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Cultural constraints on the emergence of women as leaders


  • Toh, Soo Min
  • Leonardelli, Geoffrey J.


Women, who have historically been less represented than men in leadership positions, emerge as leaders in some societies more than others. Unlike previous cultural explanations for this effect (rooted in differences in values, practices, or gender roles), we argue that a culture's tightness – its strength of norms and social sanctions – can provoke a resistance to change practices that historically placed men in leadership positions. Tighter cultures will yield fewer women represented among top leadership positions. Moreover, cultural tightness moderates the degree to which egalitarian practices – where individuals from both genders are treated equally – lead women to emerge as leaders. Specifically, differences in egalitarian practices are more likely to predict the emergence of women as leaders among tight rather than loose cultures because such practices are more strongly implemented in tight than weak cultures. Analysis of publicly available data reveals some preliminary support for predictions. This research concludes that loose cultures will be more receptive to changing existing cultural practices, but that tight cultures are more successful in implementing and sustaining such changes.

Suggested Citation

  • Toh, Soo Min & Leonardelli, Geoffrey J., 2012. "Cultural constraints on the emergence of women as leaders," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 604-611.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:worbus:v:47:y:2012:i:4:p:604-611
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jwb.2012.01.013

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lori D Paris & Jon P Howell & Peter W Dorfman & Paul J Hanges, 2009. "Preferred leadership prototypes of male and female leaders in 27 countries," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 40(8), pages 1396-1405, October.
    2. Cristina B Gibson, 1995. "An Investigation of Gender Differences in Leadership Across Four Countries," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 26(2), pages 255-279, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tung, Rosalie L., 2016. "New perspectives on human resource management in a global context," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 51(1), pages 142-152.
    2. Ali Fakih & Pascal Ghazalian, 2015. "Female employment in MENA’s manufacturing sector: the implications of firm-related and national factors," Economic Change and Restructuring, Springer, vol. 48(1), pages 37-69, February.
    3. Tan Suzanne & Aruna Raj Devarajoo & Vimala Kadiresan & Ramesh Kumar Moona Haji Mohamed, 2014. "The Determinant of Women Self leadership among Generation X and Y," International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, Human Resource Management Academic Research Society, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, vol. 4(10), pages 386-399, October.
    4. Emir Ozeren & Omur Ozmen & Andrea Appolloni, 2013. "The Relationship between Cultural Tightness–Looseness and Organizational Innovativeness: A Comparative Research into the Turkish and Italian Marble Industries," Transition Studies Review, Springer;Central Eastern European University Network (CEEUN), vol. 19(4), pages 475-492, March.


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