Gender Differences in Delegation: The Problem and the Solution

Topic(s): gender, leadership
Publication: Academy of Management Journal, 2018
Article: To Delegate or Not to Delegate: Gender Differences in Affective Associations and Behavioral Responses to Delegation
Authors: M. Akinola, A.E. Martin, K.W. Phillips
Reviewed by: Jacqueline Marhefka

Delegating work, meaning assigning tasks to subordinate employees, has a variety of benefits. These include better decision making and less work overload for managers, as well as raising motivation and development in employees, to name a few. However, male and female managers may have different opinions about delegation.

Delegating can be described as communal or relational due to interacting with and developing employees, but it can also be described as assertive. Although managers in general are expected to be assertive and take action, women are typically expected to be less assertive and more relational. Women may therefore be more likely to notice the assertive components of delegation due to the conflicting expectations. This would make women less comfortable delegating and less likely to delegate.


To investigate this, researchers (Akinola, Martin, and Phillips, 2018) ran five studies about perceptions of delegation and actual delegation in men and women. They first found that women do perceive delegation as a more assertive behavior than men. In turn, women connected delegation with negative emotions such as anxiety, guilt for overburdening their employees, and fear of backlash more than men. These negative feelings are not only uncomfortable for female managers, they also harm relationships with employees. Women who delegated work ended up spending less time with their employees compared to men. This made employees feel less supported and less motivated. These results show that perceptions and feelings resulting from delegation differ between men and women.

Does the extent of actual delegation differ between men and women? The authors found that when women report how much they believe they delegate, this amount does not differ from how much men believe they delegate. However, when actual delegation was examined, the authors found that women did delegate less than men when given the option. As mentioned previously, delegating has many benefits. The researchers noted that the women who delegated performed better than those who did not.


The above results show how men and women perceive delegation differently, and that women delegate less than men. Delegation can improve performance, so how can women become more comfortable with delegating? Since women are more likely to perceive delegation as too assertive, the researchers tested whether reframing delegation as a more relational behavior would encourage women to perceive it in a more positive way. When women were told that delegation would help their employee grow and develop, they felt less anxious and guilty about delegating.


Reframing delegation to emphasize the relational components appears to be an effective method to help female managers feel more comfortable with delegating. Pointing out the communal benefits for employees involved with delegation can reduce women’s initial negative perceptions of delegation. This would likely increase their delegation. It is important that female managers in particular feel comfortable delegating, as this would likely improve their interactions with employees as well as positively impact performance.



Akinola, M., Martin, A. E., & Phillips, K. W. (2018). To delegate or not to delegate: Gender differences in affective associations and behavioral responses to delegation. Academy of Management Journal, 61(4), 1467-1491.