Is Charisma a Male Phenomenon? A Perceptual Study of British Political Leaders

About this Session


Thu. 07.04. 12:15



Speaker: Judit Vári, Co-Authors: Aleksandra Cichocka, Tamara Rathcke

Women increasingly occupy traditionally male-dominated leadership positions, and some management theories argue an advantage of female leadership styles. Contrary to this positive re-interpretation of femininity, research finds persisting negative biases towards female politicians. Charisma emerges as an important trait of successful leaders in political and corporate contexts. Even though both charismatic and feminine traits have been shown to play an important role in the perception of leaders, little is known about how these two traits interact. In this paper, we investigate how varying degrees of perceived femininity impact on perceived charisma of political leaders in the UK. British participants (N = 84, female = 63) listened to 10 samples of Brexit speeches by David Cameron, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, and Theresa May and rated them on 14 character traits—among them femininity—using Likert scales. We expected an inverse relationship between perceived femininity and charisma, but analysis shows that femininity does not impact on charisma ratings directly. However, perceptions of speakers’ femininity, together with other traits, can provide functional definitions of charisma. Results suggest that femininity ratings contribute to a charisma definition based on a “benevolent-calm” style of leadership. This is in line with previous research on the perceived expertise of female politicians in “compassion issues,” such as poverty.