Both gay and heterosexual men prefer masculine-presenting men for leadership roles, according to a University of Sydney study released Jan. 31, indicating persistent bias exists toward feminine-presenting men at work.
The study defined feminine-presenting traits as “a more feminine vocal quality, body language and posture.”
Researchers created a mock TV commercial casting script, filming six professional actors — all gay men — who each acted the same script in both a “feminine-gay” and “masculine-gay” manner. Then, 256 gay and heterosexual men were told to watch the videos and choose the actor who could be seen as a “leader” who could represent Australia. Both gay and heterosexual men preferred the more masculine-gay actor videos for the ad.
The findings could be telling for recruitment processes in general, the study noted. Even though expectations for leadership have shifted toward empathy and emotional intelligence, “the prevailing association between masculinity and high status” is strong, it said.
“We operate in teams-based workplaces now where effective leadership qualities — warmth, empathy and good communication — are all considered feminine traits, and a more feminine-presenting gay man might be an ideal candidate for a leadership role,” Ben Gerrard, researcher in gender and sexuality in the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, said. “And yet we still value traditional masculinity at a senior leadership level as a measure of the capacity to lead, because traditional feminine traits are considered too soft or not authoritative enough.”
Such bias may pressure feminine-presenting gay men to conform to be seen as ready for promotion, despite various studies showing that workers are happier and more productive when they can be their authentic selves.