Men are, on average, more concerned about appearing to have high status and may be able to demonstrate this status by acting independently from the opinions of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 281–294. On the other hand, and again although there are substantial individual differences among them, women are, on average, more concerned with connecting to others and maintaining group harmony. Even in cases in which the pressure to conform is strong and a large percentage of individuals do conform (such as in Solomon Asch’s line-judging research), not everyone does so.
Taken together, this means that, at least when they are being observed by others, men are likely to hold their ground, act independently, and refuse to conform, whereas women are more likely to conform to the opinions of others in order to prevent social disagreement.
These differences are less apparent when the conformity occurs in private (Eagly, 1978, 1983). Sex of authority role models and achievement by men and women: Leadership performance and recognition, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 636–653; Griskevicius, V., Goldstein, N.
In Asch’s study, for instance, despite the strong situational pressures, 24% of the participants never conformed on any of the trials.
People prefer to have an “optimal” balance between being similar to, and different from, others (Brewer, 2003). Influence of sex roles on the manifestation of leadership.
Griskevicius, Goldstein, Mortensen, Cialdini, and Kenrick (2006) found that men, but not women, who had been primed with thoughts about romantic and sexual attraction were less likely to conform to the opinions of others on a subsequent task than were men who had not been primed to think about romantic attraction.
In addition to the public versus private nature of the situation, the topic being discussed also is important, with both men and women being less likely to conform on topics that they know a lot about, in comparison with topics on which they feel less knowledgeable (Eagly & Chravala, 1986). In one experiment, Nyquist and Spence (1986) had pairs of same- and mixed-sex students interact. In each pair there was one highly dominant and one low dominant individual, as assessed by previous personality measures. When the topic is sports, women tend to conform to men, whereas the opposite is true when the topic is fashion. Thus it appears that the small observed differences between men and women in conformity are due, at least in part, to informational influence. For instance, women hold only about 20% of the key elected and appointed political positions in the world (World Economic Forum, 2013). There are also more men than women in leadership roles, particularly in high-level administrative positions, in many different types of businesses and other organizations. Gender and the effectiveness of leaders: A meta-analysis. The observed gender differences in conformity have social explanations—namely that women are socialized to be more caring about the desires of others—but there are also evolutionary explanations. Men may be more likely to resist conformity to demonstrate to women that they are good mates. They found that in pairs in which there was one man and one woman, the dominant man became the leader 90% of the time, but the dominant woman became the leader only 35% of the time. Transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles: A meta-analysis comparing men and women. Keep in mind, however, that the fact that men are perceived as effective leaders, and are more likely to become leaders, does not necessarily mean that they are actually better, more effective leaders than women.