EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION, LEADERSHIP,
AND GENDER BARRIERS
Culture, age, race, and so forth can determine differences or effectiveness in communication or leadership styles. Gender is also an issue and will be the focus of this paper. Six key components of effective communication and leadership are analyzed, as well as gender barriers that are rooted in American culture. Internal and external barriers are expounded upon and how the organizational culture helps or hinders workplace success.
In the introduction of his book, Bridges, not Walls, Stewart(1995, p. 3) makes the observation, "The longer I study and teach interpersonal communication, the more I'm struck by how much the person I am today is a function of the relationships I've experienced."
This same realization is proved in organizational relationships and how each member of an organization communicates with one another. Culture, age, race, and so forth can determine differences or effectiveness in communication or leadership styles. Gender is also an issue and will be the focus of this paper.
Ely (1995) argues that as long as women are underrepresented in positions of power, barriers to advancement for women may persist. Studies show that women experience barriers at all levels not only at the top and these barriers significantly retard a woman’s career advancement and detract from her performance in the profession (Marlow, Marlow,& Arnold, 1995).
Carr-Ruffino (2002, p. 137-138) notes that, “most career women must overcome both internal barriers and external barriers to workplace success that are rooted in the American culture. Internal barriers include self-limiting beliefs about women’s abilities and roles. External barriers include the glass ceiling, inflexible work arrangements, and pay disparity.”
Women in general do have different approaches to communication and leadership than men do. However, is it due more to internal barriers of perception and ambition, perhaps because of this gender’s priorities or is it due more to general differences between the sexes?
A study by Van Vianen and Fischer (2002) provided new evidence that may illuminate the glass ceiling from another perspective. The present studies suggest that women are confronted with two barriers on the way to the top, which are more restraining for them than for men. The first one concerns women's first step into management. A smaller number of women will take this step, partly because they feel less attracted to management jobs because of their weaker masculine culture preferences.
The second barrier concerns the step from middle management to top management. Whereas female middle managers seem hardly restrained by their culture preferences, they are less ambitious than men in pursuing a top management career. This is mainly due to their wish to maintain a work-home balance and to protect themselves against the stress and time investment that top management jobs require. As long as companies stress the need for sacrificing one's private life in order to be able to fulfill a top management position, women will remain the great minority in these positions.
From this perspective, one could indeed argue that organizational cultures prevent women from entering the top level of management. If organizations are truly serious about their expressed wish to assign more women to (top) management positions, they should be aware of the fact that they will not attract some women with high salaries and facilities that symbolize their higher status. Instead, they should put more effort into changing their top management culture, and in reprogramming the top managers' minds by emphasizing that a good (top) manager has a balanced (work) life (Van Vianen 2002).
Research shows that individuals who are committed to their family life are not necessarily less committed to the organization or less ambitious. On the contrary, employees in organizations that apply family-responsive human resource policies showed greater organizational commitment and expressed lower intention to quit their job than employees who do not have access to these family-responsive facilities (Chiu & Ng, 1999).
Redwood (1996, p.4) contends that, "We do not yet live in a color-blind or gender-blind society. Sexism, racism, and xenophobia live side-by-side with unemployment, underemployment and poverty; they feed on one another and perpetuate a cycle of unfulfilled aspirations among women and people of color" Therefore, organizations need to develop cultures that preclude barriers and teach effective communication skills.
O'Hair, Friedrich, and Shaver(1995) identified six key components of effective communication skills:
1. Creative insight is the ability to ask the right questions.
2. Sensitivity means (a person) practices the golden rule.
3. Vision means being able to create the future.
4. Versatility is the capacity for anticipating change.
5. Focus is required to implement change.
6. Patience allows...people to live in the long term (Tubbs 1998, p. 205).
The first skill is that of creative insight which is the ability to ask the right questions. Carr-Ruffino (2002) notes that women ask more questions, about three times as men on average. However, a woman must be careful, as many times this leads to a tentative communication style that can undermine a woman’s effectiveness as a communicator or leader.
"Questions are just that--a way to seek additional information from the speaker. Often a person makes inaccurate assumptions about what you already know or neglects to provide important details. Since he is familiar with his subject, it is difficult for him to make wise choices about what to communicate. Your questions let him know how your background compares with his. They provide an opportunity for you to receive clarification on points that seem vague or ambiguous. They prevent you from making inaccurate assumptions when you try to put together incomplete information."
Stewart then discusses the importance of perception checks, responses to avoid, constructive feedback, and then he ends with the skills associated with listening. All these are important to the role of creative insight and how it applies to communication (Stewart, 1995, p. 178-184).
The second skill, sensitivity, means that a person practices the golden rule. This is essential to good communication because of the simple fact that communication is not one-way.
Communication involves much more than merely the sending of a message. David Berlo(1993) introduced the notion that communication is a dynamic, interactive process. As such, he said, "If we accept the concept of process, we view events and relationships as dynamic, ongoing, ever-changing, continuous. The ingredients within a process interact; each affects all of the others..."(Golhaber, 1993, pp. 128).
Powell (2002) observes why gender and race influence promotion and effective communication. Jobholder schemas are one observation. Even if they do not consciously discriminate against applicants for top management positions on the basis of race or gender, decision makers unconsciously develop a schema or mental model (Fiske & Taylor, 1991) about the attributes of jobholders.
This schema in turn influences promotion decisions. A jobholder schema may be either gender based, incorporating the gender of jobholders in some way, or gender neutral, ignoring the gender of jobholders (Perry, Davis-Blake, & Kulik, 1994); similarly, a jobholder schema may be either race based or race neutral.
Race and gender are incorporated into decision makers' jobholder schemas when people who are primarily of one race and gender occupy the job under consideration and/or the pool of applicants for such jobs. Thus, when white men hold the majority of top management positions and/or dominate the applicant pool for such positions, individual decision makers and decision-making teams are more likely to see white men as possessing the personal qualities necessary to be successful executives.
Powell’s (2002) second observation is the similarity-attraction paradigm (Byrne, 1971; Byrne & Neuman, 1992) which suggests that people are more attracted to and thereby prefer to associate with people whom they see as similar to themselves. Kanter (1977), in her analysis of promotion processes in a large corporation, characterized the results of such a preference as "homosocial reproduction.” She argued that the primary motivation of corporate managers is to minimize uncertainty. Uncertainty is present whenever individuals are relied upon, and the effects of uncertainty are greatest when the individuals being relied upon hold significant responsibility for the direction of the organization.
One way to reduce uncertainty in the executive suite is for the predominantly white male occupants to close it to people who are different from themselves in highly visible and immutable demographic characteristics such as race and gender. The similarity-attraction paradigm also suggests that individual decision makers in top management positions who belong to other race/gender groups seek to promote people whom they see as similar to themselves.
However, the effects of similarity and attraction on team decisions are smaller for diverse teams (e.g., mixed-race and/or mixed-gender teams) than for homogeneous teams (e.g., same race and gender teams; Lin, Dobbins, & Farh, 1992). A team of decision makers who differ themselves in race and/or gender is unlikely to agree on exactly what constitutes similarity to themselves when presented with applicants of diverse race and gender. Thus, diverse teams are less likely than homogeneous teams to expect applicants from any one-race/gender group to provide greater certainty in the top management ranks than applicants from other groups.
The third observation of Powell (2002) is the social identity theory (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Capozza & Brown, 2000; Tajfel & Turner, 1986) and self-categorization theory. Turner (1985) suggests that people seek to achieve and maintain a positive self-identity by classifying themselves and others into social categories and then making favorable comparisons between members of their own group (in-group) and out-group members.
People are generally presumed to identify with people who are similar to themselves (Williams & O'Reilly, 1998). However, people may be similar or dissimilar to others along several dimensions (e.g., race, gender, sexual orientation, class) and thereby have multiple social identities (Frable, 1997). When faced with conflicting social identities, individual decision makers identify with and thereby favor applicants for top management positions who are similar along the dimensions that are salient to them.
Importance is determined by both personal and situational factors (Ashforth, 2001; Wharton, 1992). For example, the significance of gender and/or race may be enhanced by personal experiences with sexism and/or racism (a personal factor). It may also be enhanced by a low proportion of women and/or people of color in top management positions (a situational factor).
Thus, when making decisions about promotions to top management positions, individuals are influenced by the significance of race and gender in their social identities. However, members of decision-making teams may differ in the dimensions of social identity that are personally salient because of differences in their personal experiences with sexism and racism. Diverse teams are less likely to agree on and utilize processes of social identification in evaluating applicants for top management positions than homogeneous teams.
The last observation of Powell (2002) is that decision makers are influenced by the nature of the societal context within which they make promotion decisions. The status characteristics theory (Berger, Fisek, & Norman, 1998; Berger, Wagner, & Zelditch, 1985) suggests that people form expectations about the competence of others based either on information about their past performance or inferences from the status value assigned by the society as a whole to their personal characteristics. Status value is assigned to a personal characteristic when consensual societal beliefs suggest that people who have one state of the characteristic are more worthy than those with a different state of the characteristic (Ridgeway, 1991).
In Western societies, race and gender are personal characteristics with clearly established status value. White people and men are held in higher honor and esteem and seen as more able and competent than people of color and women respectively, thereby granting them higher social status (Berger et al., 1985; Berger et al., 1998; Elsass & Graves, 1997; Ridgeway, 1991; Ridgeway & Diekema, 1992). As a result, individual decision makers favor white male applicants for top management positions because white men hold the highest status and are thereby seen as the most competent candidates.
Vision means being able to create the future. Vision as the third component to effective communication or leadership is one that is more difficult to define or develop. The SOAR Peak Performance model defines vision in a leader as:
"Leadership is making what you believe in...happen.
Every country's legacy has many examples of courageous men and women who have made what they believed in happen under extremely challenging conditions. These men and women saw the need for action, believed in what they were doing, inspired others and, in spite of incredible odds, changed the world. This is the essence of leadership. These men and women sought leadership roles and accepted the responsibilities that were part of those roles. Doing so is a leader's duty: to take what you believe in, something that flows out of your core values, and make it happen. (Blanchard, 1996, pp. 91-92)
When you read of such vision, such leadership, it seems that this is a gift, bestowed upon only a few that are denoted as natural leaders or communicators. This is how many leaders appear; just naturally endowed with their communication and leadership skills. Is this true? In many cases, it appears so, but the SOAR model (Blanchard, 1996) states that effective performance and communication rarely happen by accident. Effective performance and communication are the result of predictable, planned actions that can be learned and applied by almost anyone in any organization anywhere.
The fourth communication skill is versatility; which is the capacity for anticipating change. Using a systems-level criterion, an organization should be evaluated on priorities, goals, and functions. "Acknowledging that every system has multiple functions and also exists within an environment that provides unpredictable inputs, a system's effectiveness can be defined as its capacity to survive, adapt, maintain itself, and grow...(Lazarus, 1980, p. 231). This is in effect versatility.
Bennis(1962) combines many facets of effectiveness criteria and introduces these ideas in relation to the traditional methods of evaluating the output and satisfaction at a certain point in time. He uses a more general concept of "health":
"If we view organizations as adaptive, problem solving, organic structures, then inferences about effectiveness have to be made, not from static measures of output, though these may be helpful, but on the basis of the processes through which the organization approaches problems. In other words, no single measurement of organizational efficiency or satisfaction-no single time slice of organizational performance-can provide valid indicators of organizational health. (Bennis, 1962, p. 273)
Gender Stereotypes are barriers to versatility. Gutek (1985) notes that individuals in male dominated workplaces are more likely to have highly stereotyped beliefs about the general roles of women and men. Therefore, stereotyped views of males and females are often pervasive in work environments that have a skewed gender ratio (e.g. male-dominated) and they serve as a key barrier for women's career outcomes and well-being at work.
The fifth communication skill O'Hair, Friedrich, and Shaver identified was focus. Focus is required to implement change.
"Successful managers give meaning and relevance to the tasks people perform. They provide focus and direction, assuring successful completion of tasks. The durability of a manager's excellence is demonstrated through the sustained high performance of the organizational unit managed. This commitment is achieved by keeping the right focus, keeping it simple, being action oriented, and building task importance." (Blanchard, 1996, p. 453)
Carr-Ruffino defines glass ceiling as the ". . . small, hidden, or subtle ways that the company discriminates against women" (2000, p. 163).
Examples of differential treatment within organizations are one of the most widely cited reasons why women fail to advance to levels of authority and visibility within organizations (Catalyst, 1998). In a recent survey conducted by the Harwich Group nine out of ten women felt their career advancement was continually being hampered by gender barriers. In addition, women who represent a minority within the organization such as those in non-traditional occupations, are at increased risk of being harassed (Gutek, Cohen, & Konard 1990).
The last skill is that of patience which allows people to live in the long term. This is by far the hardest communication skill to develop.
"Patience, though a virtue of restraint, has the effect of energizing students. Inquiry, growth, and learning flourish under low pressure. Concepts and ideas are difficult to plant in our intellectual garden. They have erratic, individualized growing circles, and harvesting is always under the student's control. Yet, I found this simple lesson difficult to learn. Patience is not readily acquired...impatience comes more easily." (Stewart, 1995, p. 490)
Are not employees as students, and their supervisors, teachers? The owners or managers of any organization must realize their role. Hence, the perspective to help change those under them, but to do so in such a way as to allow change and not force it.
Gentile (1998) examines this perspective through that which is stated as psychological or situational perspective. The Psychological Perspective is defined as a management style or approach techniques that usually differ between the genders based primarily on sustained cultural impact. Their organizational methods are opposed since women tend to favor; centrarchies and men; hierarchies. Additionally, women tend to be transformational leaders while men favor an exchange of rewards for services and are therefore transactional in nature.
Gentile (1998) also suggests that similar situations beget similar behavioral tendencies. Therefore, situational perspective is presumed differences that can best be explained by illuminating the differences in perceived power, opportunity, and status.
In conclusion, the following has been observed. The more that is learned about effective communication and leadership, the more aware a person becomes that life's triumphs, both personal and professional, are because of the communication skills and techniques gleaned through positive mentoring relationships and continued daily application.
Ashforth BE. (2001). Role transitions in organizational life: An identity-based perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Ashforth BE, Mael F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. Academy of Management Review, 14, 20--39.
Bennis, W.G. (1962). Toward a truly scientific management: The concept of organizational health. General System Yearbook,7, 269-282.
Berger J, Fisek MH, Norman RZ. (1998). The evolution of status expectations: A theoretical extension. In Berger J, Zelditch M Jr. (Eds.), Status, power and legitimacy: Strategies and theories (p. 175—205). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Berger J, Wagner DG, Zelditch M Jr. (1985). Introduction: Expectations states theory: Review and assessment. In Berger J, Zelditch M Jr. (Eds .), Status, rewards, and influence (p. 1-72). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Blanchard, K.H., Hersey, P., Johnson, D.E. (1996). Management of Organizational Behavior. Upper Sadddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Blau, F. D, Ferber, M. A., & Winkler, A. E. (1998 ). The economies of women, men and work (3 ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Byrne D. (1971). The attraction paradigm. New York: Academic Press.
Byrne D, Neuman, JH. (1992). The implications of attraction research for organizational issues. In Kelley K (Ed.), Issues, theory, and research in industrial/organizational psychology (p. 29--70). Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.
Capozza D, Brown R. (2000). Social identity processes: Trends in theory and research. London: Sage.
Carr-Ruffino, N. (2002) Managing diversity. Boston: Pearson.
Chiu, W. C. K., & Ng, C. W. (1999). Women-friendly HRM and organizational commitment: A study among women and men of organizations in Hong Kong. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 72, 485-502.
Elsass PM, Graves LM. (1997). Demographic diversity in decision-making groups: The experiences of women and people of color. Academy of Management Review, 22, 946-973.
Ely, R. J. (1995). The power in demography: Women's social construction of gender identity at work. Academy of Management Journal, 38 (3), 589.
Fiske ST, Taylor SE. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Frable DES. (1997). Gender, racial, ethnic, sexual, and class identities. In Spence JT, Darley JM, Foss DJ (Eds.), Annual review of psychology, Vol. 48, 139-162. Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.
Gentile, M. C. (1998). Managerial Excellence Through Diversity. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press Inc.
Goldhaber, G.M. (1993). Organizational Communication. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Gutek, B. A. (1985). Sex and the workplace: The impact of sexual behavior and harassment of women, men and organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kanter RM. (1977). Men and women of the corporation. New York: Basic.
Lazarus, R.S. (1980). Organizational Psychology. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,Inc.
Lin T-R, Dobbins GH, Farh J-L. (1992). A field study of race and age similarity effects on interview ratings in conventional and situational interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77, 363-371.
Marlow, N. D., Marlow, E. K., & Arnold, V. A. (1995). Career development and women managers: Does "one size fit all.” Human Resources Planning, 18 (2), 38
Perry EL, Davis-Blake A, Kulik CT. (1994). Explaining gender-based selection decisions: A synthesis of contextual and cognitive processes. Academy of Management Review, 19, 786-820.
Powell, G. N. (2002). Exploring the influence of decision makers' race and gender on actual promotions to top management. Personnel Psychology, 55 Issue 2, p397, 32p [Online] Available: http://web7.epnet.com/ [2003, Jan. 21].
Redwood, R. (1996). The Glass Ceiling. In Motion Magazine. Retrieved January 24, 2003 from
Ridgeway CL. (1991). The social construction of status value: Gender and other nominal characteristics. Social Forces, 70(2), 367-386.
Ridgeway CL, Diekema D. (1992). Are gender differences status differences? In Ridgeway CL (Ed.), Gender, interaction, and inequality (p. 157-180). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Stewart, J. (1995). Bridges not Walls. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Tajfel H, Turner JC. (1986). The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In Worchel S, Austin WG (Eds.), Psychology of intergroup relations, 2nd ed. (p. 7-24). Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Tubbs, S.L. (1998). Small Group Interaction. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Turner JC. (1985). Social categorization and the self-concept: A social cognitive theory of group behavior. In Lawler EJ (Ed.), Advances in group processes: A research annual, vol. 2, (p. 77-122). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Van Vianen, A. E., & Fischer, A. H. (2002, Sep.). Illuminating the glass ceiling: The role of organizational culture preferences. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 75, 315, 23p
Wharton AS. (1992). The social construction of gender and race in organizations: A social identity and group mobilization perspective. In
Tolbert PS, Bacharach SB (Eds.), Research in the sociology of organizations, vol. 10, (p. 55-84). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
Williams KY, O'Reilly CA III. (1998). Demography and diversity in organizations: A review of 40 years of research. In Staw BM, Cummings LL (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior, vol. 20, (p. 77-140). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.