​​​​Androgynous Leadership

December 7, 2018


If you had to vote for your next supervisor, which of these four candidates would you like as your next boss? These are their names and traits:

 In other words, 


1.      Riley is competitive and assertive

2.     Pat is competitive and sympathetic

3.     Kerry is compassionate and assertive

4.     Jaime is compassionate and sympathetic


I would pick Kerry.


Before I explain why I asked, I have another question: had you heard the word androgynous? The Merriam Webster dictionary defines androgynous as “having both male and female characteristics or qualities,” or as “suitable for both men and women.” I don’t want to start thinking of my chocolate ice cream as androgynous (because it’s suitable for everybody!), so we’ll stick with the first definition (although the names I picked for the managers are androgynous, which in this case is synonymous with unisex.)


Based on the first definition, two of the managers described above are androgynous because they have one characteristic considered masculine and another one considered feminine. They are Kerry and Pat. Kerry is compassionate (feminine) and assertive (masculine), and Pat is competitive (masculine) and sympathetic (feminine).


The other two managers are not androgynous: Riley has two masculine characteristics, and Jaime’s two traits are feminine.


If you are like most people, chances are you picked any manager except the one with the two feminine traits (Jaime), because you find their traits more desirable in a manager [i].

What lessons can you learn from this?


The way I see it, this case highlights the benefits to women of developing (and displaying) some traits stereotypically considered masculine in order to be seen as more managerial (while at the same time remaining likable.)


Femininity per se does not seem to be considered as desirable in a manager[ii]. Keep in mind that femininity in this context does not mean wearing makeup or high heels—it’s used to mean traits that many (including me) would consider gender neutral, such as being understanding or loyal.


Be cautious. As you can imagine, not all traits are considered equally likable. In a recent study, researchers compiled a list of 555 traits and ranked them.


Are you curious to know which were most and the least desirable traits associated with each gender?


Here’s your answer:



Which traits do you already possess? Do they correspond to the stereotypes of your gender? Let us know in the comments section below!


* * *

Posted by Sofia Santiago, award-winning author Difficult Conversations Just for Women: Kill the Anxiety. Get What You Want. (New edition available in stores on December 6, 2018)


[i] Arkkelin, D. (1985). The "Good Manager": Sex-Typed, Androgynous, or Likable? Sex Roles, Vol. 12, Nos. 11/12.

[ii] Ibid.


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