Women’s enactment of leadership in a heavily gender-marked Islamic context: An exploration within the United Arab Emirates

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International Journal of Organizational Analysis


© 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited. Purpose: Diverse cultural contexts with their distinct enactments of traditional gender inequity present unique constraints for female leaders. In Western contexts, the Christianity-inspired principle of equality of all humans remains a latent principle operative toward greater gender egalitarianism. This paper aims to examine female leaders within an Islamic context devoid of such espoused equality in which gender differences are enshrined in culture and law. Design/methodology/approach: Questionnaires based on the Competing Value Framework were developed and completed by 145 leaders and 365 employees from UAE companies. The salient findings of these responses were explored in six subsequent focus group discussions. Findings: The study reveals no difference in how women perform leadership, except in terms of brokering skills in which women are perceived as superior to their male counterparts. Focus group discussion participants ascribed this difference to the Islamic benevolent sexism dynamic of according women greater respect, which facilitates their access to higher management. Originality/value: This pioneering perspective of female leaders in a context of overt and sanctioned cultural and legal gender disparity contributes to scholarship on female leadership through a non-Western lens.

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