How Female Leaders Persevere: Gender and Leader Identity as Protectors of Mental Health and Motivation
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Women in leadership frequently face stigma, bias, and other societal pressures due to their occupation still largely being associated with masculine traits. Simultaneously, female leaders have two identities, being a woman and being a leader. They differ in social norms regarding behavior and thought, thereby often leading them to conflict as they seem mismatched. Such conflict can also have detrimental impacts on female leaders’ mental health and motivation to lead. The present study aimed to investigate whether gender and leader identity, the way an individual feels about their gender and occupational social group, separately impact female leaders’ stress, life satisfaction, affective motivation to lead, and social-normative motivation to lead. Additionally, it tested whether the conflict between the two identities could explain the relationships between female leaders’ identities and the listed mental health and motivation to lead outcomes. Lastly, it was tested whether the extent to which a female leader’s held traditional gender role beliefs increased the strength of the relationship between gender identity and identity conflict. Analyses revealed that a high level of gender and leader identity, separately, could have a protective effect on identity conflict, stress, life-satisfaction, and affective motivation to lead. A low level of either identity could have an aggravating effect on the same outcomes. The expected mediating and moderating effects of identity conflict and traditional gender role beliefs were not found. Results are discussed considering implications and limitations. It is concluded that female leaders should strive for a high level of either gender or leader identity and that organizations should design strategies to encourage this, considering the benefits for mental health and motivation to lead.