Adorable woman, expert man: Changing gender images of women and men in management


  • Erich Kirchler

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Linz, Austria
    • Department of Psychology, Johannes Kepler University of Linz, Altenbergerstraße 69, A-4040 Linz, Austria
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In the past, leadership was perceived to be the special province of males and still females tend not to occupy top management positions. Traditional social stereotypes hold that a leader needs to have typical masculine characteristics: he needs to be competitive, aggressive, tough and successful. Due to important changes in the conception of the societal female and male gender role during the last decades it can be assumed that the classical sex role stereotypes have at least become less polarized.

Obituaries concerning deceased male and female managers, published in the years 1974, 1980 and 1986 in four daily newspapers were content analysed. Terms used to describe the managers were classified into 53 categories and included in a correspondence analysis. The results show that images of male and female managers were dissimilar in 1974 and 1980 and were still different in 1986. Male managers were perceived as intelligent, knowledgeable, experienced, outstanding instructors, unselfish opinion-leaders with an enviable entrepreneurial spirit. Women, on the other hand, were described as adorable, likeable superiors in 1974 and 1980. Some years later, in 1986, they became fighting managers: their surviving colleagues described them as courageous, highly committed workers who, nevertheless are still lacking in knowledge and expertise.