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‘Think manager, think male’

Business prof wins national grant to investigate gender and leadership


By Mekaela Gulliver

Dr. Alyson Byrne has been awarded a national grant to research gender and leadership.

An assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Memorial University’s Faculty of Business Administration, Dr. Byrne is the primary applicant on a project called “Women’s ambiguous leadership trajectories – identity, motivation, and effectiveness,” which has received an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

These grants are highly competitive and meant to support research in its initial stages. The program aims to build knowledge about individuals and the broader community and seeks to mobilize research knowledge to have cultural, social and economic impact.

Dr. Byrne researches various aspects of leadership. More specifically, her work “examines the relational aspects of leadership roles – how leaders’ status and behaviors can impact others.”

Dr. Alyson Byrne, Faculty of Business Administration
Dr. Alyson Byrne has won a SSHRC Insight Development Grant.
Photo: Karen Roche

Recently, she has focused her research on leadership and gender roles and examining some of the unexpected costs that women in leadership roles face.

“In some cases, these costs include decreased well-being, greater organizational barriers to leadership ascent, and marital dissatisfaction,” she explained.

“There is still an attitude within many organizations to ‘think manager – think male’ when it comes to choosing its leaders.”— Dr. Alyson Byrne

Her project centres on the implications of women’s gender identity and their aspirations towards leadership.

“There is still an attitude within many organizations to ‘think manager – think male’ when it comes to choosing its leaders, which makes many women feel that their gender identity is incompatible with being a leader.”

However, she says studies have shown that women who embrace their gender identities as being compatible with leadership are more likely to experience positive psychological benefits. She plans to develop this notion further by asking women in leadership roles how their gender identity works with or against their leadership positions.

She hopes these interviews will provide greater insight and understanding of how gender identity can alleviate obstacles facing women who aspire to leadership roles.

Dr. Byrne has planned a quantitative study hypothesizing that female leaders who embrace their gender identity alongside their leadership identity are more likely to demonstrate more effective and more authentic leadership as evaluated by their followers.

“We are still very far from reaching gender equity in leadership roles, and without further understanding of the barriers and hurdles that female leaders face, we will remain stagnant. Being given the opportunity and the support to study this type of work allows me not only to advance the research that is necessary to make progress for greater gender parity in leadership but will enable me to help students in our undergraduate and graduate programs build organizations that are supportive of female leaders.”

Dr. Byrne and her co-investigator, Dr. Ingrid Chadwick of the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, invite women in leadership positions who are interested in being interviewed to email Dr. Byrne at alyson.byrne@mun.ca.

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