Clashes, Convergences and Coalescences
New Horizons in Leadership Studies series
Edited by Donna Ladkin and Chellie Spiller
Chapter 18: Essay: can I really be me? The challenges for women leaders constructing authenticity
Australia’s first woman prime minister, Julia Gillard, like many women in leadership, was subject to intense media scrutiny. This scrutiny focuses on her body and what it says about her and her (lack of) qualifications for leading. The occasion of her 50th birthday was no exception. A letter to the editor in The Age newspaper (4 October 2011) captures the conundrum: While interstate I heard a radio discussion about Julia Gillard’s 50th birthday. The woman said Julia looked good for her age, at which her male companion concluded she’d either had botox, implying that any appearance of youthfulness was fake, or that she looks good because she has no laugh lines, implying that she is a humourless spinster. In Melbourne I heard a discussion about Gillard’s grey hair roots. The caller came up with two lose-lose conclusions: she is showing her grey on purpose to garner sympathy (so is insincere) or is showing a lack of care (so is sloppy). (Hopkins 2011) Despite substantial research urging authenticity as an ideal in leadership, there are few theoretical or empirical accounts about the role gender plays in the attribution of authenticity. Is authentic leadership deliverable for women and men in the same ways? In this chapter I argue that authenticity is judged through a gendered – not gender neutral – lens (Acker 1990). Further, women leaders are both made more visible and judged more on their bodies, which are seen as a marker for their identity (including morality, trustworthiness and leadership) in a way that men’s bodies are not.
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