Cultural 'tightness' holds back female leadership -- but not always, says study

March 8, 2012

Countries that more strictly uphold their cultural norms are less likely to promote women as leaders – unless those norms support equal opportunity for both sexes, shows a new paper from the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"Cultural tightness can prevent the emergence of women leaders because tighter cultures may make a society's people more resistant to changing the traditionally-held practice that placed men in leadership roles," says Prof. Soo Min Toh, who is cross-appointed to the Rotman School and the University of Toronto Mississauga, and co-wrote the paper with Prof Geoffrey Leonardelli at the Rotman School and UofT's Department of Psychology.

Cultural tightness is described by Prof. Toh as the "degree to which norms are clear and pervasive." Tight cultures have a lower tolerance for deviation from cultural norms and may even impose sanctions for doing so. Loose cultures tend to be more open to change and experience higher rates of change than tight cultures.

Among 32 countries compared, New Zealand, Ukraine and Hungary – all culturally loose countries -- showed a high rate of female leadership, while Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey – considered culturally tight -- were low.

"But when it comes to the emergence of women leaders, cultural tightness can have an advantage too. Cultural tightness may also be a helpful instrument because in societies where men and women are treated equally, tightness could more strongly implement and sustain practices that encourage the emergence of women leaders," says Prof. Leonardelli.

Norway is a case in point. While the Scandinavian country is considered culturally tight, it also highly emphasizes gender equality practices and showed a high rate of female leadership.

Researchers used an academically-compiled index of countries' cultural tightness and a separate index on their treatment of gender equality, and World Bank statistics on the percentage of leadership positions filled by women, such as legislators, senior officials and managers.

The study shows that cultural tightness is a double-edged sword. Support for female leadership is dependent on what a society's cultural practices are and how strictly it sticks to them.

The findings may also help to explain why some organizations wishing to promote more egalitarian leadership practices may encounter resistance or success. For example, the German company Deutsche Telekom has had more success hitting targets for female in its foreign offices than at home; Germanic Europe comes out slightly on the higher side for cultural tightness.

The study is to be published in the Journal of World Business.

Explore further: Study rates 'tight, 'loose' scenarios in 33 countries

Related Stories

Why do pivotal cultural differences among countries exist?

May 26, 2011

In today's world, conflicts and misunderstandings frequently arise between those who are from more restrictive cultures and those from less restrictive ones. Now, a new international study led by the University of Maryland ...

Do women have what it takes?

July 13, 2011

So much has changed since 1963, when Betty Friedan's influential "The Feminine Mystique" provoked a national discussion about the deep dissatisfaction women were feeling about the limitations of their lives. Many women came ...

Recommended for you

Game theory research reveals fragility of common resources

September 29, 2016

New research in game theory shows that people are naturally predisposed to over-use "common-pool resources" such as transportation systems and fisheries even if it risks failure of the system, to the detriment of society ...

Ancient reptile fossils claw for more attention

September 29, 2016

Newly recovered fossils confirm that Drepanosaurus, a prehistoric cross between a chameleon and an anteater, was a small reptile with a fearsome finger. The second digit of its forelimb sported a massive claw.

Humans may have occupied Southern Cone 14,000 years ago

September 29, 2016

Humans may have occupied the Southern Cone 14,000 years ago, according to a study published September 28, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Gustavo Politis from CONICET and the Universidad Nacional del Centro de ...

Bones found in Roman-era grave in London may be Asian

September 28, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers with Durham University, the Museum of London and the British Geological Survey has tentatively established that two skeletons found in a Roman-era grave in London are of Asian origin. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.