Tracy L. Dumas, Associate Professor, Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.
In this study we explore the relationship between gender and leadership by examining characteristics of men’s and women’s social networks and how these characteristics shape the individual’s ability to demonstrate leadership behaviors in the workplace. Although existing research suggests that women may have unique strengths when it comes to leadership, these explanations rely on trait or norm-focused explanations of gender differences. However, when considering gender differences in leadership, disparate opportunities for employing different types of leadership approaches may be a fundamental, unexplored issue. In particular, structural conditions of the social relationships surrounding organizational members may shape the types of behaviors they can exhibit. Thus, in this paper we seek to go beyond trait-based explanations of women’s leadership behaviors to understand why women may be more likely than men to enact transformational leadership behaviors. Using ego network data and survey data collected from executive MBA students and their co-workers, we examine how two social network characteristics are shaped by gender; the number of women in the individual’s social network and the extent to which the network is hierarchical (or dominated by one central figure), and how these characteristics affect the display of specific leadership behaviors at work. Our analyses reveal that women tend to have more women in their networks and less hierarchical network structures, and that this leads to higher levels of transformational leadership, suggesting an indirect relationship between gender and leadership operating serially through network composition and structure.
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