What does it take to make leadership gender equal? Studies of political leadership in a gender balanced context

Women are globally underrepresented in politics and they are particularly disadvantaged in political leadership positions. This applies to party leaders, ministers as well as prime ministers and presidents. In addition to injustices linked to appointments, there are also studies showing that once women achieve leading positions, they continue to face prejudice and negative treatment. For example, women receive less positive evaluations and are more often exposed to violence and harassment than their male colleagues. However, there are a few countries—including Sweden—that have succeeded in achieving numerical gender balance in politics both in parliament and among party leaders and ministers. The question that guides this project is how the conditions for women's leadership are affected in such a gender-balanced context. Are women treated on equal terms as men, or do gender-related injustices persist?

For logical reasons, research on gender and leadership has so far been dominated by studies from countries and contexts where men are overrepresented. In these contexts, injustices regarding women's opportunities for leadership are often explained by the fact that leadership ideals for historical reasons have become masculine coded. These ideals emphasize qualities such as dominance and individualism and thus clash with feminine-coded expectations posed on women, emphasizing for instance care and inclusion. According to generally accepted leadership theory, this clash creates negative gender stereotypes and is assumed to be a critical barrier to women's political leadership. However, knowledge is limited in respect to how leadership ideals and the prerequisites for leadership are formed in more gender-balanced contexts. A topic becoming increasingly relevant as women's political representation increases.

This project aims to fill this research gap by examining the relationship between leadership ideals, practical conditions for exercising leadership, and gender. We will examine both how leadership ideals and gender are perceived in the Swedish context, and also how male and female political leaders are treated and assessed. We investigate these questions through a series of different studies: interviews and surveys with Swedish politicians, quantitative text analysis of interpellation debates in parliament and survey experiments with citizens. This combination of data and methods enables important empirical as well as theoretical contributions.

Project manager Josefina Erikson:

- Underrepresentation and discrimination of women in leading positions is an important challenge in politics as well as in other sectors. In addition, it is a question of democratic relevance; our political leaders must have decent conditions to carry out their assignment and their social background, such as gender, should not matter.

Principal Investigator: Josefina Erikson (Department of Government)

Period: 2023–2026

Funding: SEK 6 400 000 from Vetenskapsrådet

Josefina Erikson

Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Government, Faculty


Cecilia Josefsson

Associate senior lecturer/Assistant Professor at Department of Government, Faculty

Last modified: 2023-01-20