The purpose of this perspective article is to present the argument that authentic leadership is a gendered representation of leadership. We first provide a brief history of leadership theories and definitions of authentic leadership. We then critique authentic leadership and offer arguments to support the premise that authentic leadership is not gender-neutral and is especially challenging for women.
Authentic leadership is a contemporary leadership perspective which places emphasis on the leader’s understanding of his true self and his actions that align with his true self. The current literature on authentic leadership describes leaders in heroic terms, which reinforces the stereotypical individualistic agency of leadership as opposed to recognizing or rewarding the relational aspects of leadership. This viewpoint of authentic leadership also neglects to address how authentic leadership applies to women and the particular concerns facing women leaders who want to enact authentic leadership. We presented three primary issues which result in authentic leadership being particularly challenging for women. First, there is a double-bind dilemma which forces women to make a choice between acting in concert with gender-normative behaviors or with expected leadership role behaviors. Second, organizations are gendered entities which require women to fit into male-dominated environments. Third, the weight given to the individual, true authentic self as opposed to the self in relation to others continues to position women as leadership outsiders due to the focus on the traditionally masculine, individual agentic aspects of leadership. We propose that these three concerns facing women leaders should be explored and integrated into the ongoing investigations of the construct of authentic leadership. This will result in authentic leadership being a more inclusive concept and an ideal toward which all leaders can strive.