This case study focuses on the gender inequalities that women face in upper management roles and how transformational leadership can play a significant part in overcoming these hurdles. Judith Baxter helps to define these roles in Who Wants to Be the Leader? The Linguistic Construction of Emerging Leadership in Differently Gendered Teams and further discusses the issues faced by gender in the workforce. Stereotypes of women who hold higher positions are also revealed and the context of this study will show how being in a more gender neutral environment may help to overcome the glass ceiling effect.


Anna Wintour has been the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine since 1988 and artistic director of Condé Nast since 2003. Known for her signature pageboy haircut and large sunglasses, she has received quite the reputation for being intimidating. Wintour also inspired the movie The Devil Wears Prada in 2006, which Meryl Streep played an antagonistic editor who portrayed a ruthless and stone cold leader. Unfortunately, you cannot believe everything you read as Wintour points out in several interviews.

Theory Inflected Analysis

It is still well known around the world of the glass ceiling and the difficulties women have breaking into senior leadership. There are still many stereotypes women face on a day to day basis that can impact their pursuit of high-level positions. The United States is ahead of other countries with 51.5% of women in the labor force holding a management, professional or other related position, compared to 35.5% in Canada and 27.4% in Australia. Unfortunately, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts, globally earning only 77% of men’s earnings. This is comparable to women earning what men earned 10 years ago (Catalyst 2016).

With all this gender inequality, it is refreshing to read about a stand out leader in a field that may be more forgiving to gender. When Anna Wintour was interviewed and asked specifically about gender inequality in regards to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement, she stated, “Yes. I think that maybe the way things operate out in Silicon Valley is a little different from the way … Maybe we’re very spoiled, Amy, living and working in our industry in New York, because from my personal experience I’ve never felt held back or differentiated against. Maybe I’ve been very lucky … but I really can’t think of a serious incident that I’ve had to deal with on a professional level (Larocca 2015).

Working in the fashion industry as a woman has its advantages, this is not to say that Anna Wintour has only become successful due to her gender. Rather, she is an outstanding leader and businesswoman, but she may not have had the same type of setbacks as women have in male-dominated fields. With the percentage of women in top leadership roles being relatively low, the fashion industry has not posed these types of challenges for Wintour to take charge and become a fashion icon known all over the world. However, gender has played a role in regards to the perception of Wintour in her leadership role; with power can come negativity. In several articles speaking of Wintour and her leadership style, she is stated as being intimidating, icy and even ruthless. As she states below, sometimes there are negative stereotypes that accompany powerful women:

“It’s not so much about powerful women. In some cases, there are stereotypes about women. I often don’t hear men talked about in the same way. It’s more a sexist stereotype than a powerful stereotype.” (Goudreau, 2011)

This speaks volumes to the ideals regarding women in leadership roles and why it can be so difficult to gain footing in a male-dominated field. However, as Baxter explains, “women prefer to adopt a transformational and/or relational style. Helgesen (1990) proposed that women’s preference for relational styles should give them a leadership “advantage” in a business world that increasing valued professional relationships” (Baxter p 431). Baxter goes on to mention that this type of leadership style may not benefit women in male-dominated work environments. However, the fashion industry, while it has its fair share of male presence is not comparable to that of a Fortune 500 company. Wintour has a different dynamic to overcome, stereotyping and the effects this can cause to women who hold powerful positions.

According to Bass, transformational leadership “occurs when leaders broaden and elevate the interests of their employees, when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group (Bass p 21). Wintour will say she doesn’t consider herself powerful, which speaks volumes to the type of transformational leader she is. Anna inspires the fashion industry as well as her co-workers and portrays a confidence that some may perceive as being ruthless. However, she commands respect and regardless of the stereotypes and people’s perceptions, Wintour continues to be successful and progressive with content at Vogue.

Per Business Insider’s interview with Wintour, her principles that guide her leadership style are:

  • Be decisive, and trust your instincts
  • Delegate responsibilities, and then stay hands-off
  • Do not reveal insecurities to your team
  • See the departure of top talent as an exciting opportunity
  • Never dwell on the past
  • Be inspired by failure

Anna Wintour embodies the charismatic leadership qualities as stated by Weber, “a charismatic leader is endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities” (Levine p 579). Wintour does not reveal much to the public of her personal life, making her seem mysterious. This is a calculated quality, one she is very proud of. However, she is very open and honest when speaking of fashion. She attributes her success to being a leader who surrounds herself with people that are opinionated and interesting and staying open to hearing what others have to say (Goudreau 2011).

Student Analysis

Wintour poses many transformational leadership qualities that have allowed her the opportunity to become a very successful editor. She has the ability to lead but also inspire others to lead. She has been able to learn from her failures but has also had great leaders to follow such as her father who was the editor of the Evening Standard, who she attributes learning perseverance. Unfortunately, due to the stereotypes of women in senior leadership positions, she has become known as “Nuclear Wintour” (Feloni 2016).

Some women may not be able to handle the stresses of such negative press, but I find Wintour’s attitude towards all of it impressive. She has been able to ignore or rather, not give a damn, about what the press and others have to say, because, in the end, she knows, or at least portrays the confidence necessary to get the job done.

Not all senior leadership positions are in such a heavy spotlight as Vogue editor-in-chief, however, these same stereotypes make it difficult to overcome and lead as a woman in a male-dominated workforce. Many women have great transformational leadership abilities and can be successful, as well as men. However, until gender is removed, and I don’t anticipate that to be the case anytime soon, it will continue to be difficult for women to rise up the ladder. There are too many influences such as social media and TV that would need to change to allow for an equality in the workforce.

Works Cited

Baxter, J. (2014). Who Wants to Be the Leader? The Linguistic Construction of Emerging Leadership in Differently Gendered Teams. International Journal of Business Communication, 2329488414525460.

Catalyst. 2016. Quick Take: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workplace. New York: Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/statistical-overview-women-workforce

Fairhurst, G. T., & Grant, D. (2010). The social construction of leadership: A sailing guide. Management Communication Quarterly24(2), 171-210.

Fairhurst, G. T. (2008). Discursive leadership: A communication alternative to leadership psychology. Management Communication Quarterly.

Feloni, R. (Jan. 5, 2016). 6 strategies Vogue editor Anna Wintour uses to run her empire. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/anna-wintour-on-leadership-and-management-2016-1

Larocca, A. (May 4, 2015). Anna Wintour on the Future of Print, Hillary, and How She Feels About Her Reputation. New York. NYMAG.com. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/05/anna-wintour-amy-larocca-in-conversation.html

Levine, K. J., Muenchen, R. A., & Brooks, A. M. (2010). Measuring transformational and charismatic leadership: Why isn’t charisma measured?. Communication Monographs, 77(4), 576-591.

Goudreau, J. (August 24, 2011). Vogue’s Anna Wintour: Intimidating, No. Powerful, Yes. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2011/08/24/vogue-anna-wintour-intimidating-powerful-forbes-power-women-fashion/#16ff94f55c02