There are various efforts to try and spur more equality among genders in certain fields. Companies say they don't care about gender - and they don't, unless government forces them to hire people to fill in boxes on government forms.  They say they just want the best people and they can't hire people who don't show an interest in working there. Gender activists say the task falls to companies to change how they approach potential hires, an idea which doesn't please anyone except gender activists.

Appealing to stereotypical female emotion may be a strategy no one is pleased about but a group of scholars say it may be the only thing that will work. Prof. Claudia Peus, Chair of Research and Science Management at Technische Universität München, says that words like “determined” and “assertive” are bad because such words are linked with male stereotypes. So if companies want more women, they should change the wording of job ads. 

The authors showed some 260 test subjects fictional employment ads. These included, for example, a place in a training program for potential management positions. If the advertisement described a large number of traits associated with men, the women found it less appealing and were less inclined to apply. Such traits include "assertive", "independent", "aggressive" and "analytical". Women found words like "dedicated", "responsible", "conscientious" and "sociable" more appealing. For male test subjects, on the other hand, the wording of the job advertisement made no difference.

Want more women applicants? Don't be so obvious about the skills you want in a leader. Technische Universität München

Women rate their own leadership skills less highly

"A carefully-formulated job posting is essential to get the best choice of personnel," says Peus, who led the work. "In most cases, it doesn't make sense to simply leave out all of the male-sounding phrases. But without a profile featuring at least balanced wording, organizations are robbing themselves of the chance of attracting good female applicants. And that's because the stereotypes endure almost unchanged in spite of all of the societal transformation we have experienced."

The scientists demonstrated in conjunction with a team from New York University that traditional perception patterns do apply, not least in respect of leaders. In a survey of around 600 US-Americans of both genders, respondents considered women and men to be equally competent, productive and efficient on a fundamental level. However, they rated men's leadership skills more highly. Not only that: the women believed themselves and other women, on average, less capable in this area than the male respondents perceived themselves and others of their gender.

Angry bosses can expect disloyalty

Whether women are believed to have the will to lead others depends largely on the emotions they show. This is one of the findings expounded at an interim presentation of the project last year. The team of scientists has since studied the role of emotions in how leaders are judged in more detail:

Bosses need to display anger from time to time in order to assert themselves – or so the prevailing belief goes. In a bid to examine the validity of this cliché, the scientists showed more than 500 test subjects videos or scenarios, in words and pictures, of a leader summarizing a bad business year to employees. The superiors showed either anger, sadness or no emotions.

The way the test subjects saw it, the angry bosses drew their power predominantly from the threat of penalties and by emphasizing their status. They obtained less power by showing their appreciation for others than did the leaders who displayed sadness or emotions. Angry superiors thus lost out on an interpersonal level. Consequently, the test subjects would be less loyal to the angry managers and would rather attempt to thwart them in their intentions.

People like leaders who thank their team

"A tough tone of voice equals authority – that's just not true," says head of study Prof. Isabell M. Welpe from the Chair of Strategy and Organization. "The position of power held by leaders who take their anger out on their staff may indeed be acknowledged. But it doesn't earn them lasting loyalty – on the contrary, they risk being betrayed at the next opportunity."

A further study confirmed that a boss's empathy has a positive impact. The scientists questioned more than 400 test subjects on their own working lives or asked them to evaluate a fictional discussion meeting following successful talks with a customer. The focus was on whether the managers expressed gratitude to their staff or pride in their own achievements.

What the study found was that saying "thanks" brings many advantages, not only in "real" life but in working life too: the more the managers expressed their gratitude, the happier employees were, both with their boss and with their job in general. On the other hand, a leader's pride may boost people's general job satisfaction, but the leaders themselves fell in the team members' estimation – for being too self-centered.

The “AuBeFühr” project:
In the three-year project entitled “Selection and Assessment of Leaders in Business and Academia” (also known by its German acronym AuBeFühr), the Chairs of Strategy and Organization and of Research and Science Management worked together to come up with academically-sound recommendations that could be shared with participants in training sessions. The scientists are presenting their findings at a final conference in Munich, April 1–3. The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and by the European Social Fund of the European Union. 


Hentschel, T., Braun, S., Peus, C.,&Frey, D. (2014, August). Wording of advertisements influences women's intention to apply for career opportunities. Accepted for the 74th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Hentschel, T., Heilman, M. E., & Peus, C. (2013, January). Have gender stereotypes changed?: Ratings of women, men and self. Poster presented at the 14th Congress of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), New Orleans, LA, USA

Schwarzmüller, T., Brosi, P., Spörrle, M., & Welpe, I. M. (2014, August). More than just power: Differential effects of anger displays on the bases of power. Accepted for presentation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Accepted for AOM Best Paper Proceedings 2014.

Ritzenhöfer, L., Brosi, P., Spörrle, M., & Welpe, I. M. (2014, August). Effects of leaders’ expressions of gratitude and pride on followers’ leader and job satisfaction. Accepted for presentation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, Philadelphia, PA, USA.