IntroductionWhen men are in positions of power, this is considered a natural and normal occurrence and typically doesn’t produce any negative responses or perceptions tied to their gender. On the other hand, women in power are considered an aberration from the traditional societal expectations of gender roles, and women endure discrimination and persecution in the workplace in general, and when employed in executive and management positions specifically. These gendered differences could be considered a direct result of a history of religious and political melding which transferred matters of religious institutions, such as the woman’s place in society, into configurations of social organization, such as the woman’s place in business. As a result, men and women in leadership positions are viewed drastically differently, treated differently, and expected to behave differently. This paper will discuss two specific leaders, Donald Trump and Marissa Mayer, to demonstrate how the theories of gendered leadership impact how these leaders are viewed when performing the same or similar behaviors.

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Role Theory
In trying to visualize how gender impacts leaders of different sexes, role theory ascribes specific behaviors to each of the genders based on social expectations of how each gender can best contribute to society as a whole. Specifically, role theory holds that gender categories, also called sex roles or gender roles, “emphasize the social and dynamic aspect of role construction and enactment…at the level of face-to-face interaction.” (West & Zimmerman 1987, p. 128). West and Zimmerman (1987) further define roles as situated identities which diminish and fluctuate depending on the situation and its unique demands. (p. 128). Role theory believes that gender roles can change depending on the context. A woman’s role in her home will not be the same as woman’s role as a CEO of a major corporation. West and Zimmerman’s (1987) work goes on to explain how some identities have gender markers, such as doctor or nurse, which indicate the social expectation of which gender should hold that position, while other roles are gender neutral, such as patient or student, which are not automatically attributed to either gender. (p. 129). This demonstrates how different roles, like leadership roles, may or may not have markers which automatically associate them with a specific gender in the connotations individuals have for the role. People generally connote woman with nurse and male with doctor, which leads to additional identifiers being added, such as male nurse or female doctor. (p. 129). In applying this theory to the two leaders, both Mayer and Trump are considered CEOs of their respective companies; they both hold the same role. The term itself, CEO, does not intrinsically connote either gender or sex. However, in historical practice, CEOs have been largely restricted to men. (Caldicott 2015). So, despite the position itself lacking any gendered markers, the social expectations of which gender holds that specific role influence the way either gender in that role is perceived. Caldicott described Trump along the lines of being a narcissist, but with redeeming qualities which can be shaped and molded to make him a better leader. (Caldicott 2015). However, in describing Mayer, Myatt relegates her to the status of poor leader, without possibility of being redeemed through possessing other positive qualities. (Myatt 2015). Caldicott presents Trump as a flawed, but generally effective leader, while Myatt describes Mayer as a poor and inherently ineffective leader. Here, it is demonstrated that despite women gaining the role of CEO, the perceptions of women’s ability to lead successfully are based on the expectation that only men should hold these roles, and more so, only men are qualified to hold these roles.

Human Capital Theory
In attempting to counter the reality of gendered expectations tied to role theory, the human capital theory seeks to imply that organizations themselves are neutral without any inherent gender discrimination. Human capital theory asserts that

“labor markets are neutral environments that reward workers for their skills, experience, and productivity. As women workers are more likely to take time off from work for child rearing and family obligations, they end up with less education and work experience than men. Following this logic, gender segregation in the workplace stems from these discrepancies in skills and experience between men and women, not from gender discrimination.” (Schilt 2006, p. 467).

Here, the theory provides a counter-explanation to address why women are paid less and advance slower. However, in the case of Mayer and Trump, this theory does not hold validity as both leaders have pressing family lives, but only the woman is deemed less of a leader because of hers. In fact, Mayer has three children with her last two born in 2015 which required her to take four months of maternity leave and was considered a poor leadership decision by many. (Myatt 2015). However, Trump has more children than Mayer with six total, and he has been through multiple marriages and divorces, all very public, throughout his career. Overwhelmingly, Trumps marriages and children have been seen as attributes to his leadership ability rather than intolerable. This indicates that if the problem with women in leadership is the distraction of their personal and family lives, the same can be said of Trump as well, which removes this claim from a gendered determination of a woman’s ability to lead. It could be stated that Trump’s multiple divorces disqualifies him to lead as it will distract him from business. However, in her critique, Caldicott does not mention Trump’s family life as a discredit to his ability to lead, but as an avenue by which he can learn to develop empathy (Caldicott 2015). Here, Trump’s family life is seen as a positive aspect of his leadership, rather than a detraction in Mayer’s case. This example drastically highlights how some theories seek to render observable phenomena as insignificant when the reverse is more easily proven. In this situation, what is considered a negative for a woman in leadership is viewed as a positive for a male. This is clearly gender discrimination which the theory of human capital fails to cede exists.

Gendered Organization Theory
In opposition to the human capital theory, the theory of gendered organization posits that gender is intricately woven into the very fabric of an organizations structures which results in differing perceptions of men and women in leadership. Termed gendered substructures, Acker establishes that they are “created in the organizing processes in which inequalities are built into job design, wage determination, distribution of decision-making and supervisory power, the physical design of the workplace and rules, both explicit and implicit, for behavior at work.” (Acker 2012, p. 215). The theory of gendered organization goes on to claim that the organizations culture is another aspect in which “beliefs about gender differences and equality/inequality: as well as “unexampled beliefs about gender difference may shape ostensibly gender-neutral bureaucratic practices.” (p. 216). Finally, this theory focuses on how these gendered substructures are “produced and reproduced in interactions on the job between colleagues and between those at different levels of power…both formal and informal…may belittle or exclude women, particularly in male dominated groups.” (p. 216). The theory of gendered organization insists that gender is built into the very structures by which organizations conduct their daily business and work processes. As a result, denial of gender discrimination only further replicates it. Wyatt described how Mayer was instantly disliked by workers because of her aggressive approach. He states that she “could have talked less and listened more…taken the time to learn before acting…mended fences rather than building walls.” (Wyatt 2015, n.p.). Here, he claims that Mayer failed to connect with workers and build trust which altered her ability to lead from day one. He seems to believe that her aggressive and in-your-face style of leading was harsh and unproductive. However, on Trump, Caldicott praises his aggression, calling it a “no-holds-barred leadership style” in which Donald will “march onto our screens and grab us by the throat.” (Caldicott 2015, n.p.). She even goes on to state that there is a general “love of hearing someone brazenly speak the truth to power” and that his message “motivates…to hold confidence in the future, to regain a sense of freedom and well-being.” (Acker 2015, n.p.). This glowing adoration of Trump as a business leader belies the fact that often, his tactics are racist, crass, and disrespectful bullying. She literally celebrates all the aspects of Trump as a leader which Myatt disparaged Mayer for, from taking charge of the work situation to delivering a powerful message to workers. Myatt claimed those traits made Mayer a poor leader who should reconstitute her approach; Caldicott seems to believe those same traits are net positives in the view of Trump. This is an obvious display of the gendered differences in the way male and female leaders are viewed, and which gendered organization theory upholds.

In attempting to delineate how gender affects male and female leaders, role theory, human capital theory, and gendered organization theory were utilized. These theories demonstrated how two leaders, Marissa Mayer and Donald Trump, are viewed socially. The theories revealed that there is in fact gender discrimination aimed at the way leaders of different genders are perceived and interacted with. The theories implicate cultural expectations which must begin to shift as more and more women take on leadership roles. Pretending gender discrimination doesn’t exist only produces more inequality. Professional organizations must take steps to identify gender discrimination and create action plans to alter the culture of viewing men more positively than women and to demonstrate the legitimacy of either gender in leadership roles.

  • Acker, J., 2012. Gendered organizations and intersectionality: Problems and possibilities. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, 31(3): pp. 214-224.
  • Caldicott, S. M., 2015. “Trump’s radical leadership style: Innovator or narcissist?,” Forbes 25 October. Available from [22 February 2016].
  • Myatt, M., 2015. “Marissa Mayer: A case study in poor leadership,” Forbes 20 November.
    Available from: [22 February 2016].
  • Schilt, K,. 2006. Just one of the guys? How transmen make gender visible at work. Gender & Society, 20(4): pp. 465-490.
  • West, C. & Zimmerman, D. H., 1987. Doing Gender. Gender & Society, 1(2): pp. 125-151.