Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

NZ election 2020: why gender stereotypes still affect perceptions of Ardern and Collins as leaders

Women leading both of New Zealand’s largest political parties is something to celebrate. Watching Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins go head to head in three televised or online pre-election debates should surely dispel any doubt about whether women are up to the demands of leadership at the highest level.

As tonight’s final debate will also surely demonstrate, both women are confident, assertive and resilient under pressure, attributes widely expected of leaders. And yet gender bias continues to define aspects of their careers and performance.

While the format has offered limited in-depth policy discussion, the debates have been a far cry from the “gladiatorial masculinity” displayed by Donald Trump in the recent US presidential debate with Joe Biden.

Nonetheless, subtle but still influential gendered dynamics are at play in the New Zealand election campaign. Ardern and Collins navigate these dynamics in quite distinctive ways, which may help explain why they each evoke such different emotions in voters. But how do people form these opinions?

Even without formal study, everyone develops their own ideas about what good leadership involves. Researchers call these ideas “implicit leadership theories”, and they shape how leaders are perceived.

While these personal theories might not be correct — in the sense that someone might value leader behaviours that research shows are actually ineffective or harmful — they are nonetheless influential.

two men gesticulating

Gladiatorial masculinity: Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first presidential debate in late September. AAP

What makes an effective leader?

Research on these implicit theories shows that behaviours traditionally associated with masculinity are more likely to be seen as leader-like: this means when some people think “leader” their default is also to think “male”.

This results in people expecting leaders to be “strong” in the sense of being “tough” and “commanding”, attributes associated with traditional expectations of men. Similarly, being intimidating, power-hungry, risk-taking, demanding and domineering are often qualities people link to leadership.

Read more: NZ election 2020: Jacinda Ardern promised transformation — instead, the times transformed her 

However, a significant body of research suggests these behaviours are not, in fact, the key qualities that make for effective leaders. Rather, they tend to undermine innovation, inhibit quality decision making and fail to draw out the best from people. Instead, humility, collaboration, team building and inspiring people to work for a common good are more important. These are also qualities women often exhibit.

But because they are judged against an implicitly masculine norm, women continue to find it harder to attain leadership roles, and to then succeed in those roles.

Playing to others’ expectations

Given all this, it is not surprising that Judith Collins often adopts an overtly combative, masculine style to appeal principally to a more traditionally-minded voter base.

There are clear echoes of the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher — the so-called Iron Lady — in Collins’s approach. She presents herself as a potential prime minister who would be tough, in command, in control, brooking neither dissent nor failure.

Read more: NZ election 2020: as the ultimate political survivor, Judith Collins prepares for her ultimate test 

The reality of gendered leadership expectations means that to do otherwise would risk Collins not being seen as leader-like by those whose implicit leadership theories favour such traditionally masculine notions.

But this is not a guaranteed winning strategy by any means. As British leadership scholar Keith Grint argues, it’s generally unwise for leaders to proclaim complex problems can be solved by way of simple solutions.

two women at podiums

Gendered perceptions: Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins during the second TV leaders’ debate, the day after the US presidential debate. AAP

Strong vs nice

Collins is also caught by what researchers call the “double bind” that affects women leaders. If they display traditionally feminine behaviours, focussing on relationships and concern for others, they risk being seen as a good woman but not an effective leader. If they display masculine behaviours they risk being seen as a competent leader but a “not nice” woman.

The more Collins plays to traditional expectations of a combative, masculine style of leadership, therefore, the more she risks alienating people — including within her own voter base.

Ardern is equally at risk of the double bind but in the opposite way. Her emphasis on being kind and showing concern for others means she is seen by some as a nice woman but not an effective leader.

Read more: Contrasting styles, some substance: 5 experts on the first TV leaders' debate of NZ's election 

Soft skills, tough challenges

However, “sensitivity” — meaning to be caring, sympathetic, compassionate, kind, empathetic, selfless and friendly — also features in implicit leadership theories.

There is evidence to suggest that these so-called “soft skills” are, in fact, key to effective leadership. So, while Ardern’s style risks lacking credibility with those who cleave to more traditional, masculine views of leadership, this does not mean she is an ineffective leader.

In a political contest between two very determined, confident and resilient women, it should be remembered that some voters will inevitably be influenced by gendered preconceptions of what makes a good leader — and that this is just one more challenge such female leaders face.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Boris Johnson At Sea: Coronavirus Confusion In The UK

The tide has been turning against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Oafishly, he has managed to convert that tide into a deluge of dissatisfaction assisted by the gravitational pull of singular incompetence. Much of this is due to such errors of ... More>>

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really

The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern. ... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Early Voting Is OK, If You Know Who To Vote For

Early voting is now open which is great for the 80% or so of the population whose vote does not change from one election to the next. They can go out and vote at their convenience without having to wait for election day. But for those who are yet even ... More>>

The Conversation: Biodiversity: Where The World Is Making Progress – And Where It’s Not

The future of biodiversity hangs in the balance. World leaders are gathering to review international targets and make new pledges for action to stem wildlife declines. Depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person, you’re likely ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On How The US Supreme Court Is Undermining American Democracy

If Joe Biden is elected President next week, here comes the bad news. If Biden tries to defend Obamacare, combat climate change (via say, a variant of the Green New Deal) or tries to improve the access of US women to abortion services , he will run afoul ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>


The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog