Gender-role stereotypes: perception and practice of leadership in the Middle East



Publication Details

Sikdar, A. & Mitra, S. 2012, 'Gender-role stereotypes: perception and practice of leadership in the Middle East', Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 146-162.


Purpose – The extant literature on leadership in the Arab world reflects the traditional bias of leadership being a male domain. Arising out of a patriarchal social structure, men assume leadership in organizations while women are often confined to work at home. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the emergence of women leaders in UAE organizations by going beyond biological sex role biases to identify leadership as masculine or feminine gendered role stereotypes in organizations.

Design/methodology/approach – The data collected over two periods comprised two sets of Schein Descriptive Index (SDI) together with those of leadership intention and behaviour style; correlations thereof were computed to test hypotheses constructed from the literature.

Findings – The findings indicate that within organizations in the UAE, employee feedback highlights gender-role stereotypes as defining leadership roles, rather than individual biological sex and their traditional family and social role. The findings reveal that in the UAE, gender stereotypes influence leadership intention and behaviour rather than individual biological sex and related traditions. Accordingly, women leaders having higher proportions of “agentic” characteristics of male gender stereotype together with lower proportions of “people orientation” of female gender stereotype, which makes successful leaders in the UAE break the proverbial “glass ceiling”. This explains the emergence of an increasing number of women leaders in the UAE.

Research limitations/implications – Generalizability of the findings is limited by non-representation of countries with high gender egalitarianism, as well as the geographical limitation of the study to the UAE only. In the context of traditional male-dominated organizations in the UAE, the findings on gender-role stereotypes of leaders in these organizations cannot only help organizations take informed decisions in choosing leaders without the “glass ceiling” biases, but can go further to identify and nurture potential leaders, including women leaders, within organizations. These findings are of considerable significance to the Middle East and the Arab world in general, in the wake of the developments witnessed there.

Originality/value – The paper explains women leadership in organizations in the UAE, a part of the Arab world of the Middle East, from the perspective of gender-role stereotypes, as opposed to traditional sex-role biases, to bring women leaders there into the mainstream gender literature.

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