A paper authored at Cambridge Judge Business School on how leaders adapt their behaviour based on their perceptions of the group culture and their followers’ attitudes has been named winner of the 2020 Faculty Transnational Research Award by the Academy of Management.
The paper by Dr Yeun Joon Kim, University Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour, and PhD student Yingyue Luan was awarded by the Gender and Diversity in Organisations Division of the Academy of Management. The award goes to the conference paper that “best meets the objective of advancing our understanding of transnational gender and diversity issues”.
The paper, based on a field study involving 159 middle managers in 159 bank branches in South Korea, looks at how group cultures and the dominance of males in a group force females leaders to display more directive and less empowering leadership behaviours.
The paper goes beyond previous studies on gender and leadership to focus not only on the gender of a leader but also on the “confluence” of a leader, followers and their respective social contexts – and how this interplay can predict leadership behaviour.
Specifically, the paper examines how cultural “tightness” – a group’s shared perceptions of how strictly its norms are enforced and deviance from those norms are punished – shapes leaders’ perception that their groups have stereotypical negative attitudes toward feminine leadership behaviour, which in turn leads them to counter such stereotypes.
“Our research suggests that compared to loose groups, leaders in tight groups may be more likely to perceive that their groups have negative attitudes toward stereotypically feminine leadership behaviours – a leader’s actions that signal stereotypical femininity such as being agreeable, participative, and power-sharing,” the paper says.
Once leaders become aware of their groups’ resistance to such stereotypically feminine leadership behaviour, they may attempt to refrain from such behaviour and instead display leadership behaviour indicating “effectiveness” through clear rules and tight control, the paper says.
The leaders’ tendency to counter stereotype shaped by cultures was stronger for female leaders than male leaders. “We suggest that female leaders in tight groups are more likely than male leaders to perceive stronger negative attitudes toward stereotypically feminine leadership behaviour because members of a stigmatised group (for example, female leaders) tend to perceive a stronger identity threat than non-members,” says the paper. Thus, in tighter cultures, female leaders were more likely to feel forced to display more directive and less empowering leadership behaviours.
The paper further finds that when female leaders were in male-dominated groups, tight cultures more strongly forced them to display even more directive and less empowering leadership behaviour.
In contrast, male leaders were relatively free from felt pressure to counter the stereotype (a group’s negative attitude toward stereotypically feminine leadership behaviour) because they were not the members of the stigmatised group (female gender group) and thus felt that the stereotype was not relevant to their identity.
The authors conclude that these findings show that female leaders tend to feel the unfortunate, undesirable social pressures originating from organisational cultures and the dominance of males in a group.
“Our results further justify the necessity of having the equal proportion of men and women in a group and constantly checking whether organisational cultures signal stereotypical cues offering pressures to female leaders,” Dr Kim said.