Theory suggests gender bias in leadership occurs through a cognitive mismatch between thoughts of women and leaders. As leadership incorporates more feminine qualities, gender bias disadvantaging women should be reduced. The purpose of this paper is to present an empirical investigation of that argument by examining gender bias in servant leadership. Predictions made by role congruity theory were investigated with principles from leader categorization theory.
In a survey design, 201 working college students from the Midwest USA were presented with either a female or male leader, each with identical servant leader attributes. Participants reported their expectations for the leader’s future behavior.
Expectations for servant leader behavior were greater for the woman than man leader, and expectations for authoritarian behavior were greater for the man than woman leader. Expectations for servant leader behavior were greater from the woman than man participants, and expectations for authoritarian behavior were greater from the man than woman participants, a difference that was enhanced by men’s hostile sexism.
Although limited by the sample of working students, important implications are the importance of using theoretical integration to examine contemporary forms of leadership for changing gender bias, considerations of self-concept in bias and examining perceiver characteristics when investigating gender bias.
Awareness of the reduction of gender bias in communal leadership may allow an increase of leadership opportunities for women and leadership attempts by women.
This is the first empirical examination of gender bias in communal leadership through theoretical integration.
The author thanks Justin Colon for his valuable help in data collection.
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