Most people will tell you that they are unbiased and objective when it comes to perceiving others. Particularly in professional work settings.
But when it comes down to it, when we mention the word ‘leader’, I bet all of us immediately envision a man. This thought pattern only serves our society’s gender stereotyping ways. Most of us rarely associate leadership with women and it’s a problem that has been around for ages.
When questioned about the genders and their strengths in the workplace, women are more likely to be seen as skilled in supporting and encouraging fellow workers while men are seen as skilled in problem-solving or decision-making. Hence why men are more likely to be given leadership roles compared to women.
With this information at hand, women are at a crossroads, they can either embrace “male” orientated behaviors but risk not meeting gendered expectations or just continue perpetuating the stereotype of women not being good leaders.
There have been findings by numerous studies that suggest when women do as their fellow male leaders such as giving suggestions or being slightly more dominant, their initiative is perceived more negatively. While male employees using the same language and tone are immediately celebrated as showing greater leadership skills.
A research done by Peterson Institute for International Economies remarked that companies that have 30% of the company’s leadership roles filled by women see at least a 1% point of net profit margin compared to companies who don’t fill leadership roles with women.
With diversity comes more diverse solutions and more creativity in a company, so why do companies still insist in this caveman mentality?
Gender Stereotypes, The Role It Plays in Leadership
Men make better leaders, as viewed by both genders
According to a Comparably survey in 2018, it found that even women thought of men as better leaders. Many of the women surveyed showed a preference for male leaders even with the choice of women leaders.
Unfortunately, this isn’t shocking news as we know, the patriarchy is strong in most societies hence why men will always be seen as stronger, smarter and more capable than women. If we think about it, working women is a somewhat relatively new concept. Just only in the fifties to mid-sixties, women were more encouraged to be stay-at-home housewives.
Competition among women
Additionally, most of us women faced ‘internalized misogyny’, where it’s common for successful women to sabotage their fellow women workers.
Just like men, women see strong competition among each other but not in a healthy manner. More like in a catty, high school mentality. Female employees feel a certain “strength” if they’re able to take down their female leaders.
Different perception towards men and women
As stated earlier, gender stereotypes really give us a different perception of the same behaviour by the two genders. When a male worker is dominant, stern and serious, everyone is in awe of how many great leadership skills he has.
On the other hand, when a woman is the same, she is characterized as ‘a bitch’, ‘cold’ and ‘hard to work with’ by the workers who were just praising that male worker.
The male worker will more than likely be promoted to a leadership position while the woman loses popularity in the company and faces harsh criticism to change her behaviour. Ironically, a female worker who decides to be warm, friendly and feminine will be seen as less competent or a dumb blonde.
The Differences Between Male Leadership and Female Leadership
Despite this article harping on how both male and female have the same competency to be good leaders, it’s also important to note that both genders bring different leadership styles to the table.
Transactional approach (Male)
Male leaders usually have a more individualistic approach to managing a team or project. Their focus on achieving goals and team performance is valued by a sequence of independent transactions. Male leaders rarely justify their decisions, they just want their employees to focus on their specific assigned duties.
Although working for a team, the male leader rarely engages with their team, instead chooses to stay apart due to the notion of them playing the dominant role. His approach is all about self-interest of his employees but when a failure occurs, it means responsibility is on their shoulders and not the leader. In this case, employees shouldn’t expect help from the male leader unless the issue is too big or hard to solve on their own.
Transformational approach (Female)
Just like the male leader, female leaders also want to accomplish goals but how they go about it is the exact opposite. Female leaders pay more attention to how the goals are completed. The focus is on transforming their teams to be the best they can be and are more productive in motivating and encouraging individual team members. Basically they’re more personally involved and definitely place importance on teamwork and communication.
Companies who apply the transformational approach to their work ethics see more success, better work performance by employees and also a better relationship between boss and employees. This is because employees have more freedom to be creative while having an outlet to voice out their opinions. With their needs taken into account, the employees are more likely to become better professionals.
Leadership Roles in Malaysia
How does this all apply locally? Well no suprise, Malaysia is just as backwards in hiring women for leadership roles.
We can even see it happen publicly by looking at Malaysia’s governmental body. In 2018, fresh air of optimism shrouded the country when political party Pakatan Harapan was elected as our new government. Finally, we would be a truly democratic country!
But did you know in the new ministry cabinet, only 9 out of 50 elected ministers were women? Although a depressing number, it was a leap from the previous government where not more than 3 women were appointed as ministers at a time.
Despite our efforts, our country definitely still relies on gender stereotypes. Many commented on Hannah Yeoh’s appointment as Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, comments she even admittedly said male ministers would never receive.
Not forgetting Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah who was appointed the first-ever woman Deputy Prime Minister and the backlash it received. Many folks said that she was just holding that position until her (more capable) husband Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was released from jail to take over that spot.
This again discredits Malaysian women’s capabilities and achievements. As Dr Wan Azizah puts it best in a New Straits Time interview, “I am the one who goes to work, go in early, I do all the work and (they say) that he is the deputy prime minister?”
And before the sudden change of government in 2020, many locals bit back their tongues after being wowed by the efforts & works done by all the women ministers, some even better than their male counterparts. Ahem.
Moving along to Malaysia’s workplace, again there sees a wide gap between men & women in leadership positions.
Previously in 2011, the previous government at that time (BN) announced that corporate sectors should aim for women to represent at least 30% of decision-making positions by the end of 2016.
Yet, by June 2016, women only accounted for 15.2% of director positions in the Top 100 listed companies on Bursa Malaysia.
Just like everywhere else in the world, Malaysian women also face an unfair wage gap compared to their male co-workers. According to a 2018 survey report by the Statistics Department (DOSM), the average male worker earns a monthly salary that amounts to RM115 higher than an average female worker.
Still think that equality actually exists in this modern world?
Although this article seems to be heavily leaning on the side of women for leaders, Woke would like to clear out any biasness by stating how both male and female leaders each have their own strengths to contribute to the workforce.
Yes, female leaders with their transformational approach are seen as a better work approach. However a male leader’s transactional approach has its benefits too.
Firstly, employees are less “babied” and will turn into more independent professionals. Also, a transactional approach encourages competition among team members which might give them more motivation to strive, unlike a transformational approach that only emphasizes equal teamwork.
In the end, an equal balance of male & female leaders in the workplace is the best solution. This will encourage a variety of leadership styles that can bring so many diverse ideas, plans and solutions to a company. But for this to happen, females must first be viewed equally in the workforce.
It’s time to eliminate these structural barriers that are only there in the first place due to gender stereotypes. Remember, diversity will definitely win out among the competition.
This article is a part of Woke’s Taboo Series where we dive deep into topics most Malaysians shy away from. If you like reading this, check out our other Taboo articles on religion in Malaysia and the Pink Tax in Malaysia.