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Leadership and the Diversity Challenge

Info: 5400 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Tagged: ManagementLeadershipEquality

Should organisations embrace different leadership styles of individuals from background and could this be the missing link to unlocking their full potential?


This major paper will examine if there are any common threads in the leadership style, traits or the development of leaders from different gender or ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to see if there are differences in the leadership styles of individuals from such diverse backgrounds, and could this be a partial explanation as to the paucity of leaders from such groups, when compared to the conventional white heterosexual male leaders found in organisations today.

In North America during the 1950s and 1960s the diversity debate concentrated on the civil rights of employees from different gender and ethnic backgrounds in the work place, this culminated in the USA with the introduction in 1964 Civil Rights Act and the establishment of the Employment Opportunity Commission. However in the 1970s the focus shifted towards affirmative action and equal employment opportunities for those from diverse backgrounds, with many organisations adopting polices to raise the talent pool from those of different ethnic backgrounds and genders. In the 1980s there was then a backlash against affirmative action and diversity debate became a bottom line or competitive concern for organisations. The diversity debate has grown in importance within many organisations for various reasons, not least of which is the increased competitive pressure to attract and retrain top talent. Additionally there is also a need for organisations to develop new innovative products and services in an increasingly global market place. These combined pressures have resulted in many organisations seeking to develop both diverse work forces and leaders to meet these challenges. In the literature there is strong evidence to support to suggestion that there are long-term positive effects to an organisation in adopting a positive approach to diversity issues. This paper will examine the broader diversity issues and the benefits to organisations, but will specifically focus on the issue of leadership styles, traits and the development of leaders from different backgrounds. The paper will examine the phenomenon of the glass ceiling, or as in some cases the concrete ceiling, which is often described by aspiring executives from different gender and ethnic origins.

In my opinion when considering diversity issues in organisations one aspect that is often inadequately considered is the concept of leadership style, traits and the development of future leaders from different ethnic and gender backgrounds within organizations. This needs to be considered in the placed in the context of what is often considered to be a successful style of leadership, namely the white, heterosexual macho male style of leadership, which dominates many organisations. This paper will attempt to explore the link between gender and ethnic origin and the style of leadership, and will examine if there are factors, which could provide an important connection that organisations, need to focus upon in their search to become more effective. Hopefully by examining, recognising and embracing any differences in the leadership styles, organisations can identify the critical factors that need to be considered to create a better-balanced leadership profile. Maybe it is through a deeper understanding of the various styles of leadership that organizations can achieve the desired objectives of increased diversity, creativity, innovation and enhanced performance. In transcending the diversity debate to focus upon the differences in leadership style, it may be possible to examine the traits that organisations need to develop in their leaders to broaden their talent pool and achieve their diversity objectives. The resultant effect will be to encourage organisations to re-examine a number of aspects of their evaluation process and may create a framework to allow new leaders from different backgrounds to emerge, allowing them to break through the glass ceiling that exists in many organisations.

I will conclude my major paper by focusing on major themes highlighting the key academic learning points. I will provide advice on the future implications for the diversity challenge within organisations and highlight further avenues of research. I will finish by providing a personal reflection on my major paper and its content.

The paper has five major sections and in the next section I will provide a summary of each chapter, which supports the structure of my paper.

Chapter One

Objectives and Structure

In the following section I will emphasise the objectives and structure of the paper, including a diagram, which shows the relationship between the chapters.

1.1 Objectives

The paper will focus on why it is important for organisations to accept, understand and take advantage of different leadership styles, which maybe found in individuals from different ethnic and gender backgrounds. To challenge the traditional white male heterosexual heroic style of leadership, which many organisations continue to accept, encourage and develop. It is only by challenging these leadership concepts will organisations achieve their often-stated diversity objectives and create truly successful and innovative organisations.

Compared to the traditional white heterosexual male leadership found in most organizations, there is clearly a noticeable lack of leaders coming from diverse gender and ethnic backgrounds. This paper will examine the connection between the ethnic origin and gender of leaders and the scarcity in the workplace. The aim is to explore if there are common aspects preventing greater diversity of leadership in organisations. In building a more balanced senior leadership team it will be critical for organisations to recognise that individuals have different backgrounds, cultures, styles of leadership, levels of creativity and approaches to problem solving. By clearly understanding that leaders will see the same issues through different lenses then organisations will capture the full potential of their leaders and also their workforce. It is however important to recognise that organisations need adaptive styles of leadership to deal with various contexts and also that certain styles of leadership may be required in certain the circumstances. However if organisations only make use of the typical leadership styles found in the traditional white male leader, then it will be increasingly unlikely that they will be able to operate and in the global context in which many organisations now operate.

The focus of the paper will be on common patterns of leadership style, traits and the development of leaders from different ethnic and gender backgrounds. The aim will be to determine if these common factors could provide a clue, as to why there has been limited success within organizations of individuals from different gender or ethnic backgrounds in obtaining senior positions. In additionally these common features may also exist in many white male employees who are currently overlooked for leadership roles. If there is a common link between gender and ethnic leadership styles, then it may be possible to enhance and develop diverse leaders within organisations, allowing those from different backgrounds to break through the glass ceiling. This would be beneficial both to the individuals and the organisation, but also to the wider social cohesion of society.

To aid the discussion in the introduction chapter we will first examine some of the more traditional aspects contained in the literature as it relates various gender and ethnic backgrounds in the realm of leadership and management, particularly Hispanic, Afro American and Asian leadership styles, examining the diversity issues commonly found in these groups, looking at both the positive and the negative aspects of each ethnic classes traditions and values as applied in the workplace and the role of leadership. This discussion will focus on the varying leadership styles employed by and unique to each of the ethnic classes, as well as qualities and how they developed into leaders. The introduction will also touch on the concepts of “glass ceiling” and “concrete ceiling”, reflecting on the roles of women in the arena of leadership within organisations. However this particular aspect will be coved in more depth in later chapters in the paper.

1.2 Structure of my major paper

Below I will provide a top-level summary of each of my five chapters. This will afford the reader both information and an understanding of the outline combined with the content of each chapter. Figure 1.1 on the following page shows the relationship between the chapters and highlights specifically the links between each of the chapters.

Figure 1.1 relationship and links between chapters

Chapter Two – Introduction

In chapter two I will provide an introduction to my major paper and a brief outline of the diversity challenge that faces many organisations. We will examine the historical context, the social and economic perspective and why these issues are of critical importance to both to individuals and organisations. This will set the context as to why diversity issues are often discussed within many organisations. It will also set the stage to explore why a deeper understanding of the issues involved with the diversity of leaders in organisations and why the need to build a balanced leadership team is important part of the debate on diversity which organisations need to consider.

Chapter Three – Literature Review

In chapter three I will focus on the literature review of the major issues discussed in the academic literature on the areas of focus for this paper. The first part of the review will discuss how the context in which organisations have developed policies and practices to enhance the development of individuals of different ethnic and gender backgrounds, placing this in a historical context of changing competitive landscapes for organisations and the political background to addressing the issues of diversity.

The second part of the review will focus upon the academic literature concerning the evidence of the benefits for organisations in pursuing a diversity strategy for their work force and leadership team.

The third part of the review will focus upon the academic literature on the current thinking as it relates to models of leadership styles and traits and development of leaders found in organisations.

The fourth part of the review will focus upon the academic literature as it relates to the leadership styles, traits and development of women leaders in organisations. Examining the glass or in some cases the concrete ceiling as it relates to women and also individuals from non-white ethnic backgrounds leaders in organisations.

Chapter four – Towards a unifying model

Chapter five- – Conclusion

The final chapter draws a conclusion based on the key themes and highlights the key academic learning points from my major paper. I will provide advice for future implications of policies that originations may wish to pursue in meeting the diversity challenge and will discuss the limitations of my research and highlight areas that were potential challenges. I will articulate areas of research that I would explore further if I were to continue this study and lastly, in keeping with the spirit of the IMPM, I will provide a personal reflection on my major paper and its content.

Chapter Two


The focus of the major paper will be to explore if there are common threads to the diversity debate as it relates to leadership styles and see if there are sufficient commonalities so that we can bring these together under a unified model which helps us better understand the challenges faced by individuals from different ethnic and gender backgrounds in the work place as they strive to develop their full potential. This will I hope deepen our understanding and may also lead to certain practices and learning’s, which could help organisations, develop their talent pool in a more effective manner in the future.

Leadership is one of the most important and elusive concepts to understand in management thinking today. While it is extremely difficult to pinpoint a specific definition of leadership, there does however appear to be researchers have identified certain characteristics. But why should organisations be concerned about leadership? One of the principle reasons cited is the importance of leadership in the success of an organization, it has been said that leaders are created by the needs of people relative to particular social conditions (Kershaw, 2001).

Kershaw goes on to illustrate this point:

As conditions change certain individuals are thrust into leadership roles. When physical strength is highly valued then the leaders will be perceived as, and at times must prove that they are, the strongest. When closeness to God is seen as major criteria for leadership, the successful leaders will be perceived as being closer to God than the masses (i.e. feudal monarchs and clergy during the European middle ages). (2001)

However in the current age of globalization, an additional consideration that organizations need to consider is the widening need for diversity in their leadership. This will enable organizations to cope with the twin aspect of an ever-changing standards demanded by the global market place and consumers from an assorted variety of ethnic groups and because organisations, are also beginning to recognize the importance of having a widely diverse workforce and leadership teams to deal with the increased pressures they face today in the global market place for talent.

According to Combs, finding ways to maximize benefits of an increasingly diverse workforce and client base is a continuing concern for organizational leadership (2002). While policies promoting diversity are an integral part of many organisations today, they are still not enough to effectively guarantee positive results in the existing organizational environments. This is especially pertinent as it relates to senior management within many organist ions. Diversity training is used to bring about behavioural change in organizations, however the model often made use of is the traditional white male role model in both the development of their leaders and also their workforce. Many organisations have failed to make use of their diversity training to bring about a new focus in order to improve the ethnic and gender mix and this is especially acute as it relates to the senior leadership teams.

This paper will focus on the type of leadership conduct, philosophy, and set of values that are required for an organization, that is set in a global community, to cope against the rigors presented by an ever-changing set of standards presented by the demands of globalization. In this introductory section we will give a brief overview and attempt to address the issue by discussing and applying one of the numerous leadership approaches popularized in the literature (e.g., Charismatic, Humanistic and Fulfilment approaches to leadership) (Avolio & Bass, 1988; Bass, 1990; Casimir, 2001).

In order to make the connection between differing leadership styles characteristics and their effectiveness in the field of leadership within various ethnic groups, we will examine the various kinds of approaches adopted or admired within various ethnic groups as it relates to leaders within these communities. These are be introduced below:

African American Leadership: Charismatic approach

One of the more pronounced characteristics of African-Americans is their uncanny ability to incite sentiments and emotions. They are adept in what could be labelled as a “Charismatic” style of leadership, which is not only apparent in the work place but also in their other aspects of community life.

This is not entirely surprising as the core values of the traditional Africa-American community makes true when assessing a leader is that all leaders must be bold, innovative, committed and able to motivate the masses. They must, if they wish to remain in leadership positions, have their finger on the pulse of the people they represent or be able to determine what that pulse is (Kershaw, 2001).

A critical aspect of a charismatic leadership is that they must not ever lose the focus from the masses and shift interest to the individual. If this occurs then the leaders authority will become easily dispersed and he/she will lose their authority, since the leaders main hold centres on how they move the various constituent groups in an organisation as a whole. With the African-American charismatic leaders they often find it necessary to move its constituents into cooperative action, and this aspect, which is often identified as a factor, which determines a good leader as perceived by the eye of the community. It is also necessary to create a strong a supportive organization with the leaders role serving as a medium to turn plans into reality.

One of the foremost requirement in charismatic leadership, is to tap into the forces contained within organisation, and while it may appear at times to be very cumbersome, at times it does however not negates the importance of charismatic leadership (Kershaw, 2001). Charismatic leaders within the African-American communities are very useful especially when there is a need move against a more powerful adversary arises, such as a discriminating upper management, for instance. However a charismatic leader, in its most successful form can serve as catalyst by acting as a unifying force.

Hispanic Leadership: Humanistic approach

Hispanic form of leadership emphasizes the importance of human relations in order to achieve the most favourable results from the whole organisation. Bordas (2001) in his article details Latino leadership as having three dynamics, all of these are said to characterize the idea of the humanistic approach to leadership: Firstly a leader should have Personalismo, which pertains to the actual effort, made by the leader to earn the trust and respect of followers. Secondly a leader should develop Tejando Lazos (which translates to ‘weaving connections’) this really refers to the traditional Hispanic leaders as storytellers (weavers), keepers of cultural memory, to be the dream weavers (creating tapestries of traditions past). Thirdly a leader should act as community scholars with emphasis being the placed upon developing an understanding of the social climate—how it changes rapidly—and by encouraging collective action, very much akin to their African-American counterparts.

Bordas develops this further dividing these concepts into sub-divisions derived from the three dynamics listed above and attempts to develop a uniquely Hispanic model of leadership that can be clearly identified (Bordas, 2001). The sub divisions that Bordas created are set out below

In the Hispanic Community “Culture is Central” – as an ethnic group they are bound by the Spanish language, colonization, the Catholic Church and the common values stemming from their Spanish heritage / indigenous roots. This cultural aspect has to be tapped into by a leader as a common ground from which to operate from for a Hispanic leader as they relate with their constituents.

As in many cultures the Hispanic community places a high emphasis on “Trust” and it is seen as one of the most important value and is integral to the success of Latino leadership. Being trustworthy in general, Hispanic Leaders are known to be people-and relationships-centered, always certain that the leaders are very capable and dependable. Loyalty is highly valued in a traditional Hispanic setting and they take the concept of trust very seriously with their followers often confiding in their leaders, and perhaps, vice-versa.

Within the Hispanic Community “Respect” – is seen as one of the foremost characteristic, which should be noticeable in a leader. This type of respect is usually found in a person who is older, possesses knowledge, or is in a position of authority. The Hispanic concept of “well-respected” covers both the professional and personal aspects of the leader. They show great respect towards people who exercise a degree of power, people of professions such as priests, doctors, teachers, while on a personal level they place considerable importance on a person’s lifestyle, their manners, their moral values, and there generosity.

A Hispanic leader should have the skill of “Congeniality”: Being able to maintain smooth pleasant social relationships with people within the community. This is seen as extremely important and a premium is placed on social manners, being polite, respectful, and courteous and an ability to make small talk, taking personal interest in people. To be a successful leader in the Hispanics community they look for individuals that can develop relationships down to the very personal level.

Taoist Leadership (Chinese) – Fulfilment approach

It has now become fashionable for many western leaders to adopt the Taoist philosophy of leadership. This is often referred to or described as the path to both professional and personal fulfilment (Johnson, 2002), it is purported to create more cooperative, flexible, and creative leaders. Johnson claims that Taoist leadership qualities are highly desirable for a decentralized, rapidly changing work environment. A leader, which is following this approach, is said to experience a sense of equilibrium in the midst of the chaos, which is commonplace in many western organisations, it is best expounded in the following excerpt:

The more you embody these [Taoist] teachings, the more the scattered parts of your life fall into place and become a seamless whole; work seems effortless; your heart opens by itself to all the people in your life; you have time for everything worthwhile; your mind becomes empty, transparent, serene; you embrace sorrow as much as joy, failure as much as success; you unthinkingly act with integrity and compassion; and you find that you have come to trust life completely. (Autry & Mitchell, 1998, p. xviii)

The Taoist leadership approach to leadership, places a great deal emphasis on the inner calm and balance, which should be maintained by creating a low profile, and leading mostly by example and allowing followers to take ownership (Johnson, 2002).

With the select examples illustrated above namely that of Afro-American, Hispanic and Taoist leadership it obvious that there is a whole range of core values and skills to choose from in order to create a leader who can be borne out of diversity. It will be important to equip such a leaders in organisations today with the training and skills to adapt to the ever-changing contexts in which organisations now operate. But diversity itself is not only confined to ethnic classes, it also includes in its definition the member of the other gender, the female.

Women in the Leadership Arena – The Glass Ceiling

There is such a phenomena known as the “glass ceiling”. The glass ceiling is, according to Chaffins, Fuqua Jr., Forbes and Cangemi (2002) a term coined in the early 1980’s to describe the invisible barrier with which women came in contact when working up the corporate ladder. This form of discrimination has been depicted as a “barrier so subtle that it is transparent, yet so strong that it prevents women and minorities from moving up in the management hierarchy”

Sexual discrimination often keeps most women out of senior managerial positions; this creates the stereotypical image in the general psyche of society that men are more stable than women in terms of intellect, emotion, and in terms of achievement with the resultant effect that men are also seen as being more assertive than females. This creates a major obstacle for women who aspire to achieve a senior managerial position are the presence of these stereotypical constraints imposed upon them by society, the family, and women themselves (Crampton, 2002).

In order to overcome these obstacles, women (who have successfully climbed the management ladder) have found it a necessity to acquire the courage, the skills, and willpower in order to overcome the male-established norms and environmental climate. While policy making and also placement is largely in the hands of males (Crampton, 2002), there are still recommended tactics for women to develop in order to survive the rigors of the male-dominated workplace.

It is by capturing of all the aforementioned traits and skills found in minority groups in many organisations and by making use of the rich cache of resources and qualities to compliment the traditional ‘successful’ white male leader that will make organisations better equipped to deal with the world today. It will be essential to adopt an approach, which includes many facets from different leadership styles from those of different ethnic and gender backgrounds rather than relying on the traditional narrow focus organisations currently utilised by organisations. It will then be possible for organizations to continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive space for talented individuals.

Chapter Three

Literature Review

In this chapter I will focus on four key sections. Firstly, I will explore the historical and social context of the development of diversity in organisations. Secondly, we will attempt to examine the rationale for the organisation wanting to have a diverse work force and leadership. Thirdly we will look at the various leadership models contained in the literature and fourthly review the issues that are specific to leaders from different ethnic and gender backgrounds in their struggle to raise their profile and attain senior leadership positions. Table 3.1 highlights the key themes within the literature and the main points that are discussed in each section.

3.1 Historical and Social context

  • The early years
  • The 1960s Civil Rights to work place
  • The 1970s Affirmative action
  • The 1980s Backlash
  • The 1990s Bottom line

3.2 Rationale for diverse organisations

  • Economic rationale
  • Social rationale
  • Business case
  • Benefits to a diverse workforce and leadership for organisations

3.3 Leadership models

  • Traits model of leadership
  • Behavioural model of leadership
  • Situational model of leadership
  • Transactional vs. transformational leadership discussion

3.4 Diversity issues in leadership

  • Leadership styles of women
  • The glass ceiling
  • Racial dynamics in leadership
  • Organisational culture

Table 3.1 Key themes within the literature

3.1 The Historical and Social Context

In this section I will focus on the evolution of leadership diversification in work environments from the early years up to the most recent time. This section discusses the various changes that standard norms have undergone in relation to labor and management. The changes that are cited in this section mainly evolve around the beginning of the participation of women and ethnical minorities in the work force, role of women in organizational management and other issues related to a diverse labor management.

Diversity in the workplace and the management has long been an issue debated among work organizations. In the United States, for instance, race has been a profound determinant of one’s political rights, one’s locations in the labor market, one’s access to medical care and even one’s sense of identity. Most importantly, race is one of the major bases of domination in its society and a major means through which the division of labor occurs in organisations (Nkomo, 1992, p. 488, drawing on the work of Omi and Winant, 1986; Reich, 1981). Gender is also a basis for stratification in organizations and work (Tang and Smith, 1996).

In some research studies, it has been observed that the impact of race on organizations is somewhat more profound than gender, at least in the case of white women. Researchers believed that this may be because the social distance between White women and men is less than that of White men and ethnic or racial minorities. The racial separation evident in housing, education and church affiliation limits the opportunities for minorities to develop non-work social ties with White men (Massey & Denton, 1993; Wilson, 1996). The degree of separation between White men and women is lesser. Hence, White women seem likely to have greater opportunity for non-work social ties and the work related benefits one may derive from such ties.

As an overview, about 37.3% of adult women in 1960 were in the workplace while 83.3% are adult males. By 1987, the number of working males has decreased to 78% (Schor, 1991). In 1990, the percentage of working women had increased by 45%. At this time, approximately one-half of all black workers, 45% of all white workers, and 40% of all Hispanic workers were women. In the U.S. statistics report, an average 16-year-old male can expect 39 years of working in the labor force, while a typical female of the same age, can expect 30 years of labor force involvement (U.S. Department of Labor, 1990).

3.1.1 The early years

Before cultural diversity has been willingly integrated by various organisations, the early years had witnessed this concept shunned by other business management. In fact, in a published work of Peter Drucker (1968), he did not even mention dealing with cultural diversity in his seminal work. He addressed the topic of the manager of tomorrow and stressed that American managers, more than ever, would have to be of impeccable personal integrity and would have to shoulder the social responsibility of keeping the opportunity open to rise from the bottom according to ability and performance.

Implicitly, Drucker advised managers to disregard cultural background and instead focus on individual qualities. While this message remain relevant, it lack any global appeal and fails to recognize that there might be special management challenges in an increasingly multi-cultural business environment.

In the early times, men and women received different signals about what was expected of them. To summarize a subject that many experts have explored in depth, women have been expected to be wives, mothers, community volunteers, teachers and nurses. In all these roles, they are supposed to be cooperative, supportive, understanding, gentle and service-providers to others. They are to

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