Survey: What our readers say
Leadership Program grads weigh in on the importance of gender roles
Gender roles in leadership are a critical issue today — it’s why we devoted both the Spring 2013 and this issue of Community Vitality to the topic. We turned to our readers, people on the front lines of community leadership, to find out what they thought about the subject. We invited about 3,300 graduates of the Ford Institute Leadership Program to respond to a short survey exploring the topic. About 200 people responded, 53% of them male. Most respondents (59%) were in the 51-70 age group, with 21% in the 36-50 age group. Nearly half of our respondents described the importance of gender as a “moderate” influence on their style of leadership, with 32% describing it as “major,” and 20% crediting it with a “minor” or “insignificant” role.
“As a woman, I think first about the effects my decisions have on others,” says one respondent. “It’s not that men don’t care, but I have found their first concern is how this will affect them.”
Is having fewer men involved a bad thing?
“I am well aware that being male, white and above-average height gives me recognition in a room full of people,” says another. “It isn’t logical nor deserved, but it is a fact.”
“I think leadership is gender-neutral,” says a third respondent. “It is the followers who determine the success of an opposite-gender leader.”
Why fewer men in Leadership Program?
Participants in the Ford Institute Leadership Program are predominately female (65%), and our respondents had many ideas about why fewer men participate, many of them mentioning a difference in leadership styles. “Many men are focused on making a living and guard their weekends for home and families,” says one. “Men are less attracted to the social, group, sharing and collaborative aspects of the program.”
“I think the cooperative and social aspects of the training appeal more to women,” says another. “I also think that women are raised with more of a spirit of community service.”
“Women discuss things over and over,” says a third respondent. “Men help you get to the point.”
Is having fewer men involved a bad thing? In general, our respondents felt it was, and several mentioned the downward spiral effect. “The surest way to draw men into leadership is through male leaders calling it out in them,” explains one respondent. “So with fewer men to serve as examples, an even fewer number of men can be reached.”
Our respondents had many ideas about how to attract more men to the program, including all-male classes; a more structured, outcome-based program; and men leading the training. Several also felt it was important to have an invitation to participate extended directly to men from other men in the community.
On the subject of the opportunities and challenges that men face today, our readers had a wide range of responses. “Some men appear threatened by the emergence of stronger women, while others appear relieved that the world is no longer on their shoulders alone,” says one.
“There is great opportunity for men to work more collaboratively than they have in the past,” says another. “I see this as a big tension for the older generation who are still invested in the good-old-boy tradition, but younger men seem to be embracing the opportunities. I think the older, more authoritative men are frustrated with the idealism and enthusiasm of some women who are becoming leaders now.”