February 10, 2016

My topics for G were Gender and Groups but it shouldn’t be surprising that I would want to share some thoughts about gender issues in arts management.

GENDER – extracts

In their Cultural Leadership Handbook, Hewison & Holden (2011,p.31) say:

“Although we do not believe that gender is a significant factor in being a leader, we have noticed than women are often better at silent leadership than men. That is because they are not just thinking about themselves in relation to the organization, they are ready to enable and empower people by genuine delegation, and they are ready to nurture other people’s talent. This is why, when they want to achieve change, they also produce general agreement about the need for change and the direction to go in. The result is a much more stable organization, where people do not just feel proud of the success of the organization, they feel they own it. Whereas a transformational leader is definitely seen as being out in front of the organisation, the relational leader will be at the centre of it.”

When Kate Macneill & I (2009)  interviewed the artistic and management leaders of Australia’s major performing arts companies, we discovered that the Managing Directors required a sophisticated set of management skills and qualities that were both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in order to have a successful co-partnership with an artist and manage a complex organisation.

Because we were exploring co-leadership relationships, the language of marriage came up regularly as a metaphor:

….you end up being Mum and Dad in an organisation and I’m possibly the more nurturing, encouraging, more access to, … and AD’s much less effusive with his praise but when it comes, it’s more important and meaningful. [GM 7]

Bilton, Cummings & Wilson (2003, p. 213) in discussing the relatively high proportion of women in senior positions in arts organisations talk about the stereotypes of  “disorganised creator and omniscient manager take on a Freudian dimensions, with the boy-child’s artistic ego protected from reality by the  indulgent and controlling mother.”   Another gendered approach is to think of the Artistic Director as ‘dad’, off at work in the rehearsal room leaving problem-solving and relationship building ‘mum’, the Managing Director, at ‘home’ looking after the kids.  However, although the mum/dad metaphor might help explain the co-partnership model, it’s a very modern marriage with a disconnect of feminine and masculine roles and functions from the biological sex of the person in the specific position:

I don’t think that gender really plays a part in it – it might provide a convenient psychological paradigm for the rest of the company who might like to refer to “mum and dad”, but in the theatre of course one could have same-sex parents and it wouldn’t be that surprising.  [GM 2]

As evidenced by the quote above, which reminded us that families are not restricted to the male dad and the female mum, many of our interviewees rejected gender stereotypes. Our female interviewees did not necessarily consider themselves to be the “mother”, or even the “mothering” type – in contradiction with a gendered approach to the role of Managing Director as being the organising, administrating, facilitating and relationship builder. But when the women did talk about gender (which they didn’t do unless pressed) they had an active preference to work with reconstructed i.e. not traditional, men.

The intelligent, well-educated women under discussion may choose to work in arts organisations because of the nature of the people they are likely to find there as well as because they have a passion for the output.  Men who choose to work in arts organisations aren’t necessarily people who are chasing power or money, and the men that women get to work with are more likely to be collegial rather than competitive:

I guess you’d say that they’re fairly ideologically sound men or politically reconstructed men or feminist men or what have you. [GM6]

Many of the men whom we interviewed either described themselves, or were described, in words that imply that they are pro-feminist.

The male and female leaders we talked to were in co-leadership relationships and that may mean they require different qualities to men and women working alone as CEOs.   The binaries of masculine and feminine qualities were absent in the way the interviewees discussed their co-leadership arrangements. This is not to say that the interviewees were not aware of the manner in which attributes are assigned to each gender, but rather revealed a level of self-awareness and knowingness around questions of gender. There is a wealth of literature that supports the view that at heart there is little difference in management style between men and women, with both sharing similar aspirations, values, personality traits and behaviours (Billing & Alverson 2000). However this literature also notes that in leadership positions the attributes, skills and behaviour that both men and women exhibit remain ‘masculine’ and a number of our interviewees, whether men or women, described their management strengths with words that fit within a more masculine management set such as rationality and analysis. However, their leadership style also had to be focused on relationships, a perceived female leadership strength according to Benko & Pelster (2013) because of the organisational structure in which they worked.


Benko, C & Pelster, B 2013, ‘How Women Decide’ Harvard Business Review, 91(9):78-84

Billing, YD & Alversson M 2000, ‘Questioning the Notion of Feminine Leadership: A Critical Perspective on the Gender Labelling of Leadership’, Gender, Work & Organization, 7(3): 144-157

Bilton, C, Cummings, S & Wilson, D 2003, ‘Strategy as Creativity’ in Cummings, S & Wilson, D (eds) Images of Strategy, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford,  197-227

Hewison, R & Holden, J, 2011 The Cultural Leadership Handbook, F Gower, Farnham

Macneill, K & Tonks, A 2009, ‘Co-leadership and Gender in the Performing Arts Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management 6(1):291-404