sealPurdue News

August 1996

Study: Management styles should be gender-specific

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Although more and more women are joining industry's ranks as sales managers, they'll have to tailor their management styles to the gender of their employees if they hope to have continued success.

According to a study by a Purdue University professor and three colleagues at other universities, both female and male sales personnel are starting to welcome the newcomers. However, Lucette B. Comer, assistant professor of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue, says there is a big difference between the management style male employees prefer and the management style that elicits their best performance.

"I can remember not so long ago hearing men say they'd never work for a woman," she says. "Now, we're hearing men say they prefer a female management style. What's interesting is that those same men still perform better under the traditional, male-oriented, rewards-based management style."

The study appeared in the fall 1995 Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management. Comer and her colleagues sent questionnaires to a random sample of 45 individuals (15 female sales managers, 15 salesmen, 15 saleswomen) to find out if salesmen and saleswomen respond differently to the leadership styles of female sales managers.

In particular, the researchers wanted to assess differences in salespersons' satisfaction with female supervision and differences in sales performance under female supervision. Comer and her colleagues identified two overall management styles used by sales managers.

"A transactional style is the more traditional of the two and is more typical of a male-oriented style of management," she says. "It relies on rewards and punishments to influence employees. Many of these managers are hands-off until something goes wrong. The philosophy is, 'When you're doing OK, you won't even know I'm around. But, when you mess up, I'll be right next door.'"

Women, Comer says, take a more hands-on approach.

"The transformational style is a more individual-oriented style," she says. "Women managers tend to motivate by encouragement and individual attention. They relate to their employees with emotion and faith, and tend to encourage new ways of thinking."

Study results show that both men and women prefer a transformational, individual-oriented management style, Comer says.

"Men reported an appreciation for the considerate attention they received," Comer says. "It's possible that salesmen treat their work with female sales managers as an extended family or social relationship. In other words, in order to deal with having a female boss, the men view their manager in a familiar, non-threatening role, such as a helpful mother or wife."

Saleswomen, however, focused on the charismatic traits of their managers, rather than the considerate attention they received.

"Actually, women were relatively unmoved by considerate treatment," she says. "Charismatic leadership was valued above any other trait. Perhaps that's because charisma is a definable trait that employees can identify when looking for role models."

Comer says she was surprised when performance levels were measured.

"It's interesting that although men reported a preference for a relational management style, they performed relatively poorly under those conditions," Comer says. "When left to their own devices, however, men thrived."

Comer theorizes that men are so used to the traditional management style, they can't function under what appears to them to be constant surveillance. Women, on the other hand, floundered terribly when they were left alone. That could be a reason women have had difficulty rising through the sales ranks to a sales manager position, Comer says.

"Women have had a difficult time adapting to the traditional male-oriented management style," she says. "As women enter into sales manager positions, I think we'll see saleswomen becoming more productive, and more women will move up."

But women sales managers won't be successful using an across-the-board transformational approach, Comer says.

"If women want to be successful as industrial sales managers, they'll have to employ two very different management styles -- one for men and one for women," she says. "What it comes down to is managing the individual instead of the position."

Source: Lucette B. Comer, (765) 496-1714

Writer: Victor B. Herr, (765) 494-2077; Internet,

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Copies of the journal article are available from Purdue News Service, (765) 494-2096.

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