics and correlations
Prior to testing the hypotheses, the means, standard deviations, and relationships between the main variables were calculated. The results of this are presented in a correlation matrix shown in Table 1.
Table 1 Correlation matrix
Overall Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations of Thesis Variables
Variable M SD 1 2 3 4
1. Gender .56 .496 -
2. Descriptive self-stereotyping .11 .748 .244*** -
3. Communal leader characteristics 5.73 .76 .038 .022 -
4. Leader self-efficacy 5.24 1.20 -.254*** -.435*** .079 -
Note. N = 436. *** p < .001, ** p < .01, * p < .05. Gender is coded as 0 = man, 1 = woman.
When considering gender and descriptive self-stereotyping, the results showed a significant, small positive correlation (r = .244, p < .001) indicating that women have a higher tendency than men to apply more communal than agentic descriptive self-stereotyping to characterize themselves. Yet, the results showed an insignificant correlation (r = .022, p >
.05) between descriptive self-stereotyping and communal leader characteristics, indicating that higher levels of communal than agentic descriptive self-stereotyping do not tend to lead to higher levels of describing successful leaders as highly communal. Furthermore, Table 1 showed a significant, small negative correlation between gender and leader self-efficacy (r = - .254, p < .001), indicating that women tend to have lower leader self-efficacy as compared to men. Finally, the results showed a significant, medium negative correlation between descriptive self-stereotyping and leader self-efficacy (r = -.435, p < .001), indicating that
higher levels of communal than agentic descriptive self-stereotyping tend to lead to lower levels of leader self-efficacy.
Testing the hypotheses
In order to test hypothesis 1, which stated that female gender is negatively related to leader self-efficacy, meaning that women have lower leader self-efficacy than men, I conducted a linear regression analysis. Within this analysis, I included gender (coded as 0 = men and 1 = women) as the independent variable and leader self-efficacy as the dependent variable. The results were significant (b = -.62, SE = .11, p < 0.001), which is in line with hypothesis 1 that is therefore supported. In other words, there is a negative direct effect between gender and leader self-efficacy, indicating that women have lower leader self- efficacy than men.
To test hypothesis 2, which stated that the relationship between gender and leader self- efficacy is mediated by men’s and women’s descriptive self-stereotyping, I conducted a mediation analysis (SPSS PROCESS model 4 with 5.000 bootstraps and 95% bias correction) (Hayes, 2021). Within this analysis, I included gender (coded as 0 = men and 1 = women) as the independent variable, descriptive self-stereotyping (communal – agentic) as the mediator, and leader self-efficacy as the dependent variable. The results can be found in Table 2.
Mediation Analysis Gender, Descriptive Self-stereotyping, and Leader Self-efficacy
Coeff. SE p Coeff. SE p
Gender (X) a1 .37 .07 <.001 c1’ -.38 .11 <.001
stereotyping (M) --- --- --- b1 -.64 .07 <.001
-.095 .05 .07 i2 5.53 .08 <.001
R2 = .06 R2 = .21
F (1, 434) = 27.45, p < .001
F (2, 433) = 58.50, p < .001
The results in Table 2 show that gender significantly predicted descriptive self- stereotyping (b = .37, SE = .07, CI [.23,.51]). This relationship indicates that women apply more communal than agentic descriptive self-stereotyping to characterize themselves than men. Additionally, the results showed that higher levels of communal than agentic descriptive self-stereotyping significantly predicted lower levels of leader self-efficacy (b = -.64, SE = .07, CI [-.78, -.50]).
Moreover, as becomes clear from Table 3, in line with hypothesis 1 and the linear regression results above, the total effect of gender on leader self-efficacy was significant (total effect = -.62, SE = .11, CI [-.84, -.39]). Meaning that women have lower leader self- efficacy as compared to men. In addition, both the direct effect of gender on leader self- efficacy as well as the proposed indirect effect of gender on leader self-efficacy through descriptive self-stereotyping were significant (direct effect = -.38, SE = .11, CI [-.59, -.17];
indirect effect = -.23, SE = .05, CI [-.35, -.14]). Representing that women have lower leader self-efficacy as compared with men as a result of the tendency for women to apply more
communal than agentic descriptive self-stereotyping to characterize themselves. In summary, the results showed partial mediation, since both the direct effect and the indirect effect of the mediation analysis were significant. Therefore, hypothesis 2 was supported.
Mediation Analysis Outcome
Moderated mediation analysis
In order to test hypothesis 3, which stated that the negative relationship between descriptive self-stereotyping and leader self-efficacy is moderated by communal leader characteristics, such that this relationship is weaker when successful leaders are described as highly communal, I conducted a moderated mediation analysis (SPSS PROCESS model 14 with 5.000 bootstraps and 95% bias correction) (Hayes, 2021). Within this analysis, I included gender (coded as 0 = men and 1 = women) as the independent variable, descriptive self- stereotyping (communal – agentic) as the mediator, communal leader characteristics as the moderator, and leader self-efficacy as the dependent variable. The results were insignificant (b = .05; SE = .06; p > .05; CI [-.08, .17]) meaning that hypothesis 3 is not supported and therefore rejected. In other words, the indirect effect of gender on leader self-efficacy through descriptive self-stereotyping does not depend on whether leaders are described as highly communal.
Effect SE p LLCI ULCI
Direct effect c1’ -.38 .11 <.001 -.59 -.17
Total effect c1 -.62 .11 <.001 -.84 -.39
Boot SE Boot LLCI Boot ULCI
Indirect effect a1b1 -.23 .05 -.35 -.14
Discussion General discussion
This study contributes to the literature by providing new insights on potential reasons that hinder women in becoming leaders from studying the relationship between gender and leader self-efficacy. My results showed that women have lower leader self-efficacy than men as a result of women’s tendency to ascribe more communal than agentic characteristics to characterize themselves. I expected that this outcome would depend on whether successful leaders were described as highly communal, but I found no evidence for this.
The first part of this finding – women having lower leader self-efficacy than men – was in line with previous research that found evidence that men tend to have higher levels of self-efficacy in general (e.g., Fallan & Opstad, 2016; Huang, 2012) and that men self-describe as more leadership competent than women (Hentschel et al., 2019). This finding also confirms the Social Role theory (Eagly, 1987), since it shows that women still tend to internalize the characteristics that are traditionally related to their gender (Wood & Eagly, 2009). Relatedly, it showed that women are still less likely to see themselves as having the necessary skills to fulfill a leadership role well, which is in line with the Lack of Fit theory (Heilman, 1983, 2012). Consequently, future research could delve more deeply into how women’s leadership self-efficacy can be increased, since researchers found that high levels of leader self-efficacy results in more interest and effort to become a better leader and more self-selection into leader roles (Huszczo & Endres, 2017; Lindsley et al., 1995; Paglis, 2010; Quigley, 2013).
The second part of this finding – that women have lower leader self-efficacy than men due to women’s tendency to ascribe more communal than agentic characteristics to characterize themselves – was also consistent with other researchers. For instance, Cadinu and Galdi (2012) found that women characterize themselves more in terms of traditional gender stereotypes than men and Hentschel et al. (2019) found that women tend to see themselves as
more communal than agentic. Yet, to my knowledge, this was the first study that considered both the level of agency and communality jointly, which allowed for more nuanced findings of what specific elements of descriptive gender self-stereotyping influence women’s and men’s leader self-efficacy. Therefore, it would be interesting if future studies replicate this new approach in order for the results to be confirmed in different contexts. Though, my results showed that descriptive self-stereotyping did not fully explain the association between gender and leader self-efficacy. For this reason, it would be interesting if future research would keep on exploring additional factors that might explain this relationship, because the lack of women in leadership positions is not limited to the image that women have of themselves as leaders.
Somewhat unexpectedly, I did not find that the effect of gender on leader self-efficacy through descriptive self-stereotyping depends on whether successful leaders were perceived as highly communal. I may not have found this effect, because it might not be about the communal characteristics of leaders, but about leaders still being viewed as masculine (Koenig et al., 2011; Powell et al., 2002; Schein, 1973). For this reason, it would be interesting if future studies could explore how to change the masculine leader image into a more feminine or gender-neutral image that both men and women can relate to. For instance, researchers could study the effect of gender on leader self-efficacy through descriptive self- stereotyping when women would be confronted with more female leaders. Because women who observe other women succeed in leadership positions, will be more likely to take on similar tasks as well, because they can relate to the female role model who makes the success seems attainable (Wolbrecht & Campbell, 2007; Zeldin et al., 2008). Or researchers could explore how communal characteristics can be linked to traits of successful leaders in people’s mind.
The results also have some practical implications for women who aspire a leadership career. I recommend these women to increase their awareness of the impact of descriptive self-stereotyping on creating high or low levels of leader self-efficacy and in turn on pursuing a leadership career. This can be achieved by partaking in leadership development programs that focus on improving women’s self-awareness on the basis of leadership (e.g., an adapted version of Knipfer et al., 2016). Such programs provide feedback on women’s leadership styles and evaluate personal development plans in order to increase women’s confidence as leaders (Knipfer et al., 2016). Similarly, it is advised to these women to connect with female role models in leadership positions. By observing other women experience personal mastery in a leadership position, this will increase women’s leader self-efficacy and make them more likely to take on similar tasks as well (Bandura, 1977; Zeldin et al., 2008).
The results also have implications for organizations who wish to effectively address the lack of women in leadership positions and contribute to the sustainable development subgoal of the UN. First, it is advisable to these organizations to focus on reducing gender discrimination in the workplace. This can be reduced by increasing the presence of women in leadership positions, because viewing successful women in male-typed positions decreases stereotypical beliefs and provokes a reconsideration of stereotypic beliefs (Heilman & Caleo, 2018). Similarly, interventions can be designed that focus on discovering the forces that enable gender discrimination in order to understand how to decrease it (Heilman & Caleo, 2018). Yet, this approach should be very thoughtfully executed, because it may reinforce discrimination by making gender differences more salient, resulting in the opposite effect (Caleo & Heilman, 2019).
Second, organizations could support female employees who desire a leadership career in building higher levels of leader self-efficacy. This can be achieved by investigating the
current level of leader self-efficacy and not yet promoting those with low leader self-efficacy, because research shows that leaders with low leader self-efficacy will not perform well in their new role (Rehm & Selznick, 2019). Instead, organizations could for instance organize training sessions that offer women challenging leadership opportunities in which they can gain personal mastery and increase their leader self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977; Lacerenza et al., 2017). Another option is for managers, peers, and subordinates to provide these women with support and positive performance feedback until they believe it is true (Bandura, 1977;
Luthans & Youssef, 2004; Zeldin et al., 2008).
Third, organizations can contribute to changing the image of a successful leader. This development is now taking place in the literature as researchers shifted their attention to leadership styles that reflect more communal characteristics. Yet, this change should also be facilitated in practice in the sense that communal characteristics will be linked to traits of successful leaders in people’s mind.
Limitations and future research
Similar to other studies, this study was subject to potential limitations resulting from the method that was used. The main limitation that might have threaten the potential generalizability of the research results was the sampling method. I used a non-random selection procedure that relied on the subjective judgments of the participants, since they had to identify subsequent sample members (Johnson, 2005). In future studies, it is therefore recommended to use probability sampling that involves the random selection of participants in order to be able to make strong statistical inferences about the sample, thereby increasing the external validity.
Relatedly, since the data was collected by means of a single source, namely the same respondents for all three questionnaires, common-source bias might have caused inaccuracies within this study (Meier & O’Toole, 2012). For this reason, it is recommended to future
researchers to verify the results with multiple data sources in order to increase the generalizability of the research results (Meier & O’Toole, 2012).
Another limitation of this study was that we used lengthy questionnaires. Since I collected the data in collaboration with five other students, all students incorporated their variables as well as various demographics in the questionnaires, which made them rather long.
One of the disadvantages of lengthy questionnaires is that participants might get bored to the end and will focus on finishing rather than paying close attention to the meaning of the items (Ahmed et al., 2015). This increases the chance of delayed, hasty or quick responses that lower the quality of the results (Ahmed et al., 2015). We tried to mitigate this risk by including questions that tested whether people were still paying attention and by occasionally switching the order of the scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Another disadvantage is that participants will stop when they experience that there are still loads of questions to be answered (Ahmed et al., 2015). Therefore, it would be valuable to replicate this study in the future with shorter questionnaires by solely incorporating the main variables.
Additionally, in future studies it would be valuable to include the following aspects as well. First, I solely incorporated the self-characterizations of female and male participants and excluded a participant who indicated “other” when asked about gender. In order not to exclude participants and gain additional insights, it would be valuable if future studies go beyond the self-characterizations of men and women and investigate the self-characterizations of non-binary, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Second, since I did not incorporate the influence of age, culture nor various ethnicities, it would be valuable if other researchers would take these aspects into account with a larger sample size in multiple countries, because it is expected that this could influence men’s and women’s descriptive self-stereotyping and in turn their leader self-efficacy (Ospina & Foldy, 2009).
Third, since I did not find evidence for a moderated mediation, it would be valuable if future research would investigate other moderators that can potentially influence the indirect relationship between gender and leader self-efficacy through descriptive self-stereotyping. For instance, prior leadership experiences could be taken into account, since research found that it predicts leader self-efficacy judgments (McCormick et al., 2002). Another option could be to consider the impact of men’s and women’s self-confidence, since research argues that this trait also influences leader self-efficacy (Wood & Bandura, 1989). Finally, the influence of stereotype activation could be tested by comparing stereotypes for men, women, and neutral leaders, since research found that a strong manipulation that compares stereotypes is likely to trigger a stronger response with regard to the leader stereotype, which could possibly change women’s identification with leadership (Hoyt, 2005).
In conclusion, I found support for women having lower leader self-efficacy than men through women’s tendency to ascribe more communal than agentic characteristics to characterize themselves. Yet, I found a lack of support that this relationship depends on whether successful leaders are perceived as highly communal. This evidence adds to the understanding of the ongoing debate on achieving gender equality in leadership positions, and again emphasizes that organizations should play an active role in supporting women’s leadership progress and preventing gender-based inequality in the workplace.
Hereby, I would like to thank Tanja Hentschel for her helpful feedback and support as my thesis supervisor. Similarly, I would like to thank Ellemijn Oomes, Juliette Eldin, Martina Friso, Thalea Zimlich, and Victor Jansen for their collaboration in creating the questionnaires and collecting the data for this study.
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