Undercover Boss Research

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  1. 1. RUNNING HEAD: UNDERCOVER BOSS 1 Undercover Boss: Discovering Gendered Leadership Through Discourse
  2. 2. UNDERCOVER BOSS 2 Abstract While there has been a great deal of work discussing the role that gender plays in leadership amongst management scholars, much of the scholarship draws on essentialist frameworks which reify gender differences and fail to account for many communicative practices witnessed in everyday life. Moreover, little communication work has attended to how male and female CEOs leadership can be gendered. Using transcripts from episodes of the television series Undercover Boss, the authors hope to expand on management and communication literature by examining the leadership communicative practices of male and female CEOs. Using Ashcrafts (2004) framework for understanding the shifting relationship between gender, identity, and discourse, this paper will contribute to the discussion of how leadership is gendered in corporate America.
  3. 3. UNDERCOVER BOSS 3 Undercover Boss: Discovering Gendered Leadership Through Discourse All around the world, female CEOs and senior executives are extremely rare in large corporations (Oakley, 2000). Even though 40% of managers are female in the U.S., larger corporations they hold less than 0.5% of the highest paying management positions (Fierman, 1990). Leadership has traditionally been seen as better suited to men and it has been predominantly a male prerogative in corporate, political, military and other sectors of society (Eagly & Karau, 2002, pg. 573). The notion of leadership being a male dominated field has been attributed to stereotypes about women such as the lack of qualified women due to family responsibility (Greenhaus & Parasuraman, 1999) as well as inherited tendencies for women to display fewer of the traits and motivations that are necessary to attain and achieve success in high-level positions (Browne, 1999; Goldberg, 1993). Included in such social issues are also the gendered expectations of emotions that help create these stereotypes. Women are expected to be sensitive and supportive when it comes to their employees and how they interact with them, while men are expected to be aggressive and direct when displaying emotions toward their employees. Eagly and Karau (2002), mention that communal characteristics are ascribed to women and describe them as affectionate, sympathetic, sensitive, nurturing and gentle. Men on the other hand, are ascribed agentic characteristics, which describe them as aggressive, dominant and prone to act as leaders (Eagly & Karau, 2000). American society has taken on the role of informing us that emotions are different based on gender. Brody (1997, pg. 370) mentions the stereotypes that females are more emotionally expressive and less aggressive than males are quite widely held. Women are supposed to smile more often and express warmth and affection than men. Men are supposed to express aggression and more anger compared to women, who are supposed to display more fear and vulnerability.
  4. 4. UNDERCOVER BOSS 4 These stereotypes construct gender differences, which reflect the reality of the corporate landscape in the United States. Feeding off the essentialist characterization of women, popular literature on women in management frequently advises women to adapt a fake self, that fits better with the masculinized organizational identities (Tracy, 2005). Essentially masculine characteristics such as rationality, as opposed to emotionality are privileged in the workplace (Mumby & Putnam, 1992), leading to women who wish to reach leadership positions to adopt typically masculine affectations. Women are encouraged to leave their family commitments at home or at least to hide them behind appropriate dress, language and behaviors (Tracy, 2005, pg. 183). Since leadership has been associated with masculinity, female leaders are often seen as less fit for the role because they are marked as the other in association to the male norm (Tracy, 2005; Mumby & Putnam, 1992). As previously mentioned, women are expected to be sensitive and supportive when it comes to their employees and how they interact with them, while men are expected to be aggressive and direct when displaying emotions toward their employees. However, management literature has begun to question the privileging of masculine characteristics in regards to what makes for effective leaders. George (2000) argued that communicating about emotions helps in achieving a goal and developing interpersonal relationships. By displaying empathy, relationship leadership develops as well. Not only is emotional expressiveness a positive for relationship leadership but also for task performance. By expressing stern, social control-type emotions may help to motivate group members who have a tendency to slack off, whereas expressing enthusiasm may motivate people to complete their work tasks (Humphrey, 2008). Therefore, both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine displays of leadership styles can improve both productivity and workplace morale.
  5. 5. UNDERCOVER BOSS 5 Overall leaders use emotional labor to influence their followers moods and emotions. When employees emotions and moods are influenced, it reflects positively on their performance. Service workers are required to show many different emotions depending on the workplace that after a while become routine-based, while leaders tend to display various emotions in order to manage employees as well as use good judgment on what emotions should be displayed. While this research has provided a valuable contribution into understanding one way in which we might understand the ways in which masculine and feminine leaders perform leadership, analysis of real life managerial situations leads to an understanding that these views are limited. In particular, much of the management literature remains tied to essentialist and traditional views of men and women, and views communicative practice as an outcome of gender as opposed to a performance or a construction of gender (Butler, 1990). This paper seeks to expand on the discussion around gender and leadership by examining how interactions between discourse, gender, leadership and organizational practices. To accomplish this goal, the authors adopted Ashcrafts (2004) four frames of discourse, gender and organization, and used each as a lens to better understand the relationship between gender and leadership. Method To better understand how leadership might be gendered, the authors analyzed the television show Undercover Boss. For those unfamiliar with the show, each episode follows the journey of a corporate executive as they work in various entry level positions in their companies. Employees are told that the undercover boss is competing in a reality television show as the rationale for having the cameras follow them around. Throughout each episode, the executives are given a glimpse into the working conditions of their employees, as well as learning about
  6. 6. UNDERCOVER BOSS 6 their personal lives. At the end of each episode, the bosses fly the employees that they met out to their homes or the corporate headquarters and bestow various rewards on the hardworking employees. The show features both male and female CEOs, and while (reflecting the landscape of corporate America) the show has focused more heavily on male CEOs, there have been representations of female in corporate leadership as well. In order to examine both male and female CEOs through the four frames, the authors selected four male and four female CEOs to serve as data. Each episode was transcribed and resulted in 192 single spaced pages in total. The authors read the transcripts independently of one another, and worked to find the eight episodes that displayed the strengths and limitations of each of the four frames. While the show is dominated by male CEOs, we elected to take four examples of each in order to best analyze the relationship between gender and leadership. At the beginning, we looked at this show as an opportunity to discover how leadership is gendered through the use of emotions. Emotions were a big part of our research at first and how they were displayed on the show in comparison of masculine and feminine displays of emotion. However, as we dived into the research further and as we started to look at the data there was not distinct connection that showed how male CEOs portray leadership and how female CEOs portrayed leadership. This train of thinking eventually led to our research question: RQ: How is leadership gendered on Undercover Boss? There is a mix of feminine and masculine leadership prompted us to change the course of the study and focus on discourse. The realization of the limitation of much of the previous work on gender and leadership led to utilizing the Ashcrafts (2004) framework for understanding the relationship between gender, organization and discourse with an aim towards developing leadership as discursively created. In this study, we focus on the micro and meso levels of
  7. 7. UNDERCOVER BOSS 7 organization, gender and discourse as they pertained most directly to how leadership was enacted on Undercover Boss. Four Frames of Discourse, Gender and Leadership As previously mentioned, women and men have operated under stereotypes in regards to what kind of managers they are meant to be. In particular, feminine leadership styles were portrayed as less effective than masculine and women and men continue to be positioned differently and unequally within a male dominated management structure (Baxter, 2011, pg 233). Considering the limited view of gender as a given within the individual, as opposed to enacted in everyday practice (Butler, 1990), this limited view and essentializing differences between men and women is unsurprising. This limited view meant that women who wished to lead were forced to