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Military Leadership and Gender Bias

Info: 9890 words (40 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tagged: MilitaryLeadershipEquality

Leadership is an expansive term with many definitions and applications (Bishop, 2013).  The study of behavior in organizations is elusive in that it is difficult to define, and, as such, it remains an incomplete study of the causes and consequences of complex human interactions (Jago, 1982).  In the military, the purpose of leadership is to encourage others to accomplish a mission, by providing purpose, direction, and motivation (Wong, Bliese, & McGurk, 2003).  Throughout history, many adjectives have been used to define and narrow both the range and application of leadership (i.e., transactional, transformational, and servant) (Anderson & Sun, 2017; Dinh et al., 2014).

Organizational leadership issues related to sex and gender have not been empirically evaluated in several leadership styles, especially servant leadership literature (Barbuto & Gifford, 2010).  Several scholars have examined sex differences for other leadership constructs with mixed results (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).  Publications from various fields have focused on sex differences for full range leadership behaviors, leader-follower relationships, and sources of work motivation, and which style is best suited for specific organizations (Avolio & Gardner, 2005; Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009).  While no research has clearly investigated the relationship between servant leadership and personality (Washington, Sutton, & Feild, 2006), several studies have used “dispositional, biological, and psychological variables in comparative examinations of male and female gender role leadership behaviors” (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).  Military leadership has traditionally followed the transactional and transformational leadership styles (Davis, 2011), but no research has investigated the servant leadership model in military, which would have important implications in women’s leadership success in military positions (Bragg, 2013). A multitude of interpretations exist pertaining to servant leadership that try to offer insight into the roles and characteristics of leaders and those effects on their followers, but each attempt remains incomplete in explaining these complex relationships, especially with a focus on gender (Jago, 1982; Washington et al., 2006).

The recent increase in research on gender and leadership is noteworthy.  Of the estimated 3000 publications since 1970, over forty percent have been published in the last five years (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).  This recent and rapid proliferation of the literature is indicative of a keen academic interest in women’s leadership in many organizations and fields, which is further supported by a significant increase in public interest for women in leadership positions (Eagly & Heilman, 2016; Parker, Horowitz, & Rohal, 2015).  Current media focus has largely concentrated on women’s leadership in politics, public offices, military branches, and corporate positions, but questions and topics have emerged across many fields and organizational environments (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).  According to a report from the Pew Research Center that surveyed public attitudes on gender and key leadership traits, contemporary public opinion favors an increase in women’s prevalence in leadership roles (Parker et al., 2015), highlighting the importance of examining the lack of women in leadership and what are the biggest obstacles faced by women in attaining and maintaining leadership positions today.  Scholarly research has aimed to address these questions with a surge of publications, primarily in the fields of applied psychology, management, and business, with contributions from many academic fields (Eagly & Heilman, 2016; Fisher, 2017).

Interdisciplinary integration efforts have contributed to the topic of gender and leadership, and empirical research has provided important insights to the issues (Eagly & Heilman, 2016; Parker et al., 2015).  Collective studies argue that discrimination is the main obstacle that women face in becoming and advancing as leaders, and fewer areas of research have received greater focus (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).  Fisher (2017) argues that, “despite decades of legislation in some parts of the world aimed at eradicating unequal pay and unfair discrimination on the grounds of sex and the fact of women’s increasing participation in the labor market, women are occupationally segregated both vertically and horizontally and consistently paid less than men in both full and part time employment” (p. 393).  The U.S. military was one of the first organizations to grant women equal status and pay, but the battle against gender bias and stereotypes in this predominantly male establishment still exist (Bragg, 2013).

Inconsistencies in leadership and opportunities between genders in the military is even more prevalent than in the civilian sectors (Bragg, 2013).  Women in active duty positions make up only 14.3% of enlisted personnel (U.S. Department of Defense, 2008), and only 4.3% are represented Commissioned Army officers (U.S. Department of Defense, 2008). Eagly, Eaton, Rose, Riger, and McHugh (2012) have contended this discrimination is perpetuated by leadership’s perception and definition in culturally masculine terms that tend to disfavor women.  However well-founded these argument may be, it is possible that research scope and the public perception have underestimated the extent to which women are at a disadvantage in many aspects of leadership (Fisher, 2017).  The aim of this work will be to investigate gender equality in leadership in the United States Armed forces: specifically, to examine gender bias in women’s leadership and whether specific leadership styles impact success of women obtaining and ascending in leadership positions in the military.

Gender Stereotypes and Gender Roles

Even though the literature offers multiple reasons why women do not ascend to leadership roles at the same rate that men do, the central themes that persist are discrimination, stereotyping, and prejudice (Eagly & Heilman, 2016). The understanding of how these obstacles reduce women’s opportunities has expanded greatly in recent years (Eagly & Heilman, 2016), yet the results of these efforts has yet to yield a unanimous or comprehensive conclusion.  Therefore, consideration of the characteristics, and the ethics and effectiveness of gender and leadership is critical to sustain positive attitudes and behaviors of the followers and their leaders aiming promote the attainment of organizational objectives.

Eagly and Carli (2007) likened a woman’s path to leadership to traversing through a labyrinth with unexpected turns, dead ends, roadblocks and confusion.  Several of their group’s publications claimed that socially constructed views of appropriate female behavior were incompatible with leadership positions (Eagly & Carli, 2003, 2007; Eagly & Karau, 2002); they assert that it is these counter-productive social constructions that cause negative perceptions of female leadership, creating a problem for women in trying to balance masculine behavioral perceptions (authoritative, confident and motivated) with socially constructed feminine behaviors such as being caring, compassionate and kind (A. H. Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992).

Other work has demonstrated little to no difference between genders in leadership (Barbuto & Gifford, 2010; Bear, Cushenbery, London, & Sherman, 2017).  Barbuto and Gifford (2010) reported gender differences existed only because of differences in education level and age. Social role theory has suggested that individuals behave in according to preconceived notions about the roles that individuals occupy (Eagly et al., 2012), but Barbuto’s group (2010) ascertains that this does not have significant effects on leadership outcomes.  (Eagly & Karau, 2002) argue, however, that leaders tend to simultaneously conform to the defined roles, supported by other work that demonstrated that this occurs both within an organizational hierarchy (Hogue, 2016) and within societal gender roles (Coleman, 2003).

Gender roles refer to “shared expectations (about appropriate qualities and behaviors) that apply to individuals on the basis of their socially identified gender”  (A. H. Eagly & Johnson, 1990, p. 12). Within the context of social role theory, the expectation is that women fulfill more supportive and interpersonal roles, whereas their male counterparts are considered more likely to fulfill functional roles such as the primary breadwinner and negotiator (Eagly & Karau, 2002). Gender roles have an implicit manifestation in the functionality of an organization (Gutek & Morasch, 1982), and gender roles stereotypes have been a widely researched topic (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).  Research ubiquitously demonstrates that people hold assumptions that are biased by gender-specific stereotypes (Bartholomew, 2006; Hogue, 2016; Washington et al., 2006). Therefore, particular, characteristic leader-follower behaviors are expected on the basis of gender (Hogue, 2016).  This has led to a demand for research examining the socialized aspects of gender-specific behaviors, and differentiation between agentic and communal gender role behaviors (Eagly & Heilman, 2016).

Gender bias in leadership perpetuates a disadvantage for women relative to men (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Hogue, 2016), whereby more powerful positions are held by men in both business and government (Hausmann, Tyson, & Zahidi, 2012). Such bias often is explained as a “mismatch between the cognitive categories of woman and leader with general conceptions of leaders being more masculine than feminine” (Eagly & Karau, 2002, p. 579).  To be masculine or feminine is to be agentic or communal, respectively.  Success in leadership has been defined by agentic qualities of assertiveness, dominance, self-confidence, and control, while supportiveness, nurturance, relationship-building, and modesty define communality  (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Eagly & Heilman, 2016; Eagly & Karau, 2002).

Gender bias in leadership has evolved over time, from “first-generation, overt bias and discrimination to second-generation, covert bias” (Lord & Hall, 2005).  However, scholars have argued that cultural definitions of leadership change continually (Bass & Bass, 2009) and that the contemporary definition of leadership is moving away from the traditional, authoritarian model, towards a greater emphasis on relationships and follower development (Avolio et al., 2009; Eagly & Carli, 2007); in other words, leadership is becoming more communal. The aim of such a transformation is to reduce the disparity between the cognitive categories of woman and leader, thereby reducing gender bias in leadership (Eagly & Carli, 2003; Eagly & Karau, 2002).  Further empirical research dedicated to this argument has provided some insight (Eagly & Heilman, 2016); however shifts in cultural ideas of leadership take time (Bass and Bass, 2008; Eagly and Karau, 2002). Examining bias within an inherently communal form of leadership may provide insight into how gender bias in leadership will be impacted, as overall notions of leadership are modified toward increased communality.

Because theoretical integration provides important psychological insights (Gigerenzer, 2010), gender bias can be explored through an integration of role congruity theory (RCT) (Eagly & Karau, 2002), and leader categorization theory (LCT) (Lord & Hall, 2005). The significance of behavioral expectations in bias is addressed by both theories, recognizing that generalized expectations can be shared across people in a group or culture, while specific expectations can differ between people (Hogue, 2016).  RCT principally emphasizes shared expectations (Eagly & Karau, 2002), whereas cognitive processes is the primary focus of LCT.  RCT maintains that leader gender bias is influenced by the target leader’s gender, the perceiver’s gender, and the perceiver’s sexist attitudes (Eagly & Karau, 2002).  The idea that a leader’s gender bias can be understood through an examination of the composition of the leader prototype is the theme central to the LCT (Eagly et al., 2012).  The socially acceptable, communal leader prototype should be examined in the context of the military, and policies that should be enacted to eliminate bias and stereotyping, with a focus on a different style of leadership such as servant leadership, as well as the effects of leader gender, target gender, and target sexist attitudes.

Military Leadership and Gender Bias

The characteristics of a military leader are comparable to a civilian supervisor, manager or leader in any occupation (Bragg, 2013). The U.S. Army Field Manual on leadership sets policies and guidelines for leaders, and defines leadership as “influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization” (United States Army, 2014, p. 4).  Furthermore, the U.S. Army emphasizes that the quality of standards and expectations leaders demand from their soldiers have an impact on morale and camaraderie within the unit (United States Army, 2014).  Across all branches, military leaders are expected to exhibit seven core values, including honor, duty, courage, integrity, selfless service, loyalty, respect (Kamarck, 2016), and expected to show self-discipline, good judgement, kindness, citizenship, and diligence .

Irwin (2006) explains how an effective military leader supports and enhances the chain of command by expressing guidelines working to further improve the quality of commanders, subordinate officers, and units.  Leadership begins with a framework of core fundamentals: be committed, trustworthy, puts the needs of others above themselves, and shows accountability for their actions. This structure serves as an example for soldiers to follow and emulate, and presents a model of leadership shaped by trust, respect, and integrity. Additionally, a military leader should encourage unit cohesion and experience; recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses; possess the knowledge to improve strategies and tactics; and apply disciplinary action when necessary (Bragg, 2013). Finally, the military leader should be adept at giving counsel, solving problems, motivating, training, and supervising. These qualities reflect the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage (Bragg, 2013).  These qualities are universal requirements for both Commissioned and Non-Commissioned Officers, irrespective of gender, so this raises the question of why women are so underrepresented in these key positions of leadership.

Gender bias persists as a leading obstacle for women in or attempting to obtain leadership positions in the military (Mahoney, 2012).  Mahoney (2012) investigated social constructs and understanding of gender perceptions by female cadets in a male-dominated field.  According to the author’s literature review, female soldiers struggle to maintain an equilibrium between “being feminine enough to be considered a woman yet masculine enough to be considered a military leader” (p. 5), supporting a widespread perception in the military that women are viewed as less competent than their male counterparts (Bragg, 2013). Scholarly work on the subject revealed that achieving equilibrium between femininity and masculinity is a common theme in studying women in positions of military leadership (Mahoney, 2012). Mahoney’s study detailed a key concern that policy makers need to take into consideration, because according to her research, she found women cadets feel that the best solution to managing their gender-related issues in their primarily male environment at the United States Military Academy is by giving the impression of a more masculine appearance than exhibiting womanlike behavior while in uniform.  Since the early 20th century, the idea of enlisting women into armed services was met with broad opposition from military leaders, policy officials, Congress, and the public (Kamarck, 2016). Despite recent policy changes that have allowed more opportunities for women, clearly policymakers and military officials need to examine the underlying reasons for perpetuated bias and prejudicial perceptions about women, and focus on implementing policies for promoting career opportunities for women in the military.

As discussed,  commissioned female officers occupying senior leadership positions are rare, senior noncommissioned officer ranks as well (Doll, 2007), revealing a deficiency of high ranking women in the Armed Forces.  Equity and gender bias issues are problems still persist in the military, hindering the promotion and advancement prospects for women and minorities (Doll, 2007). Women seeking promotion in the military often face the social and cultural stereotype that leaders are usually men, equating leadership to masculine traits, compounding women’s difficulties in advancing to leadership positions (Doll, 2007). The phrase “glass ceiling” is a term often used to illustrate the point at which women and minorities can no longer advance beyond the position they hold (Doll, 2007). In terms of the military, the glass ceiling exists when gender bias diminishes the opportunity for female soldiers to advance in the chain of command. Mahoney’s work also demonstrated female cadets believed they had to put for double the effort compare to their male colleagues, emphasizing that gender remains the biggest obstacle, from everyday accomplishments, to achievements in leadership. Women who “embraced the patriarchy of the military values appeared to be the most successful leaders in this study” (p. 9). The results of this work highlights many issues for further investigation in gender and leadership in not only the military but in professional contexts as well.

Gender, Leadership Styles, and the Military

The last half of the twentieth century and the present decade have seen a significant increase in the prevalence of women in leadership (Fridell, Newcom Belcher, & Messner, 2009).  With increased gender representation in leadership and upper management, the assumption might be that women should experience fewer hurdles for advancement (Barbuto & Gifford, 2010).  From the onset, however, problems arose and women were met with significant opposition in this effort (Guido-DiBrito, Noteboom, Nathan, & Fenty, 1996).  Guido-DiBrito et al. (1996) argued that “organizational structures have been increasingly broken down by women, especially because women no longer mimic masculine leadership styles” (p. 27).   This notion introduces the concept of a gender-influenced definition of leadership, as having masculine or feminine styles, and indicates there is a distinction between genders and leadership style (Fridell et al., 2009).  Additionally, further investigation is necessary to determine whether these differences are universal across other leadership constructs, and whether certain leadership styles are better suited to a respective gender.  Current research shows that men and women operate differently in many settings and circumstances (Spears, 2010), which is especially true in military settings  where women feel they must act like men to be effective as leaders (Mahoney, 2012).  What has been lacking in the literature, most critically, is a clear understanding of the impact of effectiveness between male and female leadership styles, and a determination of whether leadership styles are better suited for a specific gender or whether each style of leadership has differences between genders.

Covey (1993) stated that a capacity for long-term thought is vital for leadership success, a preferential trait inherent the natural abilities and talents of women (Bartholomew, 2006). Covey’s depiction of leadership is “more of a right-brained, intuitive, visionary approach toward building relationships with people” (p. 44), suggesting that women are better-suited to meet leadership challenges (Bartholomew, 2006). Eisner, cited by Naisbitt and Aburdene (1992), described two broad categories of leadership style: dominator or partnership.  He asserted that women lead by partnership, focusing on development of leader-follower relationships to attain successful, effective results (Naisbitt & Aburdene, 1992), a concept that has been supported in the literature (Bartholomew, 2006).  In Helgeson’s book (1995), women’s organizational structures were portrayed as more web-like than hierarchical, describing the leader as being “located in the middle of the web so as to maximize both communication and connectivity” (Bartholomew, 2006, p. 46).

Howes and Stevenson (1993) agreed that women’s leadership is less hierarchical and more focused on promoting cooperativity and improvement overall:

Sociological studies indicate that women’s management styles differ significantly from those of men. Women are less hierarchical. They organize on a broader base and prefer structures that are less like pyramids. Women in groups are less prone to self-assertion and more prone to compromise (p. 212).

Naisbitt and Aburdene (1992) pointed out significant findings from research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Management, which made reference to military leadership in a report, saying that men still “act like master sergeants. This is not working nearly as well as it used to” (pp. 92-93).  They proposed that the future direction of leadership’s style and traits “uncannily matches those of female leadership. Consultants tried to teach male managers to relinquish the command-and-control mode.  For women it was different: it just came naturally” (p. 88).  How this would function and succeed in the military has yet to be studied, but could certainly server as a starting point for policymakers in analyzing current policies and future directions to take with respect to women’s leadership advancement.  Further support for this idea was cited in a dissertation by Bartholomew (2006), who quoted leadership expert Peter Drucker, saying “over time women have evolved a successful leadership style that rejects the military model in favor of supporting and empowering people” (p. 47).  These descriptions circle back to the question of whether a specific leadership style is better suited for men and women, or whether every style of leadership has differences in style because of gender.  Additionally, these views directly contrast the assertions of Guido-DiBrito et al. (1996) that it is because of women’s departure from masculine styles of leadership that they are destroying organizational structure and failing in positions of leadership.

A study by Davis (2011) examined leadership styles of senior enlisted leaders (SELs), and how junior enlisted personnel perceive those leadership styles.  Many leadership styles were reviewed, and Davis cites that SELs use primarily use transactional leadership; however, Davis’s work purports that “transformational leadership is the most effective leadership style” (p. 7). The study was based on a questionnaire that compared assessments of leadership style based upon “participants’ age, gender, education, race, leadership effectiveness, leadership satisfaction, military organizational unit, and years of military service” (p. 8).  Interestingly, in rating the SELs leadership choice, substantial variances existed between SELs’s self-reported scores and the scores from their junior enlisted subordinates based upon gender, race, rank, age, and leadership effectiveness within their organizational unit; however, no significant difference was reported with respect to education, leadership satisfaction, or years of military service.  Enhanced insight of leadership practices and their effectiveness could provide significant improvements in military units’ morale and facilitate military retention rates for SELs and junior enlisted personnel.

Teams and cohesion are important in the military, and transformational leadership appears to fit with a team model, as this style appeals to higher values and motivates people to go beyond one’s own interests to that of the group (Bragg, 2013). However, even based on that definition, as well as the tenets of military leadership reviewed above, servant leadership seems more fit for a contemporary military model of leadership, especially in starting as a foundation for women’s promotion and advancement.  Laub (1999) defined a servant leader as one who emphasizes the good of followers over the self-interest of the leader, promoting development of people through the sharing of power, community building, the practice of authenticity in leadership, and the provision of leadership for the good of the followers.   More recently, scholars have sought to delineate the behaviors associated with servant leadership (Anderson & Sun, 2017; Russell & Stone, 2002).  A conceptual model of servant leadership proposed by Spears (2010) identifies ten important characteristics of servant leadership: empathy, listening, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to growth of people, and community (p. 27). Researchers have promoted servant leadership as a valid theory of organizational leadership in the last few decades (Russell & Stone, 2002), with immense potential for theoretical and practical development in the military (Bass & Bass, 2009).

Servant leadership is a contemporary form of leadership that is increasingly prominent in both business and academia (Avolio et al., 2009; Bass & Bass, 2009). With the focus aimed at nurturing followers, it functions as a leadership model founded by stereotypically feminine behaviors  (Barbuto & Gifford, 2010). When Robert Greenleaf (1977) first introduced the concept of servant leadership, he suggested that the primary role of a leader should be to help followers grow to be wiser, more autonomous individuals. In this way, service and serving others is not about “performing menial tasks, but about serving followers by nurturing their personal and professional growth,” which promotes the achievement of organizational goals (Hogue, 2016; Russell & Stone, 2002).  These characteristics seem well in line with the seven core values discussed previously (United States Army, 2014), whereby military leaders are expected to good judgement, kindness, citizenship, and diligence.

Empirical investigations examining the roles of individual attributes in servant leadership remains incomplete, despite the fact that a leader’s attributes significantly impacts followers and organizational performance (Russell & Stone, 2002).  Therefore, consideration of the ethics and effectiveness of servant leadership as a model in the military is critical to sustain positive attitudes and behaviors of the followers (soldiers) and their leaders (officers) to determine its success for promoting the attainment of organizational objectives. Policymakers and military leaders should examine individual differences related to gender and servant leadership by investigating relationships between servant leadership and some of its main attributes: values of empathy, integrity, and competence (Anderson & Sun, 2017), especially in policies regarding women’s service in the U.S. Armed Forces and associated future changes to policy regarding women’s roles in all aspects.

Servant leadership’s emphasis on serving followers to accomplish shared goals (Greenleaf, 2002; Russell & Stone, 2002), and the leaders’ ethics and values of their care for followers, integrity, and competence, fosters interpersonal trust, a critical tenet of servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977; Washington et al., 2006).  Greenleaf’s (2002) concept of servant leadership portrays the leader in a non-focal or central position; this contrasts with the view of traditional leaders who are primarily motivated by aspirations to lead, whereas servant leaders are predominantly driven by a desire to serve than to lead (Valente, 2015).  This is directly in line with Irwin’s framework of effective military leaders as ones who put the needs of others above themselves, are accountable for their actions, and are trustworthy (Irwin, 2006).

Servant leaders transcend their personal self-interests in order to fulfill the needs of followers by empathizing with followers (Spears, 2010).  Servant leaders reinforce their communication and decision-making with a deep commitment to listening intently to others. Through listening servant leaders seek to understand and empathize with others in order to identify and clarify the will of their group, as well as to seek insight from followers having significant insight into an issue. According to Spears (2010), successful servant leaders are those who are skilled empathetic listeners who recognize others for their special and unique qualities.

Servant leaders aim to support, encourage, appreciate, and care for their followers (Batten, 1998; Greenleaf, 1977; Russell & Stone, 2002).  They strive to set the best example, which in-turn inspires courage and hope in the followers, consistent with the requirements for effective military leadership. Russell and Stone (2002) proposed that a servant leader’s compassion and ethics reveals vital personal values that not only make people feel appreciated, but improve the overall quality of life for those under the supervision of the servant leader. According to Autry (2007), leadership is about caring about and providing an example for people, not controlling them.  Showing a level of care and interest towards followers establishes empathy and encourages trust (Greenleaf, 1977) a central tenet of servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977; Russell & Stone, 2002).  Followers’ observation of their leaders’ value of empathy will help reinforce their perception towards the concept of servant leaders. A better understanding of the leader-follower dynamic can help organizations develop more effective policies and a more efficient work environment in general, in both the military and civilian sectors.

Leaders of any organization must possess the understanding of how to measure the success of a given leadership approach (Savage-Austin & Honeycutt, 2011, p. 49).  Servant leadership, and leadership in general, is only successful if leaders are aware of the barriers that exist, which impede the success of this leadership model (Rodriguez-Rubio & Kiser, 2013).  Leaders and followers must establish a partnership, and have open lines of communication (Savage-Austin & Honeycutt, 2011). Servant leadership has experienced popularity in leadership development because, inherently, it helps build a sense of community within an organization (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002).

The ability of any leader to accurately communicate, or culturally empathize with, the thoughts and feelings his or her followers can be critical to successful leadership outcomes (Good, 1981, p. 415).  How efficiently and effectively information can be communicated and integrated with existing knowledge depends, in part, on having such an empathetic understanding.  One of the most important areas of servant leadership’s focus is empathy for followers, and such empathy is critical for developing a relationship of trust to ensure organizational success.  In fact, Feshbach and Feshbach (1987) have even documented significantly higher achievement and performance among followers who perceived a greater degree of empathy from their leadership (p. 1335).  Because of this, servant leadership should be considered from a military standpoint, to assess whether this style could be effective within officers’ approaches in the context of their specific military branches, as well as within the military organizational structure (for example: brigade, battalion, company, platoon, unit, squad), because it could be possible that it would work in some contexts or for some officers, and not universally effective; however, it could definitely improve understandings of the lack of women’s representation in leadership positions.

From the perspective of gender, caring and serving are primarily associated with femininity, whereas leadership is often perceived as a masculine quality; therefore, the elements of servant leadership favor feminine-gendered behaviors (Washington et al., 2006).  Traditional views of leadership are associated with the masculine dimension of gender and including foresight, conceptualization, awareness, persuasion, risk-taking, and assertiveness (Coleman, 2003, p. 331); in this way, leadership traits have been traditionally described as masculine (Bragg, 2013).  The United States, culturally, is rated as masculine on Hofstede’s cultural dimensions scale (Hofstede, 1984; Rodriguez-Rubio & Kiser, 2013).  In a masculine-influenced society, perceptions of appropriate behavior for men are marked with the qualities of being assertive, tough, and focused on material success, yet women are expected to be more modest, tender, and concerned with quality of life, which appear to be the same characteristics of a servant leader (Migliore & Chudzikowski, 2011, p. 41).  The question is whether a masculine society lends itself to servant leadership model and whether gender plays a role on the success or failure of the model (Rodriguez-Rubio & Kiser, 2013).

The debate between the top-down and self-seeking traditional leadership approach (Anderson & Sun, 2017; Jago, 1982) and the emotional intelligence, ethics, and values-based servant leadership approach (Batten, 1998) is one of the most prominent examples in the literature (Anderson & Sun, 2017; Avolio et al., 2009).  According to Russell and Stone (2002), other’s needs are first in the servant-leadership model, putting self-interest secondary to the motivation of serve others.  Taking our society’s gender socialization and stereotypes and into consideration, the implication, then, is that traditional, commanding leadership approach and the servant-leadership would be attributed to men and women, respectively (Fridell et al., 2009).  Therefore, an expansion to this idea would be that just as the literature has argued the differences of both genders in their capabilities, strengths, and successes of effectively demonstrating the top-down approach, it is also arguable whether both genders are equally likely to be strong servant leaders.

Yet, as reviewed, servant leadership is under-defined throughout empirical research.  Fridell et al. (2009) propose that one reason for such lack of definitive research is “the idea that the connotations of  ‘servant’ and ‘leader’ may be typically regarded as in opposition to each other, and that it may be difficult to think and act both as a leader and as a servant at the same time: a leader who serves and a servant who leads” (p. 723).  This is further compounded by the impact of gender differences on servant leadership.  Uncovering these differences could prove valuable for solving the issues of gender bias in leadership, defining the construct of servant leadership, and discerning the impact gender differences have on leadership style overall.

Policy Making and Gender in Military

Although the official policies in place that barred women from combat positions, women have served the military in combat since the American revolutionary war (Kamarck, 2016): Margaret Cochran Corbin was the first woman to receive an armed forces pension from Congress because of a serious injury she sustained while defending against British troops at Fort Washington in 1776 (Gutheim, 1972; James, Boyer, & James, 1971).  Historically, the prevalent perception was that women were too weak, both physically and mentally, to serve in the military (Bragg, 2013). With the stereotypes and gender biases reviewed above, it is understandable that many people believed that women are programmed for the caring role and do not “have the aggressive impulses necessary to be an effective soldier” (Bragg, 2013).

Previous roles for women in the military were what were socially considered ‘women’s duties’ in war efforts such as nursing, cooking, and care for male soldiers (Bragg, 2013). At the turn of the 20th century, militaries became professionalized, which led to men filling these roles previously held by women.  Women still participated in military duties and combat, though; sometimes this was circumstantial, whereas others did so by disguising themselves as men (Bragg, 2013).  DeGroot (2001) notes that these women were seen as the exception to the rule and were not perceived as women or feminine, and despite their valuable service, they were not capable of overcoming the effects of the existing biases and stereotypes.  DeGroot also noted the fact that women had to pretend to be men to be allowed to serve in a combat role shows how gender-biased the military was.  These stereotypes and opinions are still perpetuated today, as demonstrated in Mahoney’s study that women cadets felt they were most successful when they acted like men (Mahoney, 2012).

Policy changes have helped advance women’s opportunities in the armed forces; women have served the U.S. valiantly in all forces of the military, but have faced many obstacles throughout history in their capacities to serve (Kamarck, 2016).  Policy makers passing the expansion to combat roles has now allowed for women to serve in more positions that they were restricted from before, and now protect the U.S. on “combat aircraft, naval vessels, and in support of ground combat operations” (Kamarck, 2016, p. 5).  Laws restricted women from serving in combat units, in both the Navy and Air Force, until 1993 when these policies were repealed.  The Department of Defense (DOD) policy still restricted women from specific combat units, especially to units below brigade level where the unit’s primary mission was to engage directly in ground combat.  This policy excluded women from serving in “infantry, artillery, armor, combat engineers, and special operations units of battalion size or smaller”  (Kamarck, 2016, p. 5). The Secretary of Defense in 2013, Leon Panetta, repealed the policies that prohibited women’s service in combat roles, ordered military branch departments to assess their occupational and assignment policies and standards, and recommended initiating new policies to allow women to serve openly in all combat roles beginning January 1, 2016 (Kamarck, 2016).

The physical requirements to successfully serve in the U.S. military are substantial; particularly now, new policies must be considered as the U.S. Armed Forces just permitted complete integration of women into a broader range of military positions, such as the aforementioned combat roles (Nindl et al., 2017).  Physical fitness stresses and requirements for performing within respective Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) are vast and differ depending on the MOS.  Women’s roles in the U.S. military has expanded drastically in recent years when the Direct Ground Combat Assignment rule was rescinded. Apart from the psychologically and social viewpoints involved in the decision to allow women into more roles, for example permitting females in combat roles, the principal concern following the policy reversal is the disparities in physical capabilities between the sexes.  When investigating the best ways to address these concerns, two integral factors have been recognized: (i) with respect to physical fitness, there is both a disparity as well as an overlap between males and females’ capabilities; (ii) research has proven that females’ physical operations and performance capacities can improve considerably by “optimized physical training programs” (p. 3). This raises the question of whether women’s’ success as leaders, as well as becoming effective as leaders, could be improved through similar training programs.

If these kinds of aspects are considered as important considerations for allowing women to serve in combat positions, this raises the question of what considerations are important for leadership positions, no matter what the Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) (Nindl et al., 2017). While attempting to restructure military training by eliminating fundamental assumptions male exhibit, leaders should examine how women soldiers were perceived while deployed versus in the U.S. as a crucial detail to highlight (Doan & Portillo, 2017).

Although Defense Secretary Ash Carter allowed all combat jobs open to women earlier this year, research shows that integration cannot fully occur until U.S. policymakers and military officials work on changing important cultural aspects of gender perception (Doan & Portillo, 2017).  Doan and Portillo (2017) published a recent study from the University of Kansas’ School of Public Affairs and Administration and Department of Political Science, stating “the challenging work begins during policy implementation, which includes breaking down assumptions that are part of leadership within the organization and working on shifting the mindset of the military. Nindl et al. (2017) published research that showed women in the military can improve performance through optimum training environments, elucidating a better understanding for military leaders as decisions are made and policies are taken into account on the most effective and successful method of fully integrating women into all aspects of military procedures.

Doan and Portillo (2017) recently published in the journal Sex Roles, where they conducted interviews and gave surveys to men and women working with the U.S. Army Special Forces. Their research elucidated that gender perceptions for female personnel were consistent with the stereotypes and biases that have perpetuated throughout history.  They reported female soldiers felt stereotyped and scrutinized by their male counterparts, based on how well they performed their jobs, but that that was not the case when they were deployed in other populations outside the U.S, because they felt that they were just perceived as soldiers regardless of gender  (Doan & Portillo, 2017).  This allowed them to serve as additional assets to the military, without the assumed burdens based on their gender (Doan & Portillo, 2017).

Doan and Portillo (2017) also added “female soldiers’ experiences are important because they often refute some of the stereotypes and assumptions their male colleagues may hold about women’s ability to serve in combat units” (p. 237). They explained how these mindsets may provide military leaders a reason to rely on assumptions when making decisions on gender policies instead of relying on sound evidence and reasoning (Doan & Portillo, 2017). This requires policymakers to investigate these existing gender stereotypes and focus on making the best choices to ensure future policies are providing women the best opportunity to progress toward a leadership position in their military career.  As women are integrated into combat forces, it is important for policymakers, military leaders, and all military personnel to understand “the experience of women fighting alongside them, rather than relying on stereotypes or assumptions about gender” (Doan & Portillo, 2017, p. 239).

Conclusions and Future Directions for Policymakers

Military leaders and policymakers need to recognize and understand perspectives and experiences from vantage points of women to best proceed in policymaking. Gender assimilation happens most often at the unit level, so new male soldiers are taught to protect and fight with female soldiers, and an environment free of hostility and old exclusions based on gender are created. Doan and Portillo (2017) described how American female soldiers have the ability to add a new perspective and increase access for the military, which is valuable for many reasons.  The DOD should institute policies to assure that no person who is qualified is deprived of admittance or participation on the basis of gender to an assignment that both men and women are capable of doing. As far as it is compatible with the above policy, the Secretary of Defense should retain discretion to set goals that encourage the recruitment and optimize the utilization of women in the armed services, allowing for the requirements of each military department.

Some apprehensions about the new policy implementation remain, including the “recruitment, assignment, and career management of women into the new roles, and the impact of integration on unit readiness” (Kamarck, 2016).  Congress has control and management authority to oversee these matters.  Policymakers should also consider issues such as equal responsibility and opportunity, in thing like selective service registration, and the general necessities of the military.  With the application of the new policy, two central legislative concerns could be the implementation of “gender-neutral occupational standards, and laws requiring registration for Selective Service” (Kamarck, 2016). Another area for policymakers to consider could be to assess the effects of the new policy on women’s roles in combat in career management and readiness. Several concerns regarding lowering physical standards have been raised, in order to allow more women to serve in specific roles (Kamarck, 2016), but policymakers should ensure all branches are maintaining standards by establishing specific standards per branch and MOS. As gender integration is implemented into the military, policymakers should maintain standards of examining the policy’s effects by requiring frequent reports of a set of specified parameters from each branch.

Existing policy prevents the DOD from establishing “any gender quota, goal, or ceiling” for any career designator (Kamarck, 2016). Policymakers could revise this and permit the DOD to set goals and standards for women’s involvement in several MOSs.  As the military proceeds with the new policy, policymakers can rely on various reporting standards for overseeing the policy’s effects and require regular monitoring of female’s appointed to combat roles, the rates of promotion and retention in those roles, and additional talent managing matters. This could be accomplished through formal reporting requirements on DOD for information on these issues, such as annual reporting of the successes of the newly instated policies.


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