Does ‘female leadership trust advantage’ give women edge in crisis situation?

Washington: In times of a crisis, women leaders with their strong interpersonal skills are perceived to be more trustworthy compared to their male counterparts, according to a new study.

The trust developed by women leaders with strong interpersonal skills results in better crisis resolution in the case when outcomes are predictable, says a study published in the journal ‘Psychology of Women Quarterly’.

The study examines why and when a female leadership trust advantage emerges for leaders during organisational crises.

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People trust female leaders’ more than male leaders in times of crisis, but only under specific conditions. We showed that when a crisis hits an organisation, people trust leaders who behave in relational ways, and especially so when the leaders are women and when there is a predictable path out of the crisis,” said Corinne Post, the paper’s co-author.

The researchers specifically looked at the relational behaviour of interpersonal emotion management (IEM), which alleviates feelings of threat during a crisis by anticipating and managing the emotions of others.

“Crises are fraught with relational issues, which, unless handled properly, threaten not only organisational performance but also the allocation of organisational resources and even organisational survival,” the researchers said.

“Organisational crises, therefore, require a great deal of relational and emotional work to build or restore trust among those affected and may influence such trusting behaviours as provision of resources to the organisation including economic resources and investment in the firm, as well as inspiring employee cooperation,” added the researchers.

To examine differences in trust for men and women leaders during an organisational crisis, researchers created a set of crisis scenarios.

In some scenarios, the CEO (at times a male and at other times a female) anticipated and managed the emotions of others as the crisis unfolded – and in others, the CEO did not attend to others’ emotions at all. Scenarios were varied to depict crises with predictable or uncertain outcomes.

“We found that this female leadership trust advantage was not just attitudinal, but that – when the consequences of the crisis were foreseeable – people were actually ready to invest much more in the firms led by relational women,” Post said.

“Our finding also suggests that, in an organisational crisis, female (relative to male) leaders may generate more goodwill and resources for their organisation by using relational behaviours when the crisis fallout is predictable, but may not benefit from the same advantage in crises with uncertain consequences,” Post added.

The findings have important implications for leadership and gender research, as well as business professionals.

“Identifying what crisis management behaviours enhance trust in female leaders, and under what conditions such trust is enhanced may, for example, help to mitigate the documented higher risk for women (compared to men) of being replaced during drawn-out crises,” the researchers said.

The results also suggest that to realize their leadership advantage potential, women may need to embrace relational leadership behaviours, at least under some circumstances.


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