So I have been writing….just not very quickly (or well)

It hasn’t been the best week, outcome wise. There’s been a lot of sitting in front of the screen, but not a lot of words to show for it.  While I WILL have 2,000 words or so on feminist theory by the end of tomorrow, I don’t necessarily feel that I’d make as much progress as I had last week.  For now, here’s a start (excuse my endnote references littering the text.)

Feminist theories attempt to understand the pervasive and persistent gender inequality without our society and factors underlying women’s oppression {Kark, 2004 #645}.   Theories vary, often in respect to the underlying causes of the inequality or oppression. Feminist theory, as applied to leadership and leadership development, can provide a useful lens with which to test not only the validity of commonly proposed theory but the assumptions that underly the theories construction.  In addition they can bring insight into some of the distinctive challenges leaders within the creative industries may face.

Feminist theoretical perspectives can be defined as critical discourses, targeted at the existing status quo and therefore always entail a political agenda. Kark (2004) provides an outline of three types of feminist theory with different methods and agendas.  Gender reform feminism, the most liberal of the three, asserts that there are no biological differences between the genders, and studies tend to examine the differences between men and women to ascertain the reasons for lack of equity.  This is the most prevalent type of feminist theory when reviewing leadership literature..  Gender resistance feminism also focusses on the differences between the genders, but argues that those differences should be recognised and celebrated. Whereas gender reform feminists see inequality as an individual challenge, resistance theory sees it as a result of institutional and systemic faults within the environment in which we work and live.   Critics of gender resistance approaches argue by highlighting differences between male and female leaders stereotypes can be further entrenched.  Gender rebellion feminism is the most radical of the three,  that focuses less on the individuals within the institutional framework but on the potential reevaluation of the framework itself. This theory aligns most closely with some of the previously discussed critical leadership theories, as proponents argue for the removal of the dualities, such as male/female or man/woman, that dominate research and discussion on gender.  Instead, rebellion theorists suggest, there should be a continuum or a multiplication of the categories discussed.  Most of the feminist research into leadership falls into the first category, reformer, but in recent years there has been an increased focus on the post modern and post structuralist approaches of gender rebellion feminism.

As with other critical approaches to leadership theory, the analysis of language is crucial. Textual analysis was a factor in many of the studies of leadership from a feminist perspective {Wilkinson, 2008 #586} {Ford, 2005 #581} {Ayman, 2010 #642} {Kark, 2004 #645}. In some cases it is the language os the theories, or researchers, that comes under consideration, or how the media uses language to construct leadership definitions, or how the individual leader/researcher relates to the language of leadership theory and aims to see past the prominent notions.

An example of the way feminist readings are used to review leadership theory is undertaken by Ayman and Korabik {Ayman, 2010 #642}. They look at six key leadership theories that dominated discourse in the twentieth century and assess their strengths and weaknesses from a feminist, and cultural, perspective.  They conclude that in most cases leadership is not a gender neutral phenomenon, and importantly, that even though male and female leaders may undertake the same actions, women leaders are often  perceived differently.  This demonstrates the weakness of behavioural and contingency leadership theory as the impact of leadership success in not always in the hands of the individual leader. Kark (2004), on the other hand takes an in-depth look at transformational leadership. She argues that transformational leadership is seen as a highly relevant theory in todays organisations given it aligns with the need for organisations to be more flexible, employees more empowered and adaptable to market change.  She also suggests that transformational leadership is associated with stereotypes of the way women lead, or are perceived to lead, which has been reported in other studies {Burke, 2001 #301}. Transformational leadership, it is claimed, lies in contrast to many other leadership theories where the type of behaviour seen as appropriate  “coincides with the images of masculinity and centres on rationality, measurement, objectivity, control and competitiveness”{Ford, 2005 #581}.

The analysis of previously undertaken leadership studies, like those discussed previously, tend to fall into two categories; feminist readings into the way studies have been carried out, or readings in to the way the results have been interpreted {Ayman, 2010 #642}.   However there has emerged a third way that gender and feminism has been included in leadership studies through the work of Sinclair {Sinclair, 2004 #646}.  She has considered the role of leadership by viewing it through a personal lens, demonstrating her developing understanding of leadership theory, and critiquing it, by using her experiences as a teacher and leader in a male dominated institutional setting.  She wants to “take leadership out of the organisational context and put it in the life context.” (14)

This different way of considering the role gender plays within leadership discussions brings to the centre the role of the researcher.  Traditionally within leadership discourse, the role of the researcher is seen to be neutral one {Ford, 2005 #581}.  As discussed in the previous section on critical theory, the study of leadership was seen as akin to the study of natural science, with similar approaches {Alvesson, 2012 #589}.  Many of the feminist readings of leadership studies have called into question the supposed objectivity of the researcher, highlighting that they play a role in “constructing the very reality s/he is attempting to investigate” {Ford, 2005 #581}. In contrast, authors such as Ayman and Korabik focus less on the impact the researchers may have in the construction of leadership and more on the mechanics of the studies themselves {Ayman, 2010 #642}.

One of the key areas of discussion in these, and other, feminist readings of leadership theory is the concept of identity.  Papers such as Sinclair’s (2004) take a narrative approach and show how identity is shaped through personal leadership experiences, while Wilkinson and Blackmore (2010) have conducted a study showing the relationship between media portrayals of female leadership and a number of selected female academic leaders.  This study examines the media’s role in meaning making, and highlights not only how constructed representations of leadership are not seen as representative by women leaders themselves, but also how they shape others perceptions. Female interviewees within the study suggested that they are sometimes not recognised as leaders within their own workplaces by peers and students due to their lack of similarity with the media constructed ideals {Wilkinson, 2008 #586}.  Similarly Sinclair (2004) discusses her own feedback from students and how they  perceived her leadership capabilities and styles as different from her male counterparts.


One thought on “So I have been writing….just not very quickly (or well)

  1. Pingback: Individual to collective | Surry Hills PhD

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