Women and Leadership

by Al Gini & Ronald M. Green, Ph.D.

As a species, we are fascinated by the concept of leadership and the conduct of individual leaders. Today, we accord many of our leaders movie star status. We hold them up as cultural icons and role models. Many of us believe that leadership is a magical amulet. If we can just get the right person, the right leader, in the right job, success will naturally follow. We are constantly in search of the latest candidate for fame, the newest model off the assembly line, the next great hope.

Historically, leadership has been a male dominated occupation. However, women are moving into leadership positions, both in politics and business, at an accelerating rate. The picture is mixed, showing surprising advances and some delays.

Consider the following:
  • Women now constitute 50 percent of the U.S. workforce
  • Women now make up approximately 62 percent of the undergraduate population
  • Women now receive 60 percent of all master’s degrees
  • Women represent approximately 50 percent of medical and law school students
  • Women hold 12 CEO positions in the Fortune 500 companies
  • Women hold 14 CEO positions in the Fortune 501-1000 companies
  • Women hold the governorship in seven states
  • Women hold approximately one sixth of the seats in the House of Representatives and one fifth in the Senate
Lest the figures for corporate and political leadership seem lower than they should be, it’s important to note that three of our last five secretaries of state have been women. According to Inside Higher Education in 2012, women constituted 23 percent of college and university presidents. And, with young female CEOs like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, we are beginning to see a whole new set of rules and roles for women in the workplace.

In our new book Ten Virtues of Outstanding Leaders: Leadership and Character (Foundations of Business Ethics) , we depict the historically male face of leadership, but we note that women excel at some of the emergent leadership virtues, such as compassion and care. According to management scholar Judith Rosener, a “new age” of female leadership will bring to the table, not just experience, competence, and the ability to meet the numbers, but also a new style of leadership, a style Rosener describes as “interactive.” It is a style concerned with caring for others, exercising compassion, and acknowledging the others’ self-worth. Rosener argues that this “new age” of leadership, instead of relying on authority and position, will be focused on character, fairness, and community.

The desire for leadership is part of our social DNA. Leaders, good or bad, help us “map” the world in which we operate. Perhaps the new age of women in leadership positions will offer us a better and richer “geography of life.”

About the authors:


Ronald M. Green, Ph.D. Professor for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, Dartmouth College. A member of Dartmouth’s Religion Department since 1969, Professor Green served from 1992-2011 as director of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Brown University and received his PhD in religious ethics from Harvard in 1973. In 1996 and 1997, Prof. Green served as Director of the Office of Genome Ethics at the National Institutes of Health. He is the author of eight books, co-author or editor of four, and has published over one hundred fifty articles in theoretical and applied ethics. In 2005, Prof. Green was named a Guggenheim Fellow. His most recent book is 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders: Leadership and Character, co-authored with Al Gini of Loyola University, Chicago

Al Gini is a Professor of Business Ethics and Chair of the Department of Management in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago.  He is also the co-founder and long-time Associate Editor of Business Ethics Quarterly, the journal of the Society for Business Ethics.  For over twenty-six years he has been the Resident Philosopher on National Public Radio’s Chicago affiliate, WBEZ- FM.  His books include: My Job My Self: Work and the Creation of the Modern Individual (Routledge, 2000); The Importance of Being Lazy: In Praise of Play, Leisure and Vacations (Routledge, 2003); Why It’s Hard to Be Good (Routledge, 2006); Seeking The Truth of Things (ACTA, 2010); The Ethics of Business with Alexei Marcoux (Rowan & Littlefield, 2012).  10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders (Riley & Blackwell, 2013). 

2 comments

decipheringteens.com said...

I agree with your insight into what women bring in leadership roles. Collaboration is of importance, along with transparency. Effective leadership "depends on who a person "is" in terms of traits and skills, how the person behaves, and the appropriateness of the two given the situation the leader is facing" (Jean M. Phillips & Stanley M. Gully, Rutgers University). As you stated in your blog, female leaders will be interactive, have a care for others, exercise compassion and acknowledge their employees self-worth. This is based not only on a set of ethics, but also in understanding that collaborative efforts serve organizations much better than creating a community of silos.

Because of the ability to act compassionately in leadership, women also create the vision and direct the organization in the same manner. Women align with organizational altruistic behaviors as shared by R.N. Kanungo and J.A. Conger(1990); Benefits to the individual, benefits to groups, benefits to the organization and benefits to society. Community is important in building good teams that will become better leaders. Growing leaders is important to women that lead. The story of Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines, rising from legal secretary to CEO and president, exemplifies the traits of women in leadership (Craig E. Johnson, Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Casting Light of Shadow)

Deborah A Bailey said...

Thank you for your informative response!

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