Gender, authentic leadership and identity: analysis of women leaders’ autobiographies

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Leadership theories have moved from viewing leadership as an innate trait, towards models that recognise leadership as a social construction. Alongside this theorisation, gender and leadership remain of considerable interest, particularly given the under-representation of women in leadership positions. Methodological approaches to understanding leadership have begun to embrace innovative methods, such as historical analyses. This paper aims to understand how high profile women leaders construct a gendered leadership identity, with particular reference to authentic leadership.

Thematic analysis of autobiographies, a form of identity work, of four women leaders from business and politics: Sheryl Sandberg, Karren Brady, Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard.

Analyses reveal that these women construct gender and leadership along familiar normative lines; for example, the emphasis on personal and familial values. However, their stories differ in that the normative extends to include close examination of the body and a sense of responsibility to other women. Overall, media representations of these “authentic” leaders conform to social constructions of gender. Thus, in the case of authentic leadership, a theory presented as gender neutral, the authenticity of leadership has to some extent been crafted by the media rather than the leader.

The study reveals that despite attempts to “craft” and control the image of the authentic self for consumption by followers, gendered media representations of individuals and leadership remain. Thus, alternative approaches to crafting an authentic leadership self which extend beyond (mainstream) media is suggested.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-358
Number of pages20
JournalGender in Management
Issue number5/6
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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