Claiming Authority: Negotiating Challenges for Women Leaders


Bowles, Hannah Riley, and Kathleen McGinn. “Claiming Authority: Negotiating Challenges for Women Leaders”. The Psychology of Leadership: Some New Approaches. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. 191-208. Print.


Style isn't women's problem. The most recent research on gender in leadership indicates that while women tend to adopt different leadership styles than men, they are rated to be just asif not moreeffective on important leadership dimensions. Meta-analytic research shows that women tend to be relatively more democratic (as opposed to autocratic) leards than are their male peers (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). These statistical effects are enlivened by the testimonies of accomplished women who celebrate the development of what they claim is a distinctive voice for women leaders (Rosener, 1990). In a style that fits comfortable for them, women leaders have donned agilely the traditionally male leadership mantle. The popular press cheers that "women rule" as leaders (Sharpe, 2000), and the most recent meta-analytic research on gender and leadership supports their claim (Eagly, Johannesen, & van Engen, 2002, p. 36). 

So, whyif both men and women have what it takes to be effective leaders-are women lagging so far behind men in the race to the top? We propose that the gender gap in leadership is not about leading per se, but rather about claiming positions of authority. Where the most significant gender differences in relation to leadership occur is in the claiming of authoritymen claim and hold a greater number of leadership positions than do womennot in what men and women do once they achieve that authority.

In this chapter, we explore four dominant explanations for the gender gap in claiming authority: gender bias, lack of experience, lack of motivation, and familial responsibility. There is validity to each of these explanations but there are limitations as well. Each explanation suggests both barriers and opportunities. We argue that each potential barrier is surmountable through capitalizing on opportunities for negotiation. Drawing on recent developments in research on gender in negotiations, we propose an explanation for why the types of negotiations involved in claiming positions of authority are precisely those types of negotiations in which gender differences favoring males tend to emerge. We suggest future research to further explore the barriers and opportunities encountered by women negotiating to claim authority.

Last updated on 03/26/2015