To read this content please select one of the options below:

Lucky to reach the top? : Gendered perspectives on leadership acquisition across Qatar and Denmark

Christina Lundsgaard Ottsen (School of Business and Social Science, Aarhus University, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 14 March 2019

Issue publication date: 11 October 2019




As organizations aim to become increasingly diverse, it is important to understand how perspectives of potential future leaders vary across culture and gender. This study aims to advance the understanding of the persistent gender gap in management.


Samples from the gender-segregated Qatar and the co-ed Denmark present a unique opportunity to investigate the potential effects of gender. Here, 115 Middle Easterners and 121 Scandinavians rated perceived importance of job-related skills, networking upward and serendipity in leadership acquisition.


Effects of gender showed that compared to men, women across cultures expected that serendipity has less to do with leadership acquisition. Middle Eastern women also showed low expectations regarding networking with people in powerful positions. Nevertheless, both genders showed conviction of meritocracy by rating job-related skills as the most important factor in leadership acquisition. Cross-culturally, Scandinavians presumed job-related skills to be more important than Middle Easterners.

Research limitations/implications

Despite meritocracy beliefs, it appears that gender differences in perceived possibility of leadership acquisition contribute to the gender gap in management. Scandinavian women relied more on networking than Middle Eastern women, but still lacked faith in serendipitous opportunities compared to male peers. Perceived luck enhances achievement motivation. If men rely more on luck than women, then they are more confident in succeeding and more ambitious about pursuit of leadership. Women’s lack of faith in serendipity might affect their career ambitions negatively even in societies emphasizing equality.


This is the first study that directly focuses on gender differences in perception of opportunities for leadership acquisition through serendipity.



This work was supported by the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF89) and by the MindLab UNIK initiative at Aarhus University, which is funded by the Danish Ministry of Science and Technology and Innovation. The author wishes to thank Azza Elnayal and Sine Scanlon for their help with recruiting the participants and Fatima AlAfifi, Lana Alsabbagh, Lærke Bjerager and Lasse Brunø for helping with the translation and scoring of the data. A special thanks goes to Dr Helle Neergaard and Dr. Jonathan Koppel for their helpful suggestions and comments to previous versions of the manuscript.


Ottsen, C.L. (2019), "Lucky to reach the top? : Gendered perspectives on leadership acquisition across Qatar and Denmark", Gender in Management, Vol. 34 No. 7, pp. 541-553.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles