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Masculinity and Leadership: Are Attitudes Changing?

November 12 2018 - by Carole Houlihan, CLP's Gender and Diversity Specialist

Lately I have been receiving many media articles from male colleagues and friends about the issue of men’s role in society, the family and the workplace.  

Since the beginning of the #METOO movement a year ago and the negative attention focused on Hollywood directors, high-profile media figures and powerful leaders, the issue of harassment and "toxic masculinity" in workplace relations has been in the news.

“Masculinity” is defined as a set of attributes, behaviours, and roles associated with boys and men. As a social construct, it is distinct from the definition of the male biological sex. Standards of manliness or masculinity vary across different cultures and historical periods. The same can be said of “femininity” - it also varies across cultures and over time.

The challenge we face, in our different cultures and societies, is how definitions of what it means to be a man or a woman are changing - due to economic and social forces.

But keep in mind that gender values and attitudes - and relations between women and men - have always been changing. Think about your grandparents, your parents, and your children, and how expectations of “being a man” or “being a woman” have evolved over time.

What does all this mean for the workplace, organisations and leadership, and for being a good leader?

At the 2018 NeuroLeadership Summit, Dr. Peter Glick[1], a social psychologist at Lawrence University, presented research that shows that the lack of women in top leadership positions  is due to organizational cultures.

Glick proposed that leaders may be unknowingly creating what he calls a “masculinity contest culture (MCC)” in which organizational norms are based in masculinity but masked and legitimized as “how our organization operates”.

According to Glick, four key norms emerge in MCCs, and determine what an organization values most:

  • Show No Weakness(admit no mistakes, show no tender emotions)
  • Strength and Stamina(champion physical strength and workplace stamina)
  • Put Work First(work long hours, let no obligation interfere with work)
  • Dog Eat Dog(ruthless internal competition, destroy the opposition)

Dr. Glick’s research shows that this type of organization has negative outcomes for both men and women, including toxic leadership and bullying behaviour.

Do you think this concept of “masculine organizational cultures” is valid or outdated?

In your view, what does this mean for leadership?

Are you seeing a change in your society in terms of what is expected of men and women, and how boys and girls are being socialized?




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Arlene McComie - Reply

I agree that the four Key norms of the MCC creates in many cases dysfunctional leadrship.

However, in many instances this is changing as different leadership styles are emerging.  The research is showing where both men and women with high emotional intelligence, who are adaptive, invests in talent management and succession mentoring and coaching are facilitating higher performing and more resilient individuals and organisations.

It is my view that the concept of the "masculine organisational Culture" is revealing its weaknesses and has been changing.  However, where 'big money' exists those who believe in the MCC are able to hold fast to the culture a bit longer.

RebTadall - Reply

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