The Gender Gap and the Dark Side of Leadership

Pruschak, Gernot (2023). The Gender Gap and the Dark Side of Leadership In: 6th Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Leadership Symposium 2023. Rhodes, Greece. 3.-6.5.2023.

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Experiencing youth leadership conveys long-lasting effects on later-life earnings (Kuhn & Weinberger, 2005). Yet this effect is only robust for white males (Hopp & Pruschak, 2020). Furthermore, dark personality traits play a crucial role in adolescents’ leadership development (Furtner et al., 2017). We therefore ask whether adolescents’ dark traits possess an effect on their attainment of high school leadership positions and their later-life earnings and whether gender differences in the perceptions of leaders with dark trait explain why the youth leadership – wage effect does not transcend for women. We draw from McClelland’s (1987) motivational theory and focus on the need for power which correlates positively with dark personality traits (Furtner et al., 2017): H1: Adolescents with stronger dark need for power more often attain high school leadership positions. Dark personality traits tend to diminish with age (Hartung et al., 2022). The effect of youth leadership experience remains more stable (Hopp & Pruschak, 2020): H2: The attainment of high school leadership positions mediates the effect of adolescents’ dark need for power on later-life earnings. Role-congruity theory states that individuals are positively reckoned if their characteristics align with their role (Eagly & Karau, 2002). Female leaders with dark traits receive worse ratings than their men counterparts (De Hoogh et al., 2015): H3: Women with higher dark intentions are less likely to attain leadership positions. To test our hypotheses, we employ data from the Project TALENT, a longitudinal study of more than 400,000 US high school students (Stone et al., 2014). We use the 11-year follow-up survey for the dependent variable, the natural logarithm of hourly earnings, and the base-year year data from 1960 for all other variables. We employ students’ responses to the question “How well would you like or dislike firing a person?” captured on a five-point Likert-scale as the independent variable. High school leadership constitutes the mediator and gender the moderator. We further include 35 control variables capturing various students’ characteristics. Our study only includes Caucasian respondents because of potential selection biases in the non-white sample (Weinberger, 2014). We conduct the analysis in Stata 17 using the medeff user-written package for causal mediation analysis (Hicks & Tingley, 2011). We find support for H1 by showing that Firing Intention possesses a marginally significantly positive effect on High School Leadership in the full sample and a significantly positive effect when including only men. Yet this effect is negative but not significant in the women sample. Looking at the results from the mediation analysis presented in Table 1, we find support for H2 because of a small but marginally significantly positive ACME (Average Causal Mediated Effect) and a marginally significantly negative direct effect for the full sample. The total effect is not significant. Looking only at men, we find a small but significantly positive ACME (support for H2) but no significant direct and total effect. We fail to identify any significant effects for women, thus highlighting the existence of gender differences (H3). Our results indicate that adolescents’ dark intentions are beneficial for them for attaining a high school leadership position in the short term but only indirectly relevant in the long term. Yet even this indirect effect is small. Thus, youth leadership programs do not necessarily have to ignite strong dark traits in adolescents to substantially increase their leadership and job chances. In addition, our results indicate that gender socialization plays already a role in high school. This highlights the importance of early-stage gender equality initiatives challenging gender stereotypes. However, our data is quite old. Since the 1960s, substantial improvements in gender equality have taken place. Future investigations should therefore use more up-to-date data to investigate whether effects remained the same. Hereby, using the data from the Project TALENT follow-up study conducted between 2016 and 2020 interviewing nearly 100,000 individuals already included in the 1960 data could be especially promising as this dataset provides insights into the long-term returns of high school leadership. Future research could furthermore look at leadership in even earlier stages. This could provide valuable insights into the development of perceptions related to leadership and gender that could ultimately break the glass ceiling.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Business School > Institute for Applied Data Science & Finance
Business School


Pruschak, Gernot0000-0002-3594-2108


H Social Sciences > HB Economic Theory




Gernot Pruschak

Date Deposited:

11 Jan 2024 10:42

Last Modified:

11 Jan 2024 10:42




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