HomeLearning CenterDefining ‘Feminine’ Leadership Traits Is Toxic to Everyone

Defining ‘Feminine’ Leadership Traits Is Toxic to Everyone

Originally published by Juie Shah for Campaign US

As a woman and a leader, I feel a palpable weight stemming from the need to constantly justify the presence of women in corporate America. In 2024, why do we still need a reason for being? 

I find myself cringing every time I hear someone label gender-neutral traits such as empathy or support as feminine, using them as reasons for women to have a seat at the table. In past jobs, women were brought in to handle “hard conversations” or “deal with a challenging client,” as if their sole purpose depended on their ability to de-escalate, comfort and reassure. 

What I really want is women to have the freedom to reclaim their femininity and develop their leadership as two unrelated but integral aspects of their work selves. I find myself thinking about my mother holding multitudes within her container. She isn’t boxed in; instead she leans into her humanity versus her gender identity in how she leads.

Only once we can disconnect from what society expects can women really lean into who we are and to make our best impact.

Degendering leadership behavior

Leadership behaviors bucketed into two broad categories: agentic and communal traits. Agentic traits, typically attributed to men, include assertiveness, competitiveness, dominance and confidence. Communal traits, such as nurturing, sensitivity, empathy and helpfulness are often linked to women. 

But those gendered assumptions are not grounded in fact. Most individuals demonstrate a balance of agentic and communal traits, highlighting their complexity and variability regardless of gender. 

Unfortunately, leaders are still held to these gendered assumptions, with research showing that they can influence perception. Women who exhibit agentic traits may be viewed less positively on communal or interpersonal skills. Similarly, men displaying communal traits may not align with traditional expectations of masculinity and leadership effectiveness

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