Advances in Global Leadership

Women Leading Globally: What We Know, Thought We Knew, and Need to Know about

Leadership in the 21st Century
Nancy J. Adler Joyce S. Osland
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Nancy J. Adler and Joyce S. Osland

Whereas most societal commentators continue to review the historical
patterns of men’s leadership in search of models for 21st-century success,
few have begun to recognize, let alone appreciate, the equivalent patterns
of women’s leadership and the future contributions that women could
potentially make as leaders. What could and are women bringing to

Earlier versions of parts of this chapter reporting the trends among women lea-
ders worldwide were first published by Adler (2003), then updated in 2009 (Adler,
2009), and subsequently updated again in 2014 (Adler, 2014). While drawing
directly on earlier work, the current chapter goes beyond prior versions in scope
and theoretical context.

Advances in Global Leadership, Volume 9, 15 56
Copyright r Nancy J. Adler & Joyce S. Osland
ISSN: 1535-1203/doi:10.1108/S1535-120320160000009003

society as global leaders? Why at this moment in history is there such a
marked increase in the number of women leaders? Are we entering an era
in which both male and female leaders will shape history, both symboli-
cally and in reality? And if so, will we discover that women, on average,
lead in different ways than men, or will we learn that role (global leader)
explains more than gender? This chapter reveals the accelerating trends
of women joining men in senior leadership positions, establishes the rela-
tionship of women leaders to our overall understanding of global leader-
ship, and sets forth an agenda to accomplish much needed research and
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Keywords: Global leadership; women global leaders; women heads of
state; women CEOs; global leadership competencies

1/3ve Portrait Nancy Adler

We have a responsibility in our time, as others have had in theirs, not to be prisoners of
history, but to shape history …
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright (1997)
Women Leading Globally 17

Given the challenges confronting the world in the 21st century, it comes as
no surprise that surveys continue to document the crucial importance of glo-
bal leadership and the need to develop greater numbers of global leaders.
Studies have identified a scarcity of global leaders in business (e.g., Black,
Morrison, & Gregersen, 1999; Gitsham, 2008) as well as in government and
non-profit organizations (Bikson, Treverton, Moini, & Lindstrom, 2003). In
2012, McKinsey found that business managers selected global leadership
more frequently than any other alternative as essential for global success
(McKinsey, 2012). Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s “Global Agenda
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Outlook” (2013, p. 6) singled out global leadership as one of the world’s 10
most urgent issues and concluded that the global leadership vacuum
“remains the biggest challenge of all for 2013 and beyond.” Perhaps in par-
tial acknowledgment of this need, the number of companies, countries, and
organizations that are considering and selecting both men and women for
senior-most positions, rather than limiting themselves to just men, is increas-
ing. Global leadership research is still in a relatively nascent stage, and
research focusing on the women who have become global leaders is even less
common, limited mainly to biographical or autobiographical studies (Ayman &
Korabik, 2015; Ngungiri & Madsen, 2015) and descriptions of women heads
of state and CEOs (c.f., Adler, 1996, 2014; Cantor & Bearnay, 1992;
Genovese, 1993; Liswood, 2007). The percentage of women in global leader-
ship research samples is small but growing. This chapter reviews what is
known, to date, not only about women who hold the number one leadership
position in their country or company, but also about women lower in the
organization who hold positions of global leadership. The review identifies
promising and critically needed areas for future research.

The ability to work successfully across cultures remains problematic. In the
private sector, for example, three-quarters of all international joint ventures
fail.1 In the public sector, regional cooperation remains challenging, as
exemplified by the European Union’s lack of effective solutions to pro-
blems resulting from aging populations, unemployment, immigration, and
incompatible national fiscal policies. Despite the heroic efforts of individual
organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, the international commu-
nity “failed miserably” in its response to the Ebola virus in West Africa,
according to most observers, including World Bank President Jim Kim

(Elliott, 2014). Coordination was hindered in part by inter-organizational
bickering and by leaders around the world who failed to understand the
shared global nature of the threat. Not even a superordinate goal in the
guise of a dire life-threatening, highly contagious disease has been sufficient
to bring about successful global collaboration. Weaving the people of the
world together, whether in companies or within the broader society, is
clearly not easy. Our history begs for new leaders who can more successfully
guide us toward a world defined by peace and prosperity (see Fort &
Schipani, 2004). Hope for a better future rests in large part with the quality
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of the societal, business, and political leadership offered by women and men
worldwide (see among others, Adler, 2006, 2008, 2010; Friedman, 2006).
What would it take to remarry aspirations for a better world with con-
temporary global realities? First, we would need to believe that prosperity
and a civilized way of living together on the planet are possible; that 21st-
century humanity is capable of success, broadly defined.2 Second, we would
need to believe that change is possible.3 And third, we would need to move
from discrete local outlooks to broadly encompassing global perspectives.
We would need to move away from divisiveness and return to more unify-
ing global images and global strategies. For humanity to embrace each of
the beliefs needed to create a healthy, economically vibrant, sustainable
global society, we would need approaches to leadership that differ quite
markedly from those offered by most leaders in recent history. We would
need new leaders and new leadership. Within this context, this chapter pre-
sents the trends to date on women joining men at the most senior levels of
leadership worldwide, establishes the relationship of women leaders to our
overall understanding of global leadership, and sets out an agenda to
accomplish much needed research and understanding.

Global leadership is not simply domestic leadership on a larger stage
(Osland, Bird, & Oddou, 2012; Osland, Taylor, & Mendenhall, 2009).
Global leadership involves a level of complexity far beyond that found in
its domestic counterpart. Moreover, the global business context, with its
multiple stakeholders and organizations (e.g., governments, partners, com-
petitors, customers, suppliers, civil-sector (NGO) advocacy groups), places
higher relational demands on global leaders than do more circumscribed
and homogeneous local environments (Reiche, Bird, Mendenhall, &
Osland, 2014). Accordingly, different types of global leadership roles can
Women Leading Globally 19

be distinguished by the levels of complexity and connectivity they entail,
each requiring specific competencies and skill development. Whereas not all
global leadership roles are similar, all global leaders are change agents
according to scholars who have focused on construct definition of global
leadership (e.g., Mendenhall, Reiche, Bird, & Osland, 2012) and the differ-
ence between global and domestic leaders (Osland et al., 2012). Thus,
Kotter’s (1990) distinction between managers and leaders, with the latter’s
emphasis on bringing about change, explicitly applies to the practice of glo-
bal leadership. Global management as a research field has important les-
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sons for global leadership and is viewed as one of the multidisciplinary
roots of global leadership (Osland, 2013a), but it fails to capture the
breadth and depth of the global leadership phenomenon. Scholars have yet
to achieve consensus on the construct definition of global leadership. Based
on a review of extant definitions and on scholars’ efforts to create a typol-
ogy of global leaders, Reiche, Bird, Mendenhall, and Osland (2015, p. 9)
proposed the following definition:

a global leader is an individual with followers from multiple cultures who fulfills his or
her roles and responsibilities in (1) a task context characterized by significant levels of
variety, interdependence and flux, and (2) a relational context characterized by signifi-
cant boundary spanning, relational demand and influence efficacy.

It follows that the study of global leadership is neither comparative nor
indigenous leadership (cf., the Globe Project), as it focuses on leaders who
interact across multiple cultures, not leadership within any single culture.
Similarly, it is neither expatriate leadership nor global management, as it
includes more individuals than just those living outside their own country
(expatriates) and focuses on leaders, not managers.
To date, the identification of global leadership competencies has received
the greatest attention from scholars, yielding a list of more than 160 com-
petencies (Bird, 2013), many of which overlap or are separated by only
semantic distinctions (Jokinen, 2005). Constructs such as cognitive com-
plexity, behavioral flexibility, intercultural competence, learning ability,
and integrity surface repeatedly in this research (Osland, 2013b). Scholars,
however, have yet to identify the most important global leadership compe-
tencies or link them to specific situations and contingencies. Bird (2013)
mapped the content domain of global leadership competencies into three
categories: business and organizational acumen, managing people and rela-
tionships, and managing self.
The relatively nascent field of global leadership emerged in the 1990s
and grew slowly over the next 20 years. It is encouraging to note, however,
that over 251 global leadership publications appeared between 2010 and

2014 (see Mendenhall, Li, & Osland, 2016, this volume), including more
foundational research and a greater understanding of how global leader-
ship is developed (Osland, Li, & Wang, 2014a).

Where is society to find leaders to guide it toward more positive outcomes
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than those that have been achieved in the recent past? Whereas most socie-
tal commentators and academic studies continue to review the historical
patterns of men’s leadership in search of models for 21st-century success,
few have begun to recognize, let alone appreciate, the equivalent patterns
of women’s leadership and the potential future contributions that women
could make as leaders, including at the most senior level. What could and
are women bringing to corporations and society as global leaders? Are we
entering an era in which both male and female leaders rather than dis-
proportionately men will shape history, both literally and in reality?

Women Leading Countries

While rarely recognized or reported in the media, the trend toward women
joining men in the most senior leadership positions began in the 20th cen-
tury and is now accelerating. The pattern is easiest to see when observing
leaders of countries. Whereas in the past almost all political leaders were
men, the number of women selected to serve as president or prime minister
of their country since the mid-20th century has increased markedly, albeit
from a negligible starting point. According to the World Economic
Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2015 (World Economic Forum, 2015),
50% of the 145 countries studied have had a woman head of state during
the last 50 years, but their overall tenure in office during that period, in
some cases, has been very limited. As highlighted in Fig. 1, of the 147
women who have served as president or prime minister of her country,
none came into office in the 1940s or 1950s, just three assumed office in the
1960s, six in the 1970s, 11 in the 1980s, 374 in the 1990s, 39 in the 2000s,
and already 50 have come into office in the first six years of the current dec-
ade, including 21 who are currently in office. If the first half of the current
decade is indicative, 83 women will assume office in the 2010s, more than
the combined total (57) of women serving as president or prime minister in
Women Leading Globally 21

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Fig. 1. Women Political Leaders: Numbers Increasing (as of January 2016).

the entire 20th century. Countries as dissimilar as Argentina, Canada,
France, India, Rwanda, South Korea, and Sri Lanka have selected women
to lead them. Whereas the increase is impressive, the total is not. Given
that there are more than 1955 countries in the world, many with both a pre-
sident and a prime minister, and each with multiple leaders since the mid-
20th century, a total of 147 women in more than a half-century is neither a
large nor an impressive total (Table 1).
Are the increasing numbers a new trend? Yes. As highlighted in Table 2,
of the 147 women leaders, more than half (58%) were the first women
whom their respective countries had ever selected to lead them. Ruth
Dreifuss, for example, became President of Switzerland in 1999 after a 700-
year history of male-led democracy. Since Dreifuss held office, five other
women have led Switzerland. Thirty-two of the 85 countries that have had
a woman leader have already selected more than one woman to lead them.
Switzerland has already elected five women, while Haiti, Mauritius, the
Netherlands Antilles, and Transnistria have already elected four women.
Seven countries have elected three women leaders (Bermuda, Finland,
Lithuania, Norway, Peru, Poland, and South Korea), and 19 countries
have selected two women to serve them. One country is an outlier: the
Republic of San Marino, a micro-state surrounded by Italy that claims to
be the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic,
San Marino, has had 14 women hold their most senior leadership position,
that of captain regent. The countries that have selected multiple women to

Table 1. Women Political Leaders: A Chronology.
Country Name Office Date

Sri Lanka Sirimavo Bandaranaike Prime Minister 1960 1965,
1970 1977,
1994 2000
India Indira Gandhi Prime Minister 1966 1977,
1980 1984
Israel Golda Meir Prime Minister 1969 1974
Argentina Isabel Perón President 1974 1976
Central Elizabeth Domitien Prime Minister 1975 1976
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African Republic
Netherlands Lucinda da Costa Prime Minister 1977
Antilles Gomez-Matheeuws
Portugal Maria de Lourdes Prime Minister 1979 (5 months)
Ruivo da
Silva Pintasilgo
Bolivia Lidia Gueiler Tejada Interim President, 1979 1980
Prime Minister (8 months)
Great Britain Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister 1979 1990
Dominica Mary Eugenia Charles Prime Minister 1980 1995
Iceland Vigdı́s Finnbógadottir President 1980 1996
San Marino Maria Lea Captain Regent 1981 (6 months)
Pedini Angelini
Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland Prime Minister 1981;
1986 1989;
1990 1996
Yugoslavia Milka Planinc Prime Minister 1982 1986
Malta Agatha Barbara President 1982 1987
Guinea Bissau Carmen Pereira Acting President (Head 1984 (3 days)
of State)
San Marino Gloriana Ranocchini Captain Regent 1984; 1989/1990
(each 6 months)
Netherlands Antilles Maria Liberia-Peters Prime Minister 1984 1986;
1989 1994
The Philippines Corazon Aquino Executive President 1986 1992
Pakistan Benazir Bhutto Prime Minister 1988 1990;
1993 1996
Lithuania Kazimiera- Prime Minister 1990 1991
Danute Prunskiene
Haiti Ertha Pascal-Trouillot Acting President 1990 1991
Burma (Myanmar) Aung San Suu Kyi Elected Presidentb 1990 a
German Sabine Bergmann-Pohl Chairman of the 1990 (6 months)
Democratic Volksammer
Republic (Staatspräsident)/
Acting Head of State
Ireland Mary Robinson President 1990 1997
Nicaragua Violeta Chamorro Executive President 1990 1997
Bangladesh Khaleda Zia Prime Minister 1991 1996;
2001 2006
Women Leading Globally 23

Table 1. (Continued )
Country Name Office Date

San Marino Edda Ceccoli Captain Regent 1991 1992
(6 months)
France Edith Cresson Prime Minister 1991 1992
Poland Hanna Suchocka Prime Minister 1992 1993
San Marino Patrizia Busignani Captain Regent 1993 (6 months)
Canada Kim Campbell Prime Minister 1993 (5 months)
Burundi Sylvia Kinigi Acting Head of 1993 1994
State/President (4 months)
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Faroe Islands Marita Petersen Prime Minister 1993 1994
Rwanda Agatha Uwilingiyimana Prime Minister 1993 1994
Turkey Tansu Çiller Prime Minister 1993 1996
Netherlands Antilles Susanne Prime Minister 1993; 1998 1999
Bulgaria Reneta Indzhova Interim Prime Minister 1994 1995
(3 months)
Sri Lanka Chandrika Executive President and 1994 2005
Kumaratunga Prime Minister
Haiti Claudette Werleigh Prime Minister 1995 1996
Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina Wajed Prime Minister 1996 2001; 2009
Liberia Ruth Perry Chair, Council of State 1996 1997
Ecuador Rosalia Arteaga Acting 1997 (3 days)
Executive President
Bermuda Pamela Gordon Premier 1997 1998
Bosnian Biliana Plavsic President 1997 1998
Serb Republic
Ireland Mary McAleese President 1997 2011
New Zealand Jenny Shipley Prime Minister 1997 1999
Guyana Janet Jagan Prime Minister, President 1997 1999
Norway Anne Enger Lahnstein Acting Prime Minister 1998 (24 days)
Bermuda Jennifer Smith Premier 1998 2003
Lithuania Irena Degutienë Acting Prime Minister 1999 (22 days)
Mongolia Nyam-Osoryn Tuyaa Acting Prime Minister 1999 (9 days)
Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss President 1999 (1 year)
San Marino Rosa Zafferani Captain Regent 1999 (6 months);
2008 2009
(6 months)
Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga President 1999 2007
Panama Mireya Moscoso Executive President 1999 2004
New Zealand Helen Clark Prime Minister 1999 2008
San Marino Maria Captain Regent 2000 (6 months)
Domenica Michelotti
Finland Tarja Halonen President 2000 2012
Philippines Gloria Executive President 2001 2010
Sénégal Madior Boye Prime Minister 2001 2002
Indonesia Megawati Sukarnoputri Executive President 2001 2004
South Korea Chang Sang Acting Prime Minister 2002 (20 days)

Table 1. (Continued )
Country Name Office Date

Serbia Natasa Micic Acting President 2002 2004
São Tomé & Maria das Neves Prime Minister 2002 2003;
Principe de Souse 2003 2004
Finland Anneli Jäätteenmäki Prime Minister 2003 (2 months)
Peru Beatriz Merino Prime Minister 2003 (6 months)
Netherlands Antilles Mirna Louisa-Godett Prime Minister 2003 2004
Georgia Nino Burdzhanadze Acting 2003 2004;
Executive President 2007 2008
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(2 months)
San Marino Valeria Ciavatta Captain Regent 2003 2004 (6
months); 2014
(6 months)
Macedonia Radmila Sekerinska Acting Prime Minister 2004 (2 × 1 months)
Austria Barbara Prammer Acting Joint Head 2004 (3 days)
of State
New Caledonia Maria- President 2004 2007
Noëlle Thérmereau
Mozambique Luisa Dı́as Diogo Prime Minister 2004 2010
The Bahamas Cynthia A. Pratt Acting Prime Minister 2005 (1½ months)
São Tomé & Maria do Prime Minister 2005 2006
Principe Carmo Silveira
Ukraine Yuliya Tymoshenko Prime Minister 2005; 2007 2010
San Marino Fausta Morganti Captain Regent 2004 2005
(6 months)
Germany Angela Merkel Chancellor 2005 a
South Africa Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri Acting President 2005 (4 days); 2008
Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf President 2006 a
Chile Michelle Bachelet President 2006 2010; 2014 a
Jamaica Portia Simpson-Miller Prime Minister 2006 2007; 2012 a
South Korea Han Myung-sook Prime Minister 2006 2007
Switzerland Micheline Calmy-Rey President of the 2007 (1 year); 2011
Confederation (1 year)
Israel Dalia Itzik Acting President, 2007
Interim President
India Pratibha Patil President 2007 2012
Argentina Cristina Fernández Executive President 2007 2015
de Kirchner
San Marino Assunta Meloni Captain Regent 2008 2009
(6 months)
Moldova Zinaida Grecianı̂i Prime Minister 2008 2009
Haiti Michèle Pierre-Louis Prime Minister 2008 2009
Gabon Rose Interim President 2009 (4 months)
Francine Rogombé
Madagascar Cécile Manorohanta Acting Prime Minister 2009 (2 months)
Iceland Jóhanna Sigurardóttir Prime Minister 2009 2013
Croatia Jadranka Kosor Prime Minister 2009 2011
Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaité President 2009 a
Switzerland Doris Leuthard President 2010 (1 year)
Women Leading Globally 25

Table 1. (Continued )
Country Name Office Date

Kyrgyzstan Roza Otunbayeva President 2010 2011
Bermuda Paula Cox Premier 2010 2012
Costa Rica Laura President 2010 2014
Chinchilla Miranda
Trinidad Kamla Persad-Bissessar Prime Minister 2010 2015
and Tobago
Finland Mari Kiviniemi Prime Minister 2010 2011
Australia Julia Gillard Prime Minister 2010 2013
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Slovakia Iveta Radičová Prime Minister 2010 2012
San Marino Maria Luisa Berti Captain Regent 2011 (6 months)
Peru Rosario Fernández Prime Minister 2011 (4 months)
Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga President 2011 a
Brazil Dilma Vana President 2011 a
Linhares Rousseff
Mali Mariam Prime Minister 2011 2012
Kaı̈dama Sidibé
Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt Prime Minister 2011 2015
Thailand Yingluck Shinawatra Prime Minister 2011 2013
Guinea Bissau Adiatu Djalo Prime Minister 2012 (2 months)
Switzerland Eveline President of the 2012 (1 year)
Widmer-Sclumpf Confederation
Mauritius Monique Agnès Acting President 2012 (7 months)
Ohsan Bellepeau
Serbia Slavica Acting President 2012 (2 months)
Malawi Joyce Banda President 2012 2014
San Marino Denise Bronzetti Captain Regent 2012 (6 months)
South Korea Park Geun-hye President 2013 a
Slovenia Alenka Bratušek Prime Minister 2013 2014
Turkish Republic of Sibel Siber Prime Minister 2013 (3 months)
Northern Cyprus
Transnistria Tatyana Turanskaya Prime Minister 2013 2015
San Marino Antonella Mularoni Captain Regent 2013 (6 months)
San Marino Anna Maria Muccoioli Captain Regent 2013 2014
(6 months)
Sénégal Aminata Touré Prime Minister 2013 2014
Norway Erna Solberg Prime Minister 2013 a
Republika Srpska Željka Cvijanovič Prime Minister 2013 a
Latvia Laimdota Straujuma Prime Minister 2014 a
Central Catherine Samba-Panza Acting President 2014 a
African Republic
Malta Marie-Louise President 2014
Coleiro Preca
Peru Ana Rosario Prime Minister 2014 2015
Jara Velásquez
Haiti Florence Acting Prime Minister 2014 2015
Duperval Guillaume

Table 1. (Continued )
Country Name Office Date

Poland Ewa Kopacz Prime Minister 2014 2015
Switzerland Simonetta Sommaruga President 2015 (1 yr)
Croatia Kolinda President 2015 a
Namibia Saara Prime Minister 2015
Moldova Nathalia Gherman Acting Prime Minister 2015 (38 days)
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Greece Vassiliki Thanou Acting Prime Minister 2015 (25 days)
Transnistria Maija Parnas Acting Prime Minister 2015 (48 days)
Poland Beata Szydło Prime Minister 2015 a
Transnistria Tatiana Turanskaya Prime Minister 2015 (2 days)
Transnistria Maija Parnas Acting Prime Minister 2015 (21 days)
Mauritius Monique Acting President 2015 (5 days)
Ohsan Bellepeau
Mauritius Ameenah Gurib President 2015
San Marino Lorella Stefanelli Captain Regent 2015
Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari President 2015
Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen President 2016
Currently in office.
Party won 1990 election but prevented by military from taking office; Nobel Prize laureate.
r Nancy J. Adler, 2016.
Women political leaders = 147
Countries/political jurisdictions having had a woman leader = 85
Note: List includes all jurisdictions, including those such as San Marino, that are extremely
small, as well as those that lack universal recognition, such as the Turkish Republic of
Northern Cyprus and Transnistria, as well as those whose women leaders were in office for a
very short time.
Sources: Individual country histories and aggregate summaries, including Guide to Women Leaders
female_heads_of_government;; and

lead them are highly diverse culturally, geographically, politically, and
Given these trends, there is no question that more women will be leading
countries in the 21st century than have ever done so before. Already in the
opening years of this century, 76 additional women have been selected to
lead their respective countries.
Women Leading Globally 27

Table 2. 85 Countries That Selected Women Political
Leaders 1950 1916 (as of January 2016).
List of Countries That Selected One or More Women Leaders

1. Argentina 2 44. Mali 1
2. Austria 1 45. Malta 2
3. Australia 1 46. Myanmar (Burma) 1
4. The Bahamas 1 47. Macedonia 1
5. Bangladesh 2 48. Madagascar 1
6. Bermuda 3 49. Mauritius 4
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7. Bolivia 1 50. Moldova 2
8. Bosnian Serb Republic 1 51. Mongolia 1
9. Brazil 1 52. Mozambique 1
10. Bulgaria 1 53. Namibia 1
11. Burundi 1 54. Nepal 1
12. Canada 1 55. Netherlands Antilles 4
13. Central African Republic 2 56. New Caledonia 1
14. Chile 1 57. New Zealand 2
15. Costa Rica 1 58. Nicaragua 1
16. Croatia 2 59. Norway 3
17. Denmark 1 60. Pakistan 1
18. Dominica 1 61. Panama 1
19. Ecuador 1 62. Peru 3
20. Faroe Islands 1 63. The Philippines 2
21. Finland 3 64. Poland 3
22. France 1 65. Portugal 1
23. Gabon 1 66. Rwanda 1
24. Georgia 1 67. San Marino 14
25. German Democratic Republic 1 68. São Tomé & Principe 2
26. Germany 1 69. Sénégal 2
27. Great Britain 1 70. Serbia 2
28. Greece 1 71. Slovakia 1
29. Guinea Bissau 2 72. Slovenia 1
30. Guyana 1 73. South Africa 1
31. Haiti 4 74. South Korea 3
32. Iceland 2 75. Sri Lanka 2
33. India 2 76. Republika Srpska 1
34. Indonesia 1 77. Switzerland 5
35. Ireland 2 78. Taiwan 1
36. Israel 2 79. Thailand 1
37. Jamaica 1 80. Transnistria 4
38. Kosovo 1 81. Trinidad and Tobago 1
39. Kyrgyzstan 1 82. Turkey 1
40. Latvia 2 83. Turkish Republic of 1
41. Liberia 2 Northern Cyprus
42. Lithuania 3 84. Ukraine 1
43. Malawi 1 85. Yugoslavia 1

Table 2. (Continued )
32 Countries That Selected More Than One Woman Leader

More than 10 women leaders (1) Bangladesh 2
San Marino 14 Central African Republic 2
Five women leaders (1) Croatia 2
Switzerland 5 Guinea Bissau 2
Four women leaders (4) Iceland 2
Haiti 4 India 2
Mauritius 4 Ireland 2
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Netherlands Antilles 4 Israel 2
Transnistria 4 Latvia 2
Three women leaders (7) Liberia 2
Bermuda 3 Malta 2
Finland 3 Moldova 2
Lithuania 3 New Zealand 2
Norway 3 The Philippines 2
Peru 3 São Tomé & Principe 2
Poland 3 Sénégal 2
South Korea 3 Serbia 2
Two women leaders (19) Sri Lanka 2
Argentina 2
Total countries, 1950 2016 (as of January 2016) that selected
• At least one woman leader: 85 countries
• More than one woman leader: 32 countries
• Just one woman leader: 53 countries
Total women political leaders, 1950 January 2016: 147 women
List includes all jurisdictions, including those such as San Marino that are extremely small, as well
as those that lack universal recognition, such as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and
Transnistria. List includes Burma/Myanmar, even though the elected leader was not initially seated.

Women Leading Companies

Are there similar increases in the number of women leading major corpora-
tions (e.g., Adler, 1997a, 1997b, 1999b, 2002b, 2002c, 2005, 2007, 2011;
Adler & Izraeli, 1988, 1993, 1993 1994, 1994)? Whereas the patterns
among business leaders are not as clear as those among political leaders,
surveys suggest that the number of women leading global companies is
slowly increasing (Fairchild, 2014). The initial numbers, however, are very
small; much smaller, proportionally, than those of women leading coun-
tries. When including executives who have held leadership roles below the
Women Leading Globally 29

number one position in their companies, women still held less than 5% of
the most senior management positions in the United States (Catalyst as
cited in Wellington, 1996) and less than 2% of all senior management posi-
tions in Europe at the end of the last century (Dwyer, Johnston, & Lowry,
1996). Moreover, not until the late 1990s did either the Fortune top 30 or
the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 include a woman Carly
Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, and Marjorie Scardino, CEO of
Pearson Plc. on their lists of leading CEOs. As shown in Table 3, by the
beginning of 2015, the Fortune 500 still included only 24 women CEOs, and
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the Fortune 1000 included only an additional 27 women CEOs, a combined
total of a mere 5.1%. Similarly, Table 4 reveals that, by 2015, the United
Kingdom’s FTSE 100 included only five women CEOs (5%) and an addi-
tional two women serving as chair of the board, far fewer than the number
of men on the same list named John (17) or carrying the title Sir (19)
(Rankin, 2015). Not dissimilar, only 5% (25) of the CEOs listed on
Canada’s Financial Post 500 in 2014 were women (Catalyst, 2014a).
Contrary to popular belief, however, women’s scarcity as CEOs and
managing directors of major corporations does not reflect their absence as
leaders of global companies. Unlike their male counterparts, most women
chief executives either create their own entrepreneurial enterprises or
assume the leadership of a family business.6 In the United States, for exam-
ple, women start twice as many businesses as do men, more than 400,000 in
2011 2012 (Yang, 2015). Similarly, women are more likely than men to
create and lead social enterprises (Estrin, Mickiewicz, & Stephan, 2013).
Likewise, the proportion of women on the boards of major companies is
rising steadily, with a fifth of board members of major American and
Canadian corporations by 2014 being women, and with eight European
countries exceeding 20%, led by Norway at 35.5% (Catalyst, 2014a). It is
noteworthy that in 2003 Norway became the first European country to
pass legislation setting a minimum quota of 40% women board members in
public limited liability companies (Smale & Miller, 2015). Spain, France,
Iceland, and Germany followed Norway’s lead, legislating a 40% quota of
women board members; Italy and Belgium also set quotas, albeit lower
(33.3% and 30%, respectively), and the Netherlands instituted a nonbind-
ing target of 30% (Smale & Miller, 2015). Other regions have yet to set
quotas. Asia-Pacific lags behind; the proportion of women board members
of Asia-Pacific Stock Index Companies all fall below 20%, with Japan at a
mere 3.1%, India at 9.5%, and Hong Kong at 10.2% (Catalyst, 2014a).
Perhaps most strikingly, major companies with corporate boards with a

Table 3. Global Women Business Leaders: Women CEOs of Fortune 500
and Fortune 1000 Companies (June 2014 to June 2015).
24 Women 2015 Fortune 500 Companies Ranked
CEOs (4.8%) 1 500

1. Mary Barra General Motors #6
2. Margaret Whitman Hewlett-Packard #19
3. Virginia Rometty International Business Machines #24
4. Indra Nooyi Pepsi Co #44
5. Marillyn Hewson Lockheed Martin #64
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6. Safra A. Catz Oracle #81
7. Ellen Kullman DuPont #87
8. Irene Rosenfeld Mondelez International #91
9. Phebe Novakovic General Dynamics #100
10. Carol Meyrowitz TJX #103
11. Lynn Good Duke Energy #116
12. Ursula Burns Xerox #143
13. Deanna Mulligan Guardian Line Ins. Co. of America #254
14. Barbara Rentler Ross Stores #269
15. Debra Reed Sempra Energy #270
16. Kimberly Lubel CST Brands #277
(formerly Bowers)
17. Sherylin McCoy Avon Products #322
18. Susan Cameron Reynolds American #337
19. Denise Morrison Campbell Soup #342
20. Gracia Martore TENGA (June 2015 Gannett became TENGA) #441
21. Kathleen Mazzarella Graybar Electric #445
22. Ilene Gordon Ingredion #462
23. Lisa Su Advanced Micro Devices #473
24. Jacqueline Himan CH2M Hill #480

(a) Patricia Woertz, CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, ranked #27 in 2014, vacated her
position on January 1, 2015
(b) Only two women on the 2015 list were not on the 2014 list
○ Safra A Catz, co-CEO of Oracle (#81) assumed her position in October 2014

○ Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices (#473) assumed her position in October 2014

(c) Kimberly Bowers, CEO of CST Brands (#266) is on the Fortune 500 list for the first time

27 Additional Women CEOs (5.1%) 2015 Fortune 1000 Companies Ranked 501 1000

1. Mary Agnes Wilderotter Frontier Communications #516
2. Marissa Mayer Yahoo #522
3. Karen W. Katz The Neiman Marcus Group Inc. #527
4. Wellington J. Denahan Annaly Capital Management #538
5. Beth E. Mooney KeyCorp #541
6. Laura J. Alber Williams-Sonoma #560
Women Leading Globally 31

Table 3. (Continued )
27 Additional Women CEOs (5.1%) 2015 Fortune 1000 Companies Ranked 501 1000

7. Elizabeth Smith Bloomin’ Brands #590
8. Cindy B. Taylor Oil States International Inc. #628
9. Mindy F. Grossman HSN #670
10. Patricia Kampling Alliant Energy #687
11. Constance H. Lau Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. #692
12. Kimberly Harris Puget Sound Energy #703
13. Amy Miles Regal Entertainment #722
14. Susan N. Story American Water Works Company #745
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15. Debra Cafaro Ventas #765
16. Mary Dillon Ulta Salon Cosmetics & Fragrance #793
17. Sandra Cochran Cracker Barrel #797
18. Tamara L. Lundgren Schnitzer Steel Industries #803
19. Diane M. Sullivan Brown Shoe Company #826
20. Gayla Delly Benchmark Electronics #836
21. Denise Ramos ITT #839
22. Kay Krill ANN Inc. #840
23. Patti S. Hart International Game Technology #874
24. Sheryl Palmer Taylor Morrison Home #880
25. Judy McReynolds Arkansas Best Corp. #889
26. Lauralee Martin HCP #941
27. Andrea Ayers Convergys #958

Source: Catalyst (2015).

Table 4. Women Leading Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100
Companies United Kingdom.
5 Women CEOs (5%) and 2 Women Chairs (2%) 2014 FTSE 100 Companies

Alison Cooper CEO Imperial Tobacco
Liv Garfield CEO Severn Trent
Moya Greene CEO Royal Mail
Véronique Laury CEO Kingfisher
Carolyn McCall CEO Easyjet
Dame Alison Carnwath Chair Land Securities
Susan Kilsby Chair Shire

Source: Rankin (2015).

higher proportion of women outperform those companies that fail to
include women in their senior-most team. Already a decade ago, Catalyst’s
(2014b) research confirmed that in North America, for example, on aver-
age, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors

outperformed those with the lowest percentage on a range of significant
financial metrics, including:
• Return on Equity: Outperformed by 53%
• Return on Sales: Outperformed by 42%
• Return on Invested Capital: Outperformed by 66%
In addition, the presence of women in senior executive teams is associated
with more customers, higher sales, and larger relative profits (Herring, 2009)
as well as stronger IPO short-term performance (Welbourne, Cycyota, &
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Ferrante, 2007). Increasing the proportion of women in corporate leadership
positions is clearly not simply a matter of equity, but rather a key component
in firms outperforming their competitors.

Women Leading: A Worldwide Trend, Not a Local Peculiarity

Similar to women-led countries, women-led businesses exist worldwide.
They are not clustered in just the few countries considered to be female-
friendly those countries providing women with equal property rights,
equal access to education, health care, and employment, and equal protec-
tion under law. The women leaders come from the world’s largest and
smallest countries, the world’s richest and poorest countries, and the
world’s most socially and economically advantaged and disadvantaged
countries. They come, moreover, from every geographical region, represent
all six of the world’s major religions, and lead companies in a wide variety
of industries. The changing trend toward women in senior leadership is a
broad-based, worldwide phenomenon; it is not limited to a few particularly
pro-women countries, industries, or regions.
Perhaps surprisingly, most major corporations that have selected women
as senior business leaders are not those that have implemented the most
advanced female-friendly policies (such as day-care centers, flextime, and
other equal employment opportunities). Among the 61 American Fortune
500 companies employing women as chairmen, CEOs, board members, or
one of the top five earners, for example, only three were companies that
Working Woman identified as the most favorable for women employees at
all levels.
As can be seen, the trends among political and business leaders appear
similar, despite the fact that the proportion of women CEOs is growing
more slowly than the proportion of women leaders of countries and that
the private sector lagged behind the public sector, selecting women CEOs
Women Leading Globally 33

decades later than the first women heads of state came to power. More
women are leading global firms than ever before, with the vast majority
being the first woman whom their particular firm has ever selected to hold
such a senior position. Based on these trends, we can easily predict that
women’s voices will become a more common, and therefore more impor-
tant, addition to the world’s most senior global leadership dialogues during
the 21st century. Change is not only possible; it has already begun
to happen.
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Increasing the number of women in senior leadership positions is certainly
a necessary condition for equity, but it is not a sufficient condition for
shaping history. The fundamental challenge is not simply to select more
women as senior leaders. Rather, it is to provide a form of leadership in the
world that will foster organizational success and global society’s flourishing
and prosperity.
Based on research observing women managers, many people have pre-
dicted that women leaders would exhibit a new sought-after leadership
style, incorporating more inclusive, trustworthy, and humanistic approaches
(see Fondas, 1997, among others). They base their predictions on research
studies that concluded that a disproportionate number of women exhibit
many, if not all, of the following qualities:
empathy, helpfulness, caring, and nurturance; interpersonal sensitivity, attentiveness to
and acceptance of others, responsiveness to their needs and motivations; an orientation
toward the collective interest and toward integrative goals such as group cohesiveness
and stability; a preference for open, egalitarian, and cooperative relationships, rather
than hierarchical ones; and an interest in actualizing values and relationships of great
importance to community. (Fondas, 1997, p. 260)

By contrast, the traits that have been culturally ascribed to male leaders at
all levels included:
an ability to be impersonal, self-interested, efficient, hierarchical, tough minded, and
assertive; an interest in taking charge, control, and domination; a capacity to ignore
personal, emotional considerations in order to succeed; a proclivity to rely on standar-
dized or “objective” codes for judgment and evaluation of others; and a heroic orienta-
tion toward task accomplishment and a continual effort to act on the world and
become something new or [different]. (Fondas, 1997, p. 260)

To date, however, no research focusing on the most senior leaders
(rather than lower-level employees and managers) exists to support or
refute claims that the most senior-level women leaders disproportionately
exhibit the listed characteristics or would make more effective 21st-century
global leaders than would men. Not surprisingly, similar to men, women
exhibit a wide range of leadership visions, approaches, and levels of compe-
tence and effectiveness (Adler, 2002b, 2002c). One need look no further
than the ouster on corruption charges of Turkey’s first female prime
minister, Tansu Çiller, or the demise of Sotheby’s female former CEO
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Diana Brooks (indicted, along with Sotheby’s former male chairman,
Alfred Taubman, on criminal conspiracy and price fixing charges, see
Blumenthal & Vogel, 2001) to know that senior women leaders, like their
male counterparts, are neither perfect nor a universal solution to the
world’s problems or any particular company’s success.
Interestingly, a comparison of the female and male traits described
above with the competencies identified in the global leadership literature
indicates a greater overlap among those traits listed as more prevalent
among women. With the exception of “helpfulness, caring, and nurtur-
ance,” all traits listed as associated with women appear in global leadership
studies (see Bird, 2013 for a list of competencies), albeit using slightly dif-
ferent labels for the same concepts. The traits associated with women, are
listed here, followed by the associated references from the relevant global
leadership studies: empathy (Jokinen, 2005), interpersonal sensitivity
(cf., Bird, Mendenhall, Stevens, & Oddou, 2010; Kets de Vries & Florent-
Treacy, 1999; McCall & Hollenbeck, 2002), attentiveness to and acceptance
of others (Bird et al., 2010); orientation toward the collective interest and
toward integrative goals such as group cohesiveness and stability (Brake,
1997; Kets de Vries & Florent-Treacy, 1999; Rosen, Digh, Singer, &
Philips, 2000); a preference for open, egalitarian, and cooperative relation-
ships rather than hierarchical ones (Osland, Oddou, Bird, & Osland, 2013);
actualizing values and relationships of great importance to the community
(Bird et al., 2010; Gitsham, 2008; Gundling, Hogan, & Cvitkovich, 2011;
Kets de Vries & Florent-Treacy, 1999).
By contrast, only two of the traits associated above with men seem
directly related to competencies identified in the global leadership litera-
ture. The “continual effort to act on the world and become something new
or (different)” might relate to the change agent role played by global lea-
ders (Brake, 1997; Yeung & Ready, 1995). Responsiveness to change and
creative solutions (Gitsham, 2008) have both been identified in the research
on global leadership competencies. Further validating their importance,
Women Leading Globally 35

these two traits seem apparent in change initiatives described by expert glo-
bal leaders (Osland et al., 2013). Research by Osland et al. (2013) differed
from previous global leadership studies in two respects: it utilized cognitive
task analysis to study more directly how expert global leaders think and
behave, and it was one of the few studies that used a sample consisting
only of nominated, highly effective global leaders. This sample consisted
only of men, since it was drawn primarily from the high-tech industry,
which is characterized by especially low numbers of women at the most
senior levels. Given the general under-representation of women in global
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leadership, and thus in general samples of global leaders, it is interesting
that traits that are more often associated with women than with men are so
similar to many of the competencies identified with global leadership. This
is clearly an area with high potential for future research.
Ayman and Korabik (2015, p. 61) contend that leadership is both the
manifestation of a leader’s values, motives, and aspirations and a process
of social interactions with others; in the case of global leadership, these
interactions take place with people whose values and cultural assumptions
can vary widely from the leader’s. Due to cultural variations in the roles,
status, and perceptions of women, researchers should be especially careful
to consider both women global leaders’ actual characteristics and how they
are perceived by others in the full range of countries in which they work.

Exemplary Women Global Leaders

Do some women exhibit exemplary styles of senior leadership? Yes. Not all
women, but certainly some give us reason for hope, especially those not
mimicking the styles of leadership of most 20th-century male leaders.
Ireland’s first woman president, Mary Robinson, for example, brilliantly
took her commitment to human rights into the presidency of Ireland, trans-
forming the position from one of ceremony to one of substance. She then
let go of the presidency a use of power more typically labeled as
feminine “letting go” in order to continue her human rights agenda
more broadly worldwide at the United Nations. Aung San Suu Kyi, the
legally elected leader of Myanmar (Burma) was incarcerated in her own
home by the military for more than a decade. While under house arrest, the
military dictatorship even denied her the right to see her husband one last
time before he died of cancer. Given her situation, does Suu Kyi advocate
annihilating the military dictatorship that imprisoned her and her people
for so long? No, to this day, she fearlessly advocates dialogue words, not

guns a unity strategy typically attributed to what many label as a more
feminine approach to leadership.
Agatha Uwilingiyimana, the former prime minister of Rwanda, similarly
exemplified the courage it takes to break with traditional leadership
approaches and to use unifying strategies strategies many attribute to a
more feminine approach. By 1993, the level of violence in Rwanda had
forced some Hutus and Tutsis to seriously consider signing a peace agree-
ment. But who would have the courage to publicly sign such a document
with a sworn enemy? No one relished the risk, as extremists on both sides
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condemned potential signers as traitors. At that crucial moment in
Rwanda’s history, no man would accept the risk of becoming a peace-mak-
ing prime minister. In July 1993, shortly before the genocide, it was
Uwilingiyimana, in the name of peace and unity, who agreed to serve her
country as prime minister. Less than a month later, the peace agreement
was signed. Less than a year later, extremist Hutus began hunting down
and killing Tutsis and moderate members of the Hutu government.
Uwilingiyimana, considered a moderate Hutu, was one of the first to be
murdered. Although reported as a Tutsi murder in the international press,
Uwilingiyimana was killed by her own people extremist Hutus who
rejected her attempts at fostering unity and peace.
Was the situation in Rwanda so extreme that it would be inappropriate
for other leaders to attempt to learn from Uwilingiyimana’s story? The
answer is a resounding no. Consider, for example, some of the senior women
leaders with whom we are perhaps more familiar. Former President of the
Philippines, Corazon Aquino, like Uwilingiyimana, also believed in building
coalitions with the opposition. Approaching the formation of her leadership
team from the perspective of strategic unity, Aquino invited members of
both her own and the opposition party to join her presidential cabinet. The
world press, viewing her leadership through the obsolete lens of divisive
20th-century perspectives, labeled her invitation to the opposition as the
naı̈ve act of a housewife who does not know what it means to be president.
In response, Aquino explained that she never again wanted political differ-
ences to be resolved by murder. She wanted to preclude the possibility that
any person would have to watch the political assassination of his or her
spouse as she had been obliged to do when her husband, Benigno Aquino,
opposition leader at the time, was murdered on the airport tarmac upon his
return to the Philippines. In her cabinet, animated discussion replaced mur-
der as the accepted form of political discourse, dissent, and problem solving.
Corazon Aquino, similar to Mary Robinson in Ireland, refused to run
for a second term because she believed that democracy, not her longevity
Women Leading Globally 37

as president, was more important. Having lived through 20 years of
Marcos’ dictatorship, she believed that Filipinos deserved to choose a new
president after she had served her initial six-year term. Each of these senior
leaders went outside of the patterns of history and said “Enough! There
has to be a better way.”
Are the stories of more inclusive leadership all stories of political lea-
ders? No. Rebecca Mark, for example, as CEO of Enron Development
Corporation, negotiated the first major commercial agreement among
Arabs and Israelis following the Oslo Peace Accords (long before Enron
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imploded in 2001 under the leadership of Kenneth Lay). Mark saw coali-
tion building including links across groups that the world had always
viewed as enemies as smart business. Did people question her judgment?
Of course they did. Did she do what no other global leader had done
before? Yes. Rebecca Mark’s decisions show that true leadership, by defini-
tion, is not perpetuating the status quo but leading in uncharted waters.
It’s worth noting that when Enron collapsed, Mark was one of the few
senior executives who was not indicted.
As both business and political leaders, senior women regularly challenge
conventional wisdom in their approach to leadership. Britain’s Anita
Roddick, founder and former CEO of The Body Shop, for example, became
an iconic leader as she regularly defied conventional practice in the beauty
and health care industry. She confronted conventional product design, for
example, by not allowing animal testing. The Body Shop challenged the con-
ventional marketing strategies of its competitors by not promising women
unattainable beauty. Long before corporate social responsibility came into
vogue, The Body Shop continued to challenge convention in its organization
design and strategic intent by tying societal commitments to product
strategies. Similarly, Sweden’s Antonia Ax:son Johnson, CEO of a fourth-
generation, 200-year-old family business, The Ax:son Johnson Group, elimi-
nated all war- and violence-related toys from her company’s department
stores. Although the toys would have increased revenues, they were not
consistent with Ax:son Johnson’s concept of “the good company.”

To understand the dynamics of the 21st century, we must go beyond
strictly attempting to assess if, or how, women’s approaches to senior

leadership differ from those of their male counterparts. We know that
they differ in some cases, but certainly not in all, or perhaps even most.
Given the absence of research substantiating consistent differences
between the women and men who lead, and, at the same time, the rapid
increase in the number of women assuming the senior-most leadership
positions (especially in the last decades), we must ask why countries and
companies worldwide for the first time in modern history and after so
many years of male-dominated leadership are choosing women to lead
them. Given the initial patterns and prior to having definitive
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research, we can hypothesize that people worldwide may want what
most women symbolize, but what only some senior women leaders
actually exhibit.

Leadership Symbolism: The Possibility of Change

Perhaps the most powerful and attractive symbolism of women leaders is
the hope that they will bring significant change. When a woman is chosen
as the first woman to become the most senior leader the president, prime
minister, or CEO when no other woman has ever held such an office in
that particular country or company, and when few people thought that she
would be selected people begin to believe that other more substantive
and less symbolic changes are also possible. The combination of a woman
being an outsider at senior leadership levels previously dominated by men
and of her beating the odds in attaining a top position provides powerful
public imagery supporting the possibility of broad-based societal and orga-
nizational change. The fact that most women in senior leadership positions,
to date, are the first women to assume those positions, underscores the
beginning not just of symbolic change, but of real change. Mary
Robinson’s presidential acceptance speech (Finlay, 1990, p. 1) captures the
unique event of Ireland electing its first woman president coupled with
belief in the possibility of national change:
I was elected by men and women of all parties and none, by many with great moral
courage who stepped out from the faded flags of Civil War and voted for a New
Ireland. And above all by the women of Ireland … who instead of rocking the cradle
rocked the system, and who came out massively to make their mark on the ballot
paper, and on a New Ireland.

The fact that women who become senior leaders are perceived to differ
from their male counterparts (whether or not they actually do) fosters
Women Leading Globally 39

the sense that change is possible. In Kenya, for example, when Charity
Ngilu became the first woman to run for president, many Kenyans saw her
as representing “a complete break with [the] divisive tribal politics of the
past” (McKinley, 1997, section 1, p. 3). As one Kenyan observed, “Charity
is talking about unity, and this unity will unite both men and women … If
we vote for a man, there will be no change. With a woman, there will have
to be a big change” (McKinley, 1997, section 1, p. 3).
The symbolism supporting the possibility of change is almost identical in
the business world, where most women CEOs are “firsts” not only the first
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woman, but also often the first outsider that the company has selected to
lead them. Notable examples include Marjorie Scardino, the first woman,
first outsider, and first American to become CEO of Britain’s Pearson
Plc. a major British publishing and education multinational as well as
the first woman to lead a FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 firm.
Carol Bartz was the first woman and first outsider to lead a high-tech
company Autodesk and later Yahoo! and Charlotte Beers was the first
woman and the first outsider whom Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide had ever
brought in to lead their worldwide advertising business.

Leadership Symbolism: The Possibility of Unity

In addition to the possibility of change, women also symbolize unity and
women leaders are no exception. Nicaragua’s former president Violetta
Chamorro, for example, became a symbol of national unity following her
husband’s assassination. Emphasizing her commitment to unity, Chamorro
even claimed that, beyond reconciliation, she had no ideology (Benn,
1995). Chamorro’s ability to bring her four adult children two of whom
were prominent Sandinistas, while the other two equally prominently
opposed the Sandinistas together every week for Sunday dinner achieved
near legendary status in war-torn Nicaragua (Saint-Germain, 1993).
Chamorro gave symbolic hope to her nation that it too could find peace
based on a unity that would bring all Nicaraguans together. The fact that
the behavior of a woman leader who created family unity became a symbol
for national unity is neither surprising nor coincidental.
On the basis of similar dynamics, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister
Benazir Bhutto and the Philippines’ former President Corazon Aquino
each came to symbolize unity for their strife-torn countries. As the scope of
governments’ influence and companies’ operations expands to encompass
the world, the desire and need for unifying strategies increase. Currently,

women symbolize the hope for unity within multinational constituencies
and multicultural contexts. Whether they, in fact, disproportionately bring
about unity is a research question that is yet to be answered.
The hope that senior women leaders will foster unity and inclusiveness is
heightened by the ways in which many women gain access to power. In
contrast to many of their male counterparts, many women leaders have
developed and used broadly based popular support, rather than relying pri-
marily on traditional, hierarchical political-party or corporate-structural
support. This broadly based inclusiveness, often seen as a precursor of
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other hoped-for unifying strategies, has been particularly apparent among
the women aspiring to senior political leadership who often are not ser-
iously considered as potential candidates by their country’s main political
parties. They consequently resort to gaining support directly from the peo-
ple (which, of course, is a profoundly democratic process).
Mary Robinson, for example, campaigned in more small communities in
Ireland than any previous presidential candidate before either her own
party or the opposition would take her seriously. The opposition later
admitted that they did not really consider Robinson’s candidacy as a threat
until it was too late to stop her (Finlay, 1990). Similarly, Corazon Aquino,
whose campaign and victory were labeled the People’s Revolution, held
more than 1,000 rallies during her campaign, while Ferdinand Marcos, the
incumbent, held only 34 (Col, 1993). Likewise, Benazir Bhutto, who suc-
ceeded in becoming Pakistan’s first woman and youngest prime minister,
campaigned in more communities than any politician before her. Only later
did her own party take her seriously (Anderson, 1993; Weisman, 1986).
In business, the disproportionate number of women who choose to start
their own companies echoes a similar pattern of seeking broadly based sup-
port. Rather than attempting to climb the corporate ladder and to break
through the glass ceiling into senior leadership positions in established cor-
porations, these entrepreneurial women build their success directly in the
marketplace. The types of broadly based support developed by senior
women political leaders and entrepreneurs differ only in their source, with
the former enjoying support directly from the electorate (in the form of
votes) and the latter gaining support from the marketplace (in the form of
product and service purchases). In both cases, the base of support is outside
of the traditional hierarchical power structure, and therefore more repre-
sentative of new and more diverse opinions and ideas. In some fundamental
ways, such strategies can be seen as the precursors of today’s crowd-
sourcing, an approach that was unheard of when the first global women
leaders starting reaching out to acquire broadly based support. Senior
Women Leading Globally 41

women leaders’ sources of support, and therefore of power, more closely
reflect the flattened network of emerging 21st-century organizations and
society than they do the more centralized power hierarchies that defined
most 20th-century organizations (see Friedman, 2006).
Similar to what we are observing in senior women leaders, expert global
leaders emphasize the need to adapt their leadership style to work more
collaboratively with and to influence the many stakeholders who are key to
their ultimate success (Osland et al., 2013). Global leaders have no tradi-
tional hierarchical power over joint venture partners, government officials,
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competitors, suppliers, and others who comprise the networks that will
determine their success or failure. Like the uniquely female examples cited
in this section, many global business leaders, especially those in multina-
tional enterprises (MNEs), also work both inside and outside the tradi-
tional hierarchical organizational structure, which requires an expanded set
of skills compared with those that have been needed for successful domestic
The importance of unity for global leadership also surfaces in many glo-
bal change efforts. One of the early, critical steps in large-scale changes
described by CEOs is developing a sense of oneness and community
(Osland, 2013c, 2004). The resulting trust and “glue” appears to help large
multinational, multicultural, geographically dispersed organizations risk
change and thus survive the inevitable unanticipated consequences
(Osland, 2004).

Former Czech Republic President Havel (1994) described the world as
“going through a transitional period, when something is on the way out
and something else is painfully being born” (p. A27). During such a transi-
tion, it is not surprising that people worldwide are attracted to women lea-
ders’ symbolic message of bringing positive change, hope, and the
possibility of unity. This symbolism is perhaps most powerful in this era of
worldwide internet communication when we are instantly aware of cases of
particularly outstanding “positive deviants” male and female leaders
who have contributed exceptionally progressive, influential and inspiring
leadership to the world. Examples of positive deviants include American
corporate environmental legend Ray Anderson, founder and former
Chairman of Interface, Inc., India’s Mahatma Gandhi, American Martin

Luther King, Jr., and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. The interplay of
women’s and men’s styles of leadership will define the contours and poten-
tial success in 21st-century society. The risk is in encapsulating
leaders both women and men in approaches that worked well in the
past but foretell disaster for the current century. The ultimate challenge is
in the urgency and complexity.

Shaping Research
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Research is urgently needed to consolidate the patterns being established
by the initial senior global leaders who are women and to begin to be able
to better predict their impact on the future governance of organizations
and society. The following recommendations for scholarship, summarized
in Table 5, result from this review of senior women global leaders as it
relates to the overall field of global leadership.
Initial research on senior global leaders who are women focused on their
position and mapped their increasing numbers, geographic locations, and
diversity. The primary selection criterion for inclusion in the initial research
(Adler, 1996, 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014) was hierarchical level, as repre-
sented by the woman holding the top-most position in her country or com-
pany accompanied by the title of president, prime minister, CEO, or its
equivalent. The entire population of post-WWII women who have been
president or prime minister of their country was included in the political
review, and a sample of women CEOs of major global firms was included
in the business review. In addition to establishing the trend lines for this
growing population, the research focused primarily on how the women had
come to power rather than on how they had used the power inherent in
their position. Whereas this initial research contributed to our understand-
ing of the antecedents of women’s global leadership, more empirical
research is needed to expand our knowledge, especially with respect to vari-
ables that could predict the effectiveness of the most senior women leaders
and indicate the overlap, or lack thereof, of similarities to the predictors of
men’s global leadership effectiveness.
In contrast to the initial research on global women leaders, the field of
global leadership research emerged from a practical concern among inter-
national management scholars to help global firms manage the leadership
challenges resulting from globalization. That founding concern explains the
principal research questions that have shaped the field to date identifying
the competencies leading to success and learning how to develop global
Women Leading Globally 43

Table 5. Advancing Our Knowledge of Women Global Leaders: Major
Research Questions.
Is the symbolism of hope, change, and unity limited to senior women global leaders and if so,
under what conditions?
In what ways, if at all, do antecedents for effective senior women and men global
leaders differ?
Early global leadership studies used samples that included few or no women. Would
replications of this research with larger samples of women global leaders yield the
same results?
Are global leadership measures appropriate for both men and women senior global leaders?
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Because the number of women global leaders has been very limited, do existing measures
overlook some of the experience of senior women global leaders?
Do role, job demands, and position power have greater impact than gender in the enactment
of global leadership? Is there an interaction effect between role, level in the organization and
position power, and job demands and gender?
What competencies are required of junior versus senior women and men global leaders in
specific situations? What competencies are required of junior women in order to become
senior women leaders, including assuming the senior-most position in the organization? In
what ways are men’s and women’s paths to power (to the senior-most position in the
organization) similar? In what ways do their paths differ?
Do gender-related impediments require different competencies and career strategies of senior
women global leaders? In what ways is it an advantage to senior global leaders to be a
woman? What are the most common impediments to women becoming senior global
leaders? To leading effectively as senior global leaders?
What boundary conditions and contingencies impact senior women and men global leaders? In
what ways, if any, do they differ for women and men?
How does gender impact the career trajectory of senior women versus men global leaders?
Are there different profiles of effective senior women (and men) global leaders?
In what ways, if any, do women and men behave differently as global leaders? In what
situations do such differences manifest themselves?
In what ways, if any, do women have particular advantages in developing global leadership
competencies? In what ways do men have specific advantages?
How does culture impact the development of senior women global leaders as opposed to
senior men global leaders?
Are there differences in outcomes of women versus men senior global leaders?

leaders who can demonstrate those competencies. Not surprisingly given
their disciplinary background in international management, many research-
ers also concentrated on the impact and demands of the global context. In
contrast to the research on women global leaders, position power was less
figural than competency identification and development, and in a few cases,
effectiveness. Wide discrepancies in global leadership sample selection have
rendered comparison and meta-analysis difficult (Mendenhall et al., 2012).
For some global leadership researchers, sample selection criteria was simply

“holding a global job” with no specification on how global those jobs were
and no distinction between managers and leaders or between those who were
more or less effective. They accepted the male-dominated global leader pool
as given, rather than questioning, as the women global leader researchers did,
whether increasing the population from which companies were drawing their
candidates for leadership and selecting more women would result in even
greater effectiveness. Of eight empirical global leadership studies (not focused
solely on women) between 1995 2009, half did not report the gender compo-
sition of their sample; the percentage of women participants in the other half
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ranged from 0 36%, an average of 16%. Even when scholars carefully
selected effective global leaders, companies did not nominate large numbers
of women in some cases because their industry or company either had hired
or promoted few or no women. Another possibility is that companies were
less likely to perceive women to be outstanding global leaders and thus to
nominate them for inclusion in the studies. When the authors designed the
first within-company forum for women global leaders in the late 1990s, the
senior leadership team was surprised to discover that some country subsidi-
aries had promoted no women to high-level positions (Adler, Brody, &
Osland, 2001). Therefore, early research cannot be faulted for the negligible
number of senior women included in some studies. Looking back, however,
we should question whether their results are generalizable to both genders.
Today the numbers of women and men in global leadership research samples
are less imbalanced, although some samples, especially at the highest levels
and in particular industries, still reflect the limited number of women. Thus,
early research results may still apply primarily, or solely, to men, especially
those describing leadership at the most senior levels. By not labeling such
studies and results as focusing on men, the research implicitly conveys the
impression that the results apply equally to men and to women. That is an
assumption that, while possibly true, is unfortunate and needs to be tested.
Despite their disparate origins and emphases, both areas of research
senior women leaders and global leadership can benefit by learning from
the other’s trajectory, framing questions, and findings. For instance, the
field of global leadership could pay more attention to the representation
and number of women in its samples, question more extensively whether its
findings apply to both women and men, and not label findings as generic-
ally true for global leaders if, at this stage in the research, we only know
that specific findings are true for men. Scholars could carry out more
empirical research on women at the highest levels of leadership, although
access is understandably difficult and the numbers remain small. In addi-
tion, the global leadership research could more carefully differentiate
Women Leading Globally 45

between the most senior woman and men in an organization (hierarchical
role) and other people lower in the organization, so as not to mask or con-
found the influence of position power. Based on their meta-analysis of
women leaders, Eagly and Carli (2007) conclude that gender barriers are
not so much a glass ceiling as a maze or labyrinth that must be negotiated.
Research on senior global women leaders would benefit from an even more
systematic approach to understanding the contextual and environmental
demands on women in these roles and, in response, the competencies they
have developed to succeed.
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Likewise, research on global women leaders could investigate how the
paths to power complement, or alternatively undermine, women’s effective-
ness once in a senior leadership role. McCall and Hollenbeck’s (2002) inter-
view methodology, which focuses on global leadership development, could
prove helpful with senior global women leaders, complemented perhaps by
the “herstories” (history of influential women who impacted their lives),
which are used in some global leadership-development programs (Adler
et al., 2001). Both literatures could investigate the Are-leaders-born-or-
made question by investigating selection practices along with leadership-
development processes. Similarly, both literatures might well benefit from a
set of studies on “positive deviants,” women and men who are absolutely
outstanding as global leaders, and thus be able to begin to differentiate
effective leaders from those who are outstanding.
To advance the field of global leadership, scholars (cf., Khilji, David, &
Cseh, 2010; Maznevski, Stahl, & Mendenhall, 2013; Osland, 2013b; Osland,
Li, & Wang, 2014b; Reiche & Mendenhall, 2013; Steers, Sanchez-Runde, &
Nardon, 2012) have called for more research in the following areas: con-
struct definition, more comprehensive identification of the scope of global
leadership tasks and behaviors, expanded competency research, dynamic
processes that describe how global leaders interact with the environment,
bridging the macro-micro divide, assessment instruments that cover the
broad range of global leadership dimensions, effectiveness measures, and
more focus on training and development. Some of these gaps, addressed
below, are especially relevant for understanding women’s global leadership.
Remarkably little is known about how global leaders women or
men actually behave. As a first step in filling this gap, we need studies
that go beyond simply identifying competencies to testing them more rigor-
ously with larger samples, differentiated by women and men, and discover-
ing which competencies are most effective in specific situations. However,
given the small numbers of women global leaders in senior positions, large
gender-balanced samples are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to

obtain. Samples that mix women from various hierarchical levels would not
resolve the problem since their roles and competency levels differ markedly
(Kanter, 1977). In addition, the field needs to articulate the links between
corporate and organizational global strategies and environments the
macro-level context, and specific global leadership competencies the
micro-level context of individual behavior. To date, no observational
studies have been carried out. It would be extremely interesting to replicate
Mintzberg’s (1973) initial observational study with women who are senior
global leaders. No empirical research exists on the different types of tasks
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and behaviors required of different categories of leaders in different con-
texts. Furthermore, the boundary conditions and contingencies including
cultural contingencies that impact women who are senior global leaders
have yet to be fully identified.
While it is tempting to contemplate in-depth direct comparisons between
male and female global leaders, we must remember that the most salient
characteristic in high-level leaders may well be role, not gender; this is an
important empirical question. The following discussion presents three stu-
dies related to male-female comparisons in global leadership, accompanied
by caveats and research recommendations. None of these studies had sam-
ples consisting solely or primarily of CEOs; while not directly comparable
or applicable to global women leaders at the very top of organizational
hierarchies, they potentially convey worthwhile lessons for researchers tar-
geting that population.
Anupam and Rook (2014) compared multi-rater leadership evaluations
of 1,748 middle managers and more senior management executives who
attended INSEAD seminars. The authors did not specify whether this
group included CEOs and did not control for their hierarchical level. This
sample was 19% female and 81% male and represented 10 national clus-
ters. The researchers collected data with the Global Executive Leadership
Inventory (GELI), which measures 12 dimensions of global leadership
behaviors. The 360-degree GELI also provided feedback data based on the
perceptions and ratings of the sample’s 13,166 superiors, peers, and subor-
dinates. The results indicated generally similar patterns of global leadership
behaviors across the sample, but with some cultural differences. Significant
gender differences were found only in self-ratings. Compared with the
women in the sample, the men rated themselves more highly on five self-
reported leadership dimensions (visioning, energizing, designing & aligning,
global mindset, and outside orientation). This pattern of difference was not
found, however, in the ratings by superiors, peers, or subordinates. Instead,
these findings report no significant difference in how women and men
Women Leading Globally 47

manifest global leadership behaviors, as perceived by others. The same
phenomena lower self-ratings by women but no difference in perceived
effectiveness by others emerged in a recent meta-analysis of traditional
leadership effectiveness studies that incorporated contextual factors
(Paustian-Underdahl, Walker, & Woehr, 2014). Before accepting these or
any other similar results, researchers should more closely examine the mea-
surements in general to answer the question: Do existing measures fully
incorporate the experience of women global leaders? Instruments developed
solely for use with high-level executives may be male-defined and male-
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normed due to the very low number of women at the most senior levels.
Another caveat for scholars is whether research on senior global women
leaders needs to distinguish between middle- and top-level executives. For
example, is perceived effectiveness in women global leaders influenced by
hierarchical position? Grouping senior and junior women who work glob-
ally, given the disparity in their roles, motivations, and impact, would not
only produce a misleading “average” result but fail to yield an accurate
description of what senior global women leaders actually do. What is
required for women to progress to the most senior level, and to succeed
once there? Until similarity has been confirmed, we recommend that senior-
level executives be studied separately from managers and executives who
work at lower levels in the organization.
Another large multi-country test of personality, as measured by Hogan
assessment instruments (the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), the Hogan
Development Survey (HDS), and the Motives, Values, and Preferences
Inventory (MVPI)), reported no significant differences between women and
men (Winsborough & Hogan, 2014). Their sample consisted of 11,969 global
managers from five countries, 75% of whom were male. Instead they found
that these managers shared much in common as a homogeneous group but
were significantly different from the general population in their countries on
personality measures related to occupation. In general, these managers and
leaders, in comparison with the average person, were more emotionally
stable and much more competitive, ambitious, outgoing, and well-informed.
Despite the convergence found among these managers and leaders, as in the
previously cited study by Anupam and Rook (2014), some significant cul-
tural differences were identified. Would empirical research on women global
leaders discover the same pattern of general convergence accompanied by a
limited number of cultural differences reflecting the influence of environ-
ment? Furthermore, can we assume that female heads of countries and com-
panies have the same task scope and experience the same task demands, or
should this assumption also be tested? Most global leadership research does

not distinguish between the most senior leader and all other executives, nor
among the types of roles and work that they carry out; people are simply
identified, as above, as global managers or global executives. Not all global
management jobs are similar, nor do all require the same global leadership
competencies. In particular, the role of the CEO is not identical to that of
other executives or managers. The lack of specificity in sample selection
makes meta-level comparisons more problematic and might obfuscate
important findings. For example, if the women leaders’ behavior follows a
bimodal rather than a normal distribution, similar to that of their male
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counterparts, then most male-female differences would be masked statisti-
cally subsumed into the mean. For this reason, scholars have developed a
typology of global leaders based on the degree of global complexity and
global connectivity in their jobs (Reiche, Bird, Mendenhall, & Osland,
2014). We recommend that studies of women global leaders consider role
differences and job demands as potential moderators and their relationship
to specific hierarchical levels in their research questions and/or sample
selection. Research could also determine whether there are different profiles
of effective global leaders with different styles or developmental trajectories
under different contingency factors.
Our final research example related to male-female comparisons is not a
study of global executives’ leadership behaviors or personality traits but
the validation study of the instrument used to measure the intercultural
competencies essential for global leadership at a range of levels. This
instrument measures predispositions and/or developed skills for working
across cultures as global leaders (Bird et al., 2010). The Global
Competency Inventory (Stevens, Bird, Mendenhall, & Oddou, 2014) was
developed with a multicultural sample that was fairly balanced in terms of
gender (44% female; 56% male). Tests of differential validity with a sam-
ple of 40,000 people of various ages, cultures, education, and occupational
levels found no significant gender differences. Individual scores on the
GCI were far more likely to reflect important individual differences inher-
ent to the person than they were to reflect underlying differences between
women and men or even among different occupational levels. And yet, as
noted previously, there was greater similarity to global leadership compe-
tencies among perceived female than male traits. If these perceived gender
traits also apply to senior leaders, does this mean that developing global
leadership competencies might be a bigger stretch for men than women?
As minorities, especially currently at the most senior levels of leadership,
do women develop any unique skills, in the cross-cultural domain or in
other domains of global leadership, that increase their effectiveness as
Women Leading Globally 49

senior global leaders? For example, do they develop innovation skills
because the status quo does not always work for them? Or are there other
global leadership competencies that are a bigger stretch for women? Do
such potential differences vary by culture? And are they varying over time,
as both society and the economy become more global?
Offering three theoretical perspectives on women and global leadership,
Ayman and Korabik (2015, p. 67) wrote that they “expect few differences
between men and women global leaders in the qualities that they have or in
their potential for global leadership.” However, research has shown that
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societal and superiors’ judgments about women, in contrast to men, are
subject to different stereotypes, perceived role incongruence, and percep-
tions of status and privilege (Ayman & Korabik, 2015). For example, dif-
ferent cultures have varying perceptions about the role and status of
women in leadership, but more research is needed to identify under what
conditions such perceptions impede or help women global leaders. Scholars
could also determine whether women require special competencies to deal
with additional gender-related obstacles as they navigate their path to the
top of organizations.
This brings us to perhaps the potentially most fruitful research
topic further articulating the developmental trajectories of senior global
leaders, identifying potential differences in developmental demands as well
as the methods used to increase global leadership capacities. Caligiuri and
Tarique (2014) identified the antecedents and competencies that allow peo-
ple to benefit most from two common types of cross-cultural global leader-
ship training, but scholars have yet to determine which training methods
are most effective or most appropriate for different developmental needs
and audiences. Moreover, their studies have yet to be extended to look at
the development trajectories of men and women who make it to the most
senior (CEO) level, and who succeeds once there. Given the global chal-
lenges of the 21st century and our need for both new solutions and new lea-
dership, research on global leadership is a way for scholars to make a
significant contribution to making a difference in the world.


1. A. T. Kearney study reported in Haebeck, Kroger, and Trum (2000) and in
Schuler and Jackson (2001). The same study, as cited by Schuler and Jackson, con-
cludes that “only 15 percent of mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. achieve their
objectives, as measured by share value, return on investment and post-combination

profitability.” For research on the instability of international joint ventures, see the
summary by Yan and Zeng (1999). Although the definitions (complete termination
vs. significant change of ownership) and overall results vary, numerous studies have
reported substantial international joint venture instability, including 55% termina-
tion reported by Harrigan (1988), 49% termination reported by Barkema and
Vermeulen (1997), and 68% instability through termination or acquisition reported
by Park and Russo (1996). Also see Gary Hammel’s classic 1991 article. For a
notable exception, see the description of the Norway-based global company,
Norske Skog, in Adler (2002a).
2. Contemporary discussions of global corporate citizenship address the possibility
and necessity for companies to do well financially by doing good (see, among others,
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Adler, 2002a, 2008, 2010; Cooperrider & Adler, 2006; Hart, 2005; Hawken, Lovins, &
Lovins, 1999; Laszlo, 2003; Lovins et al., 2000; McDonough & Braungart, 2002;
Prahalad, 2005; Prahalad & Hammond, 2002; Prahalad & Hart, 2002).
3. See initial work on positive psychology (Seligman, 1998, 2003; Seligman &
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Snyder & Lopez, 2002), which then led to positive organiza-
tional scholarship (see Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003, among others).
4. Burma (renamed Myanmar by the military junta) selected Aung San Suu Kyi,
but the military imprisoned her, rather than allowing her to be seated and to serve
the country as president.
5. The number of countries in the world depends on the definition of a country.
There are widely recognized sovereign states (UN members), partially recognized
states (such as Taiwan, Kosovo, and Northern Cyprus), and de facto states (e.g.,
Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and Somaliland). For purposes of this chapter,
the most conservative number, 195 sovereign states, was used based on 2015 data.
6. For a discussion of women who are global entrepreneurs, see Adler
(1999a, 1999c).


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