Leader-member exchange (LMX) focuses on the unique relationship between leader and follower. The aim of this paper is to research what role gender plays in these dyadic relationships. Furthermore, it is investigated whether gender moderates the relationship between organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB) and LMX. Literature on the topic is examined and reviewed. The results of the studies discussed are extremely inconsistent, and it is yet unclear what the role of gender is in LMX relationships. However, it is clear that gender does not act as a moderator between OCB and LMX. Limitations, implications, and suggestions for future research are discussed.
Over the past two decades, research into leadership has grown rapidly. A well-known and extensively researched leadership theory is leader-member exchange theory, also abbreviated as LMX. Whereas a lot of theories focus on the role of the leader specifically, LMX theory focuses on the relationship between leader and follower. It states that leaders develop unique relationships with their followers, and that these relationships affect various factors such as job performance and satisfaction. Furthermore, LMX relationships seem to range from low to high. A situation in which a subordinate and a leader simply comply to their obligations, would be considered a low-quality LMX relationship. A high-quality LMX relationship goes beyond these obligations, and contains elements of mutual trust and respect (Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009; Breevaart et al., 2013). Going above and beyond obligations of a job is known as organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB). Currall and Organ (1988) conceptualize the term as voluntarily helping others without necessarily expecting more than their pay check. These workers feel a certain commitment to the organization that goes beyond what is minimally expected from them and what is stated in their contract. Not surprisingly, OCB is considered to benefit the organization and contribute to organizational effectiveness (Organ, Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006). Considering that the conceptualizations of high-quality LMX relationships and OCB both include employees “giving their all”, a link between these two seems plausible.
A variable that is often researched is many fields is gender. It seems fruitful to understand the role of gender in these aspects. It would extend the literature and knowledge on the topic and contribute to the development of a more conceptualized model of leadership. Looking into the role of OCB and the effect of gender seems relevant for similar reasons. The main research question that will be addressed in this paper is the following: What role does gender play in LMX relationships? In order to answer this question in enough detail, the following sub-questions will be included: How do leader and subordinate gender influence LMX relationships? and Do leader and subordinate gender act as a moderator in the relationship between leadership and organisational citizenship behaviour?
The aim of this paper is to provide a clear overview of the currently available literature on LMX relationships and the role of gender and OCB. Both subordinate and leader gender will be addressed. With the help of this literature review, the research questions will be answered as thoroughly and clearly as possible. First, the method will be discussed, providing all the relevant information as to how the literature was found and analysed. This method section will be followed by a review of the literature on LMX relationships, the role of gender in these relationships, and gender as a moderator for the relationship between LMX and OCB. In the discussion, the findings of the studies will be summarised and the research questions will be answered. Following this section, implications, limitations, and future research suggestions will be discussed. This paper will end with a brief conclusion.
A systematic literature search was done in Google Scholar. The terms used in the search machine were “leadership”, “LMX”, “gender”, and “OCB”. The results were sorted by relevance and not filtered by publication date. The first step of analysis was simply reading the title. If the title seemed relevant to this review, the second step was to read the abstract. If this indicated the article would be of significance to the paper, the article was read in its entirety. Some papers referenced other papers, and these were not always read completely. However, some referenced information is included in the review. Apart from apparent (ir)relevance, no other inclusion or exclusion criteria were considered. Overall, 35 pieces of literature were included of which 19 were completely read.
Leader-Member Exchange Theory
According to Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995), leadership research should not put its focus on the leader only. They argue that leadership consists of three domains: the leader, the follower, and their relationship. This taxonomy could be seen as the foundation of LMX theory, since the most differential aspect of the theory is the emphasis that is laid on the leader-follower dyadic relationship. LMX proposes that leaders do not treat all their followers in the same way. They split their followers into two groups: in groups and out groups. The followers that are categorized into the in groups are given more time and attention than those categorized into the out groups. Furthermore, the performance of in group members is often evaluated as higher than that of out group members, and in group members seem to be more satisfied with their LMX relationship compared to out group members (Varma & Stroh, 2001). Scholars suggest that leaders’ classification into in and out groups is mostly based on factors that are unrelated to performance, and one of these seems to be gender (Graen, Liden, & Hoel, 1982; Dienesch & Liden, 1986). In the following paragraphs, the role of gender will be discussed from different perspectives.
Despite numerous awareness campaigns, feminist initiatives, and other attempts at bringing more equality onto the work floor, gender stereotypes still play a significant role in this world. Both men and women are often expected to act a certain way, and these expectations can have more influence on their evaluations than their actual performance and/or behaviour. Eagly, Makhijani, and Klonsky (1992) found that women using an autocratic leadership style were rated as less effective than men using the same style. They explain that autocratic leadership behaviours are seen as more masculine, and that male leaders are seen as more effective than women, because these behaviours seem “more fitting” for men, regardless of their actual performance. On the other hand, women were rated more favourably than men when adopting a transformational leadership style, because this style is seen as more feminine. These findings depict how gender-based expectations play a role in evaluations of leadership. Supervisors are rated higher when they comply to the expectations for their gender. This concept is also known as role congruity theory (Douglas, 2012).
Goertzen and Fritz (2004) argue that the less job-related information that is available to a leader or subordinate, the more “room” is given to gender stereotypes to influence the development of LMX relationships. He also proposed that female leaders are thought to have less access to resources in general, which results in them being rated lower on quality of LMX. This effect is largest when women occupy a role that is seen as traditionally masculine, for example the role of CEO. Carli (2001) found that women whose competence was rated as highly as men’s, are seen as not complying to their gender role. She also noted that mainly men often do not acknowledge women’s contributions, especially when they perceive incongruence between their acquired position and gender role norms. When women manage to get to the top of a male-dominated organization, they are often perceived to have “beat” gender biases. However, these women sometimes achieve such a position by emphasizing how they differ from their female colleagues, stimulating gender bias. These so-called “queen bees” are found to have a low gender identification, and to distance themselves or more critically evaluate their female colleagues or subordinates (Derks, Van Laar, Ellemers, & de Groot, 2011). Consistent with these results, Adebayo and Udegbe (2004) argued that as a result of this queen bee syndrome, the relationship between female supervisors and subordinates could be affected negatively. In their 2004 study, they found the female-female dyadic relationship to be of the lowest quality, compared to other dyad combinations. Furthermore, they found male supervisor-female subordinate relationships to be of the highest quality. They explain this result by the paternalism theory, that states that women are seen as children and are to be protected. This would cause male supervisors to be more lenient towards their female subordinates, creating a more supportive and thus high-quality LMX.
The aforementioned research literature generally implies an inaccuracy of stereotypes, as several studies show a discrepancy between evaluations and actual performance as a result of these stereotypes. However, despite the fact that they can be harmful, stereotypes can be accurate (Hall & Carter, 1999; Jussim, 2018). An example: the stereotype that women are more sensitive compared to men. Although it is inappropriate to simply confirm or disconfirm this statement, since it is rather black-or-white, there seems to be a truth to it. Gender studies have found that women are more relationship-oriented than men, and men are more task-oriented than women. This goes for both their personal life and career (Fairhurst, 1993; Varma & Stroh, 2001). Women are also believed to give more importance to these relationships. They tend to exert greater efforts than men to develop and maintain relationships, dedicating more time, energy, and attention to them. Furthermore, women seem to be more supportive than men (Burleson et al., 2011). This finding is consistent with gender biases.
Another researched gender difference is found in the way men and women make decisions. Men tend to rely on more general information when making decisions, whereas women rely on more specific information. Men also attempt to hide or ignore their weaknesses, as contrary to women, who are more willing to discuss their weaknesses and more open to personal conversations (Dubé & Morgan, 1996; Wang, Kim, & Milne, 2016). These gender differences and even “accurate stereotypes” could suggest that female supervisors and subordinates are likely to have high-quality LMX, as a result of their relationship-oriented approach. Varma and Stroh (2001) indeed suggested that women may like working with women better, because communication is likely to be more fluent between women. They also argue that female supervisors, compared to male supervisors, are more willing to rate the performance of female subordinates higher. These results are contradictory to the findings of the study conducted by Adebayo and Udegbe (2004).
The similarity-attraction paradigm
Investigated and conceptualized by Clore and Byrne (1974), the similarity-attraction paradigm states that sharing certain characteristics has a positive effect on relationships. In other words, people are more attracted to people who are similar, rather than dissimilar, to themselves. This could mean that sharing a demographic characteristic such as gender, could affect LMX relationships positively. Indeed, Wayne, Shore, and Liden (1997) suggest that gender significantly and positively impacts the feeling of similarity, and thus subordinate’s evaluation of supervisors. Vice versa, supervisors who see a higher degree of similarity between them and a subordinate, are more likely to categorize this subordinate into an in group. Consistent with these results, Varma and Stroh (2001) found that same-sex dyads reported higher ratings of LMX, and that in both in and out groups, the majority seems to consist of same-sex members. They found that being in a same-sex dyadic relationship significantly predicted a leader’s interpersonal affect. Moreover, female subordinates with female leaders received higher LMX scores than male subordinates with male leaders. This supports the notion that female-female dyads are of highest LMX quality. This could be because of the fact that they invest more time and attention to relationships, making communication between females more smooth than in female-male or male-male dyads.
Supporting these results, in a 1978 study by Larwood and Blackmore, students were instructed to recruit participants for a research project. The results of the study showed that female students tended to recruit more female participants, and male students tended to recruit more male participants, suggesting a same-sex preference. Research also shows that males tend to believe successful leaders have more “male” characteristics and personalities, and females tend to believe successful leaders can be both “masculine” and “feminine” (Schein, Mueller, Lituchy, & Liu, 1996). This could indicate that male-male dyads are of higher LMX than female-female dyads. However, in other studies, this positive relationship between demographic similarity and LMX has not been found (Liden, Wayne, & Stilwell, 1993; Basu & Green, 1995; Goertzer & Fritz, 2004).
As could be deducted from the literature discussed above, most studies conducted on this topic address similarity, without specifically looking at dissimilarity. A study that did look at this was one conducted by Green, Anderson, and Shivers (1996). Their results indicated that sex dissimilarity is related to lower quality LMX. However, these findings are to be interpreted with caution as the sample was dominantly female. To conclude, the findings on the effect of (dis)similarity on LMX are contradictory. A reason for this could be that the effects of (dis)similarity in demographics, in this case gender, may be too widespread and asymmetric across different groups and cultures (Douglas, 2012).
Gender, LMX, and OCB
Organizational citizenship behaviour, also know as “extra-role behaviour”, is the act of taking on tasks that are not formally assigned to the employee but that do affect the organization’s performance. These behaviours include helping colleagues, doing extra work, and avoiding unnecessary conflicts (Robbins, 2001; Estiri, Amiri, Khajeheian, & Rajey, 2017). Researchers claim that OCB consists of different dimensions, including altruism, conscientiousness, civic virtue, and sportsmanship (Netemeyer, Moles, Mckee, & McMurrian, 1997; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000). Altruism is the concern for others (e.g. voluntarily helping colleagues); conscientiousness is the willingness to perform one’s tasks in the best way possible; civic virtues include respecting the organization’s regulations and acting responsibly on the work floor; and sportsmanship mainly includes being able to take criticism and give constructive feedback.
Many variables seem to affect OCB, including confidence, organizational justice, trust, commitment, etc. However, leadership styles, and particularly LMX, seem to have the largest effect. Research suggests a positive relationship between LMX and OCB (Estiri et al., 2017). Furthermore, it is suggested that gender has a significant impact on OCB. Several studies have found women to be more likely to display OCB, and this relationship is explained by their higher level of sentimentality compared to men (Kidder, 2002; Bommer, Miles, & Grover, 2003; Estiri et al., 2017). Women seem to, more than men, perceive OCB as intra-role behaviour than extra-role behaviour. In other words, women consider OCB as part of their job (Hackett, 2008).
In their 2017 study, Estiri et al. aimed to investigate whether gender plays a moderating role in the relationship between OCB and LMX. They found that women have the wish to be more involved in the organization, as civic behaviours were found to be higher amongst women compared to men. In general, women showed a higher level of OCB. When LMX was found to be low, there were no significant gender differences in sportsmanship. However, when LMX levels were higher, women tended to display more sportsmanship. Furthermore, women were found to be more conscientious than men, in both high and low LMX levels. Despite these gender differences, gender did not moderate between OCB and LMX. Limitations of this study included the small sample size, and the lack of generalizability, as the sample only consisted of Iranian hotel employees.
Summary of findings
The discussed literature makes clear that gender stereotypes often shape expectations and evaluations. These gender-based schemas can be of large influence on the development and/or maintenance of LMX, because people tend to ignore the actual behaviour and/or performance of others if it is incongruent with their expectations (Adebayo & Udegbe, 2004). Literature on gender stereotypes in LMX has several suggestions on which dyadic relationships seem to be of lowest and highest quality. Goertzen and Fritz (2004) suggest that female leaders have lower LMX, with both male and female subordinates; Adebayo and Udegbe (2004) argue that female-female dyads are of lowest quality, as explained by the queen bee syndrome; and that male leader-female subordinate dyads are of highest quality, as explained by paternalism theory.
Despite the fact people often rely too much on gender expectations and biases, there can be some truth to them. Gender differences between men and women do exist and seem to be of influence on their relationships and LMX. Women’s relationship-oriented approach seems to indicate that women generally have better LMX relationships than men. This would imply that male-male dyadic relationships are of lowest quality, and female-female of highest quality. Since females seem to invest more time and effort in their relationships, it is suggested that females communicate more easily with each other than with men (Varma & Stroh, 2001). A theory that would agree with female-female dyads being of highest quality is the similarity-attraction theory. This paradigm suggests that perceived similarity causes people to be attracted to each other, and thus have better relationships. According to this theory, male-male and female-female dyads are most likely to be of high quality, as gender similarity could lead to a higher LMX.
To briefly summarize, the findings on leader and subordinate gender influencing LMX are extremely inconsistent. It seems that gender could indeed influence LMX, but in what way, is unfortunately still unclear. It is not yet possible to describe what role gender plays in LMX relationships. With regards to OCB, women are found to show a higher level than men. They are often more invested in their jobs, and have a bigger wish of being involved in the organization. However, the relationship between gender and LMX is not moderated by gender.
It is quite difficult to describe theoretical and practical implications of this review, as the results are very inconsistent. However, it is possible to conclude that making people aware of gender stereotypes and biases on the work floor, would likely be fruitful. Stereotypes is a topic that has been extensively discussed many times, and often without results. However, maybe discussing leadership specifically, could lead to more. Men and women should be made aware of how role congruity is not always efficient, and that looking past leader and/or subordinate gender in evaluations is important. Once more is known about the role of gender in LMX relationships, scholars could develop trainings, seminars, lectures, etc. that discuss gender-related issues and how to deal with these.
Limitations and future research
As with any review, study, or experiment, there are several limitations to this literature review. First of all, the limitations of the studies discussed obviously affect this review as well. These include the insufficient sizes of samples and their lack of generalizability. In other words, some of the samples were too small and specific. An example of this is the study by Estiri et al., in which the sample only consisted of 380 Iranian hotel employees. The specificity of the culture and job makes that the results of this study cannot be considered representative of other cultures or work fields.
Furthermore, there is unfortunately always a chance of publication bias being present. An example is the review by Goertzen and Fritz (2004), in which was stated that Bauer and Green (1996) were disappointed by their results. These authors stated their disappointment, but it is likely that other authors leave out certain results or information due to such disappointment. Another limitation of the studies discussed is the lack of longitudinal studies, as this type of study is necessary to detect variable patterns over time. Moreover, the lack of control groups of some studies is unfortunate, as control groups are essential for comparison.
On top of the limitations of the studies discussed, the literature review itself has some limitations as well. First of all, some literature discussed could be seen as rather outdated. Leadership is a very dynamic research field that is constantly changing, thus literature that is more recent is very crucial. However, this could also be considered a strength as it is also important to look at the bigger picture, for which older literature is essential. Secondly, not all relevant literature was read and discussed. Articles and studies were selected based on apparent relevance, however, it is likely that some important information and studies are missing from the review.
Some of the literature discussed focused more on the gender of the leader, other on the gender of the subordinate, and other on both. There were also papers that did not clearly distinguish leader and subordinate gender. Most studies discussed female-male, female-female, and male-male dyadic relationship without explicitly researching the role of the subjects. It is plausible that, for example, a female leader-male subordinate relationship differs significantly from a female subordinate-male leader relationship. Future research should look more into both subordinate and leader gender, and whether these influence dyadic relationships differently.
An important step that has to be made by future researchers is the improvement of study design. All the limitations discussed above are to be considered and dealt with. This means that longitudinal studies should be conducted, with larger and more generalizable samples, including control groups.
In conclusion, research shows that gender does not play a moderating role in the relationship between OCB and LMX. Moreover, findings on the role of leader and/or subordinate gender in LMX relationships are highly inconsistent. More and better research needs to be conducted in order to find clear answers. Once we have more answers and understanding on the role of gender in LMX, this information can be useful in developing trainings and seminars on how to deal with certain situations, in order to create a better working environment for everyone.
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