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November 30, 2007

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People have invented a way around this bias by divorcing decision making power from inspirational power (by inventing the photogenic puppet, and the power behind the throne).

What if "leadership skills" (which perhaps means more aggressive behavior) in females is correlated to other, unpleasant traits, whereas in men it's not? That might explain part of the "Heidi" effect.

I'm not saying this correlation actually exists, but, if it did, that would be an alternative explanation.

I think this is explainable by what we know about stereotyping and categorization in general rather than needing a specific explanation for leaders or gender. Example:

When stereotypes are activated, people are judged in terms of the group's standards. For example, an aggressive woman may be judged as more aggressive than an objectively comparable aggressive man because women are stereotyped as being less aggressive than men in general.

Source: Wilson, R. A., & Keil, F. C. (2001). The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, 805.

.....and I would opt for the more Freudian explanation (although I have very little time for Sigmund in general) that we feel more threatened by assertiveness coming from a female than from a male.

"I expect gender biases are only a tip of our iceberg of biases on who are good leaders."

How can someone be a good leader if people do not want that person to lead them? It seems, based on these surveys, that people simple want (or prefer) their leaders to be male, and that's all there is to it. As was pointed out in the original post, decision making is not all there is to leadership.

Robin, why not go with the simpler explanation that on average, men and women differ in leadership ability? Why do you need to postulate biases here?

That simpler explanation isn't simpler, briar - it posits more information than a simple perceptive bias. A simpler explanation, in human context, is that if leadership is seen as a masculine trait, females will try to minimize it, in order to be feminine, and hence, attractive. (And will be unattractive if they don't, and then perhaps the bias towards attractive people accounts for a significant part of it.) (This explanation is simpler because it posits less additional information, and instead takes advantage of other information already posited. As a verbal explanation it requires more words, but each word means significantly less.)

"Robin, why not go with the simpler explanation that on average, men and women differ in leadership ability? Why do you need to postulate biases here?"

Presumably because valued leadership qualities differ across cultures, while higher valuations for men over women do not. (Unless you are willing to entertain the notion that men are superior to women on average in every sense considered important for leadership).

What if "leadership skills" (which perhaps means more aggressive behavior) in females is correlated to other, unpleasant traits, whereas in men it's not? That might explain part of the "Heidi" effect.

.....and I would opt for the more Freudian explanation (although I have very little time for Sigmund in general) that we feel more threatened by assertiveness coming from a female than from a male.

Males are pretty much expected to "blow off their steam" i.e. channel their aggressiveness into positive activities and interactions. Since females are less aggressive than males on average and people are often socialized in gender-specific ways, there is less opportunity for this socialization effect to become established in females. Hence, an aggressive female will be expected to be more threatening or less productive than an equally aggressive male.


Males are pretty much expected to "blow off their steam" i.e. channel their aggressiveness into positive activities and interactions. Since females are less aggressive than males on average and people are often socialized in gender-specific ways, there is less opportunity for this socialization effect to become established in females. Hence, an aggressive female will be expected to be more threatening or less productive than an equally aggressive male.


Aggression also turns into, in some cases, physical violence... true, there are some Battered Men's Shelters but men are more likely to beat up a woman than the reverse. so, I wouldn't see why you would want an aggressive man over an aggressive woman other than the fact that its a norm that people have gotten used to, men being aggressive. and we really shouldn't get used to aggressive behavior in anyone because that just leads to not doing anything about a situation that could be potentially harmful.

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