Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Women's Studies and Feminist Research


Dr. Helen A. Fielding


In this dissertation, I examine the conceptual underpinnings of a new management theory called authentic leadership to discover why so little attention has been paid to gender. In much of the scholarly literature on authentic leadership, I suggest there is a failure to interrogate the complexities surrounding the concept of authenticity, especially as it relates to the diversity of lived experience. Rather than encouraging a genuine approach to leadership, this theory's normative foundation is more likely to encourage social conformity. By contrast, I suggest that Hannah Arendt's insights into uniqueness provide a different lens from which to consider how lived experience influences the manner in which gender, authenticity and leadership intersect. As part of this inquiry, I conducted a phenomenological study. My guiding question was: how do senior women leaders describe their experiences of authenticity, or lack thereof, in the university workplace. These women's descriptive accounts reveal ethical tensions regarding personal principles and institutional priorities, and suggest that gender prejudice is embedded in organizational practices, as well as the cultural imagination. In exploring gender prejudice, I trace authenticity's modern underpinnings to the emergence of bourgeois selfhood. Historically, women's desire to lead was affected by notions of gender propriety. These societal restrictions still bear a trace on some women's sense of possibility, which serves to perpetuate gender inequities. Research findings also suggest that it is the self in relation that is fundamental to comprehending what it might mean to lead authentically. When we broaden our definition of what constitutes authentic leadership so as to account for the myriad ways in which we live and lead, we discover how people without positional authority can change their communities in profound ways. Thus, leadership is not dependent upon a person's organizational position, but rather on how their actions demonstrate how much they care for the world. This more expansive content, together with Arendt's insights, opens up new avenues of thinking about the interconnections among gender, authenticity and leadership.