Cultural constraints on the emergence of women as leaders

Soo Min Toh*, Geoffrey J. Leonardelli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Women, who have historically been less represented than men in leadership positions, emerge as leaders in some societies more than others. Unlike previous cultural explanations for this effect (rooted in differences in values, practices, or gender roles), we argue that a culture's tightness - its strength of norms and social sanctions - can provoke a resistance to change practices that historically placed men in leadership positions. Tighter cultures will yield fewer women represented among top leadership positions. Moreover, cultural tightness moderates the degree to which egalitarian practices - where individuals from both genders are treated equally - lead women to emerge as leaders. Specifically, differences in egalitarian practices are more likely to predict the emergence of women as leaders among tight rather than loose cultures because such practices are more strongly implemented in tight than weak cultures. Analysis of publicly available data reveals some preliminary support for predictions. This research concludes that loose cultures will be more receptive to changing existing cultural practices, but that tight cultures are more successful in implementing and sustaining such changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)604-611
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of World Business
Issue number4
Early online date3 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • culture
  • gender egalitarianism
  • leader emergence
  • tightness
  • women leaders


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