‘Tight’ Cultures May Hold Back Women


TORONTO (UPI) — The cultural “tightness” of a country can hold back female leadership — but not always, a Canadian study has found.

Cultural tightness is described by University of Toronto researcher Soo Min Tohas as the “degree to which norms are clear and pervasive.” Tight cultures have a lower tolerance for deviation from their norms and may even impose sanctions for doing so, she said.

“Loose” cultures tend to be more open to change and experience higher rates of change than tight cultures.

Countries that more strictly uphold their cultural norms are less likely to promote women as leaders — unless those norms support equal opportunity for both sexes, the study found.

“Cultural tightness can prevent the emergence of women leaders because tighter cultures may make a society’s people more resistant to changing the traditionally held practice that placed men in leadership roles,” Toh said in a university release Thursday.

Among 32 countries compared in the study, New Zealand, Ukraine and Hungary — all culturally loose countries — showed a high rate of female leadership, while Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey — considered culturally tight — were low.

But cultural tightness can be a double-edged sword, the study found.

“When it comes to the emergence of women leaders, cultural tightness can have an advantage too,” researcher Geoffrey Leonardelli said.

“Cultural tightness may also be a helpful instrument because in societies where men and women are treated equally, tightness could more strongly implement and sustain practices that encourage the emergence of women leaders,” he said.

He cited Norway as an example, saying that while the Scandinavian country is considered culturally tight, it also highly emphasizes gender equality practices and showed a high rate of female leadership.

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