How the Appointment of Women Leaders Can Alter the Mindset of Organizations

According to research led by M. Asher Lawson, a Ph.D. candidate at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, when women serve as CEOs or board members at a firm, language at the organization shifts, and women are more likely to be associated with traits such as decisiveness and assertiveness – qualities typically associated with male leaders.

Researchers at several universities used machine learning to analyze more than 43,000 corporate documents containing 1.23 billion words from organizations, looking at the changes experienced after hiring women into senior leadership positions. They found that hiring female chief executive officers and board members is associated with changes in organizations’ use of language. In other words, hiring women into leadership positions helps to associate women with characteristics that are critical for leadership success.

Lawson stated that “when women leaders are hired, we do see an increased association with positive traits like being competent – but not at the cost of also being associated with communal traits, such as being warm and likeable. This is at least some sign that women leaders are being culturally embraced. Over time, this positive effect may snowball, and people’s associations with women leaders can change.”

While Lawson’s research focused on corporations, there may be a similar effect when women are appointed to leadership positions in the academic world.

The study, “Hiring Women Into Senior Leadership Positions Is Associated With a Reduction in Gender Stereotypes in Organizational Language” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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