Challenging Patriarchal Norms in Leadership

217. Challenging Patriarchal Norms in Leadership

About this Podcast

Ep. 217 – In this eye-opening episode, Ramona goes in-depth on the ongoing impact of patriarchal attitudes toward leadership in the workplace. She explains how qualities viewed as more “masculine,” like assertiveness and decisiveness, are still prized over “feminine” strengths like empathy and collaboration.

Using real-world examples and studies, Ramona points out the male-centric bias that underlies popular leadership books, corporate training programs, and organizational cultures. The ideas being taught skew heavily toward traditionally male styles of leadership.

She gets real about the specific challenges women face, like feeling they have to work extra hard to get promoted, not wanting to come across as “difficult” for speaking up, and taking critical feedback harder than men do – which can chip away at self-confidence over time.

While big-picture reforms are needed, Ramona calls on individuals to start recognizing their own biases and intentionally value a mix of masculine and feminine leadership qualities, depending on what an organization or team needs.

This frank discussion exposes the outdated mindsets still casting feminine traits as second-rate, and rallies leaders to root out these subconscious prejudices to build fairer, more inclusive workplaces.

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Episode 217 Transcript:

0:00:00 Ramona Shaw: This episode is about patriarchal norms in leadership. We’re going to talk about how that relates to women, how it compares to female leadership, and we talk about some of the nuances to pay attention to as we balance between a more masculine or a more feminine leadership style. Now, this episode is not just for women who feel exposed and impacted by patriarchal norms. It is an episode in which I want to call out the difference between masculine leadership and feminine leadership and how the patriarchy plays into what we perceive as the norm today.

0:00:37 Ramona Shaw: I hope you’re ready. So let’s get started. Here’s the question.

0:00:40 Ramona Shaw: How do you successfully transition into your first official leadership role, build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully, and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization? That’s the question, and this show provides the answers. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shah, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where work is not seen as a source of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection, and fulfillment.

0:01:07 Ramona Shaw: And this transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead so everyone wins and grows. In this show, you’ll learn how to.

0:01:16 Ramona Shaw: Think, communicate, and act.

0:01:18 Ramona Shaw: Ask the confident and competent leader you know you can be.

0:01:24 Ramona Shaw: Welcome to this episode of The Manager Track podcast. We’re going to talk about patriarchal norms in leadership. Now, before we dive in, let’s quickly define patriarchy. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, patriarchy is a society in which the oldest male is the leader of the family, or a society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantage. So that second part, the society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantage, is what we see in workplaces still today and what we’re exposed to when it comes to leadership practices and leadership development at large.

0:02:05 Ramona Shaw: So that’s what I want to talk to you about today. Now, granted, we have come a long way from women voting, women having independence or their own financial assets, and a bunch of other civil rights that put men and women as equals. Now, in the workplace, we see a lot of effort towards equalizing opportunities and that women have access to similar opportunities and get promoted at a similar rate. We’ve been working on reducing biases, especially in the interview process.

0:02:37 Ramona Shaw: We see a lot of work around pay equality. As of to this day, women still make significantly less compared to their male counterparts, especially if those women are from minority groups. Now, with all that said, and the effort is being recognized and needs to continue because we’re not quite there yet. What we still see is that the values in the workplace and around culture are still heavily influenced by the patriarchy, and specifically, that we assume that patriarchal leadership is still seen as the norm, and anything that deviates from the norm is second class.

0:03:16 Ramona Shaw: If you want to actually change this, we have to look at patriarchy and matriarchy as equals and then figure out what’s the right blend for the type of organization that we want to create. Now, while some organizations will want to choose more of a patriarchal approach, some others may want to look at more of a matrix approach or actually take any reference to family structures or hierarchies totally out of the language and the culture they’re aiming for.

0:03:46 Ramona Shaw: This should be a deliberate quest to create the kind of culture that serves the business and the employees. I’m not here to make a case of right or wrong. I am making the case for today is to put them as equal, and that is most definitely not the case today. I see this all the time in the leadership development space. To give you an example, I looked at the ten best selling management and leadership books of all time, and here’s what we see.

0:04:16 Ramona Shaw: Number one is start by Simon Zinek. That is written by a man. Extreme ownership. How Navy Seals lead and win is number two, Chako Willanik. Number two, a man. Get a grip on your business. Gina Wickman. A man. That was number three. Leaders eat last. Simon Zinnick. Four, high output management by Andrew Grove. At number five, John Maxwell. The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork. A man. At number six, dare to lead by Brene Brown.

0:04:51 Ramona Shaw: First woman in the top ten. At number seven, the new 1 minute manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. At number eight, both of them men. Turn the ship around by David Marquette. This is number nine. And then we have the effective executive by Peter Drucker. At number ten, out of the ten most sold leadership and management books, there’s one woman representing dare to lead. And the practices that and the approaches and the ideas that these men have written down in their leadership books that are to this day still wildly sold and people learn from them and try to replicate them in the workplace are based on masculine leadership.

0:05:41 Ramona Shaw: In addition, we’re also looking at a generational gap. For example, Peter Drucker’s work, relatively speaking, is old. Same with John Maxwell. This book came out in 2001. High output management came out and was published in 1983. So it’s men, and it’s often older men. And actually looking at the top ten here there’s also no person of color represented, as far as I know. And if we don’t recognize that, just like medicine is built for men, the gym equipment is built for men, the seat belts are made for men, and there’s so many things that women adapt to and have to adjust.

0:06:25 Ramona Shaw: The physical differences, including hormones, the mental differences, the emotional differences are all not considered. Or if considered, there puts a second class. Because again, the masculine approach is the norm. And not recognizing this and not questioning it will continue to reinforce a patriarchal system in the workplace. And for all the women here listening, I bet if we were to collect stories and how you notice this, we could probably write a book from making comments about cute smiles to being questioned for promotion because you are in the baby making years, to not giving pay raises because you have a husband at home supporting you, so you’re probably not in it for the money, to all kinds of additional obligations that are placed on women because we assume still the norm to be a patriarchal system. And these are just some examples, top of mind. But again, we could write a book on how this shows up and how women are impacted by this, and men as well, by the way. Now, looking at the leadership development space, there is still a very high level of focus and attention given to skills such as assertive, decisive, in control.

0:07:38 Ramona Shaw: And we value those while we at the same time undervalue strengths that fall under the category of empathy, collaboration, inclusivity, and care. Those are traditionally feminine strengths, but they’re like second class. As long as you can be assertive and decisive, sure, yeah, every once in a while, please be caring. Please show empathy and learn how to do this too. But they’re not seen as equal. And I know from personal experience and from talking to lots of women leaders that we are confronted with this bias all the time and trying to either be too feminine and trying to lean into those feminine leadership strengths that we may naturally have more of an affinity to can then come across as too weak and not enough of a leadership potential. And so we’re going to jeopardize our career progression, or we may step into a more masculine leadership approach.

0:08:40 Ramona Shaw: We’re trying to be assertive and trying to be decisive, and now all of a sudden, that’s also not appreciated and comes across as too hard or inauthentic or too masculine. And so we really have a hard time winning because again, the two are not seen as equal. And a woman adopting masculine leadership styles in order to be effective is not of equal value. And that is what bothers me the most. And look, I wish that could record this podcast and have a solution and say, here is how we fix this.

0:09:13 Ramona Shaw: Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution. But what is very clear is that the first step needs to be awareness of this issue and the biases that we have, and we’re not there yet at all. These patterns are still so deeply ingrained that a vast majority of people operate without the awareness of the biases that they hold. They don’t recognize how they’re looking at more feminine leadership traits as second class traits to masculine traits. They’re not recognizing how a lot of leadership best practices are based on a patriarchal system.

0:09:51 Ramona Shaw: And without recognizing the biases and becoming aware of the issue at hand. We don’t even need to talk about solutions yet, because we’re not problem aware. We as a society are not aware enough of the problem to actually create systematic change while we’re looking at high level systematic changes we need to make to pay, equality, for example, and transparency around pay, as well as a lot of research and data gathering that has to be done in order to highlight and create visibility into the problem.

0:10:28 Ramona Shaw: I also strongly believe that this has to include grassroots infused change, where we as individuals all have to do our own work to build awareness and to stand up for different leadership styles and different leadership strength. To call out when we see any person achieve results through feminine leadership traits, regardless of the gender of the person. But when someone uses an inclusive approach, a collaborative approach, lots of empathy, and with that achieves a business objective, that we’re calling that out the same way that we would call out masculine traits.

0:11:10 Ramona Shaw: We train people on these different traits equally. We give equal exposure to them. We are looking into your processes to find out what kind of leadership traits do they have and what does the team need. That combination between the team’s needs and the leadership’s abilities and strength needs to be a match. And how do we create a blended approach? And we value both aspects, masculine and feminine, equally. And for all women out there, to not undercut yourself, that moment when you recognize you’re the only woman in the room internally, to not feel like you have to shrink or that you don’t belong, but to level up because you recognize the responsibility that you now have to represent feminine leadership traits and to create a more blended approach, you speaking up and calling out the biases is important. That’s part of the grassroots movement.

0:12:12 Ramona Shaw: When I now see teams, with the vast majority of them being men, then we look at the decision making process, we look at the culture, at the values, who gets promoted for what? And then we can quickly see that it’s hard for women to get a foot in the door or to even elevate within such a group, because they’re always seen as second class. And while most often, intellectually speaking, people will disagree that they are abiding by patriarchal standards, the biases are so deeply ingrained that it’s hard to uncover them and hard to recognize.

0:12:49 Ramona Shaw: But again, that goes back to awareness building and for us to own it. To say, yes, I agree that I have these biases. I used to walk around and say, I’d rather be led by a man than by a woman. Why? Because it’s a lot more straightforward. I always know what the man is thinking. And with a woman, I kinda quite never know. They’re more moody, they’re more emotional, and it’s just harder for me to be productive and effective.

0:13:15 Ramona Shaw: I used to say that, and it gives me goosebumps to recognize the bias that I was carrying with me and how differently I looked at men versus women and how that impacted my entire reality. To look at women differently, to not trust women as much. And of course, because I did that, I had a harder time building good and trusted relationships with women when that was a different story. It seemed so much more straightforward, so much more trustworthy, and so I would show up differently. And of course, because I showed up differently, it was easy for me to work.

0:13:50 Ramona Shaw: So this is what we have to recognize and fully own our own biases and then challenge them to understand. Where is this coming from? And what’s actually true to this and what we know from research and studies over and over again, is how effective feminine leadership traits are in bringing people together, in achieving business results, in building relationships and, and trust, and much more. There is no academic proof, as far as I’m aware, that would confirm that masculine leadership traits lead to better results.

0:14:26 Ramona Shaw: Yet we operate as if that was the truth, whether we’re conscious about it or not. So that’s what I wanted to talk to you about today, and I hope this was some food for thought, for you to look at your biases and your approach to leadership, whether that is masculine or feminine, or the blend thereof. Now, before we wrap up, I also want to share a few things that I hear from women a lot more than I hear from men. One, women think they have to work harder and take on more work in order to get promoted.

0:15:00 Ramona Shaw: Men often don’t see it that way. They think they have to deliver results and they’re ready for a promotion. Women associate promotions with working harder, and working harder only gets you so far. And then you’re going to reach a point in which working harder doesn’t scale with the growth of your career. It’s now about owning your expertise, problem solving, thinking critically and creatively, your foresight and all of that. That is not working harder.

0:15:31 Ramona Shaw: But yet women still feel like they need to work harder, and it’s often because they had to work harder in order to get where they are today. But there is a point where that’s no longer going to be the success strategy to get to the next level. And if women don’t recognize this and stay attached to that strategy of working harder, they will either burn out, get demotivated and leave, or disengage, or they’ll stay stuck.

0:15:58 Ramona Shaw: They’re missing out on opportunities. And another thing I hear from women a lot more than from mental, myself included, is, oh, I don’t want to be difficult. Like, I don’t want to make that ask or advocate for my promotion. I don’t want to be the difficult one. And I think this goes back to a bit of the be the nice girl belief that many women were socialized to identify with in a patriarchal system. Of course that’s what we want women to think and how we want them to show up to be the nice girls, to be the women who aren’t difficult, but who are making the man’s life easier.

0:16:37 Ramona Shaw: Again, going back to the definition, a society controlled by men in which they use their power to their own advantage. So keeping women out of the power dynamics is useful, is to their advantage. So the nice girl not be difficult is deeply ingrained for many women. Oh, and one thing I forgot to say is it also shows up with setting boundaries, clear boundaries of what is okay and what isn’t okay. Men have less of a problem to just not respond or to be absent, to spend the afternoon golfing or taking a long business lunch. And women often start to feel guilty about not being available to their team members, not to respond to their questions fast enough, or not working hard enough. The third one I want to call out is the fact that women tend to have a stronger fear of social exclusion.

0:17:30 Ramona Shaw: What is interesting is that studies show that when men fear social exclusion, what they tend to do is they address it directly. They will go to the person that seems to be a threat and they will sort it out with them. What women tend to do when they are threatened and fear social exclusion is that they will seek alliances so they will not confront that threat directly, but they will start to seek alliances with other people to create a bigger opposition to that threat.

0:18:00 Ramona Shaw: And that’s what we sometimes see show up in office politics, for example, or in workplace interactions and relationships. And then the last one I’m going to call out is that women tend to internalize negative feedback more so than men. And this is something that I wrote down as an observation that I made through my coaching engagements. And I did some research online here before the podcast. And what I found is that there was a study done with MBA students.

0:18:26 Ramona Shaw: They had peer groups provide negative feedback to MBA students. In one group it was women and the other group was men. And what they found is women not only rated themselves lower in a self assessment, but when they receive negative peer review, they would lower their ratings even more than men would. Men tend to rate themselves higher, and when they received peer review, their adjustment, their self adjustment would only go down a little bit.

0:18:56 Ramona Shaw: Women took that peer review and in the next self evaluation they rated themselves notably lower. And so in an environment that’s competitive, where there’s a lot of feedback coming your way, if you’re listening to peers giving you feedback, or your boss or other people giving you feedback, and that then impacts how you see yourself, and it will lower your sense of confidence more so than it lowers the sense of confidence of your male co workers.

0:19:25 Ramona Shaw: What will happen before you know it is male will continue to always have an upper hand on confidence, which we know is an important asset to cultivate to protect. It plays right into executive presence, which again feeds right into your chances of getting promoted. And on the other hand, for women whose confidence starts to shrink if they get negative feedback, then they’re eroding this important asset and it will impact their executive presence and how they show up with their peers, with their team members and senior leaders so quickly recapping. Women tend to want to work harder or think they need to work harder to get a promotion.

0:20:02 Ramona Shaw: Women don’t want to be too difficult as it comes to negotiating things, advocating, setting boundaries, there’s a stronger fear of social exclusion than they will not confront it directly, but build alliances. And they internalize negative feedback more strongly than male counterparts. These are just some of the ways that we see women and men behave differently in the workplace and how the patriarchal norms are still cultivated and fostered and infused into organizations through books that we’ve talked about, through competency skills, through leadership development trainings that are focused very much on masculine traits and then reinforced in organizations through the cultural values and the unawareness of biases that every single individual has.

0:20:54 Ramona Shaw: So I hope this was helpful. I don’t talk about men and women often on the podcast. I love working with all genders and supporting them. And when it comes to leadership development, to me, the work that I want to do and the work that we want to do with Arkova is related to leadership and helping leaders grow irrelevant of the gender. But at the same time, we really can’t turn a blind eye on this and pretend it doesn’t happen.

0:21:21 Ramona Shaw: It exists and it keeps being reinforced. And while there need to be systematic changes, again, there’s also a grassroots movement that we can hopefully fuel and continue to cultivate through our own awareness building and being exposed to topics and conversations. Hopefully like this one here. If you have friends, colleagues, other people that you think would love to hear this episode or benefit from it, please pass it along.

0:21:45 Ramona Shaw: If you have any additional questions or things that you want to share, don’t hesitate to reach we’ll drop all the links and more in the show notes. We’re going to conclude this episode and I’ll see you next week on another episode of the minutest track podcast. Bye bye.

0:22:01 Ramona Shaw: If you enjoyed this episode, then check out two other awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with. This includes my best selling book, the Confident, incompetent new manager, which you can find on Amazon or book, and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager. You can check it masterclass these resources and a couple more youll find in the show notes down below.


  1. Can you recall a time when you or someone you know was perceived as “difficult” for behaviors like setting boundaries, speaking up, or negotiating – things that might be more accepted from a man? What were the consequences of that perception?
  2. The episode cites studies showing women internalize negative feedback more intensely than men, which can erode self-confidence over time. Have you witnessed or experienced this phenomenon yourself? How might you counteract it?
  3. Ramona calls for blending the best of masculine and feminine leadership styles based on an organization’s needs, rather than defaulting to ingrained patriarchal norms. What might a healthy mashup of those qualities look like in your workplace?


  • Learn how to turn your 1-on-1 meetings from time wasters, awkward moments, status updates, or non-existent into your most important and valuable meeting with your directs all week. Access the course and resources here:
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Learn more about our leadership development programs, coaching, and workshops at

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Are you in your first manager role and don’t want to mess it up? Watch our FREE Masterclass and discover the 4 shifts to become a leader people love to work for:

Don’t forget to invest time each week to increase your self-awareness, celebrate your wins, and learn from your mistakes. Your career grows only to the extent that you grow. Grab your Career Journal with leadership exercises and weekly reflections here:

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