Gender, Leadership, and Vocational Education
Jerome Moss, Jr.
University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Motivation to explore the relationship between gender and leadership stems from three conditions that the authors have observed: First, it is axiomatic that vocational education needs the best leaders obtainable, particularly in administrative roles. Second, about 45 percent of the professionals in vocational education are female; they represent a large potential source of leaders (Office of Research, 1994). Third, discrimination on the basis of gender has, thus far, kept many otherwise qualified women from gaining administrative positions, or even from trying to become qualified for those positions (Restine, 1993; Shakeshaft, 1989). Given these conditions, it is certainly in vocational education's interest to determine whether there is any basis in fact for the practice of gender discrimination. Is there a difference between men and women in the effectiveness of their actual performance as administrator-leaders? Does the evidence justify the discriminatory practice? And, aside from considerations of equity and fairness, does the evidence call for encouraging females to prepare for roles as administrator-leaders?
The purpose of this article is, therefore, to summarize the results of a series of research studies on leadership in vocational education conducted by the authors since 1989 that bear on the following three-part question:
To what extent do gender-related differences exist among vocational administrators in terms of (a) the criteria by which their leadership effectiveness is judged, (b) the effectiveness of their leadership performance and the level of their leader attributes, and (c) the gender biases of the vocational rater-observers who judge them?
One of the major influences on the theory and practice of administration (management) during the past decade has been the increased attention paid to its leadership. Instead of focusing solely upon the analytical and technical aspects of the administrator's role and relying upon control through the power of positional authority, the importance of using leadership as a non-coercive influence to create smooth, responsive working relationships has gained broader recognition. The administrator-leader is often idealized as empowering, with behaviors that motivate followers and create sustained change through the collaborative implementation of a shared vision (Bennis, 1990; Cleveland, 1985; Kanter, 1989; Kotter, 1990).
A second influence, affecting both the study of leadership and the practice of administration, has been the controversial proposition that men and women bring systematic differences to their leadership styles. It has been argued that, because of their early socialization process, women have developed values and characteristics that result in leadership behaviors that are different from the traditional aggressive, competitive, controlling leadership behaviors of men (Helgesin, 1990; Loden, 1985; Rosener, 1989; Schwartz, 1989; Shakeshaft, 1989). Authors such as these contend that women typically bring to administrative positions an approach to leadership that is consistent with developmental, collaborative, relationship-oriented behaviors. These behaviors are seen as more compatible than traditional male behaviors with the idealized view of leadership. Consequently, it is anticipated that women will be more effective administrator-leaders than men.
Other theorists and researchers believe that there is no systematic gender-related difference in the leadership behaviors of men and women. They argue that, given equivalent levels of responsibility within an organization, women and men exhibit the same leadership behaviors. Socialization within the organization, self-selection of those who choose administration, and the constraints of administrators' responsibilities override any adherence to general gender-differentiated styles of behavior (Bass, 1990; Eagly & Johnson, 1990; Wrolstad, Hazucha, Huff, & Halperin, 1992). Any gender-related differences in leadership behaviors that might have been found by some researchers are ascribed either to rater bias (Bass, 1990; Deaux, 1985; Eagly, 1991) or to the use of gender-biased instrumentation (Astin & Leland, 1991).
Reviews of data-based studies on the differences between male and female leadership behaviors consistently report inconclusive results. All the reviewers report as many studies that found significant differences (in favor of either females or males) as there were that found no differences (Bartol & Butterfield, 1976; Brown, 1979; Eagly, Karau, & Johnson, 1992; White, de Santis, & Crino, 1981).
As suggested by the authors of research reviews, the inconclusive results of prior studies may well have been due to the confounding effects of bias in the criteria used to assess leader effectiveness, and/or the bias of raters who apply the criteria. Consequently, an effort was made in the series of studies reported herein to test for the acceptability of the criteria by male and female vocational educators and to test for gender bias among the raters.
The Criteria by Which Leadership Is Judged
Leadership as a property lies in the eyes of the beholder; only those who are so perceived are leaders. Accordingly, among the first kind of potential gender-related differences to be studied was whether men and women have common conceptions about what leaders in vocational education should be trying to accomplish, and what the ideal qualities of leaders in vocational education should be. Is it appropriate to use the same criteria for women and men to assess the effectiveness of leader performance and the same leader attributes to measure predispositions to desirable leadership behaviors?
Criteria for Leader Performance
Consistent with the increased emphasis on leadership as non-coercive influence to improve the work of organizations, the authors' perspective on leadership is
that the leader's aim should be to achieve maximum group productivity by bringing into focus the organization's vision, mission, and values; helping to adapt the organization to the environment; and securing the commitment of individuals in the organization and fostering their growth by tapping their intrinsic motivation. This conception of a leader's role is essentially one of facilitating the group process and empowering group members through the use of consultation, persuasion, and inspiration. (Moss, Lambrecht, Finch, & Jensrud, 1994b, p. 5)
As this particular conception of the role of leaders in vocational education was being translated by the authors into an instrument to assess the effectiveness of leader performance, namely, the Leader Effectiveness Index (LEI), it was recognized that there were many different conceptions of the leadership role that might have been chosen. It was, therefore, critical to determine whether the criteria actually being used by vocational educators were the same as those reflected in the authors' conceptualization and in the criterion items being written into the LEI. In other words, was the authors' view about the facilitating and empowering role of effective leaders the view used by vocational educators as they judged their leaders? And were the views of men and women the same?
The study that was conducted to explore these questions has been fully reported in the Journal of Industrial Teacher Education (Moss, Finch, & Johansen, 1991) and it will be summarized briefly here. Using a nomination process, a purposive sample of 39 "most successful" administrators of specialized vocational institutions in seven states was identified. Two instructors were then randomly selected from each of the 39 schools (resulting in 37 males and 41 females from diverse occupational fields). Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with all 78 instructors. As a part of the interview, each instructor was asked to recall two incidents or events in which her or his administrator was particularly effective as a leader and to provide a very detailed description of each event.
Eleven categories of criteria for effective performance as a leader, grouped into three clusters, were created as a basis for classifying the event descriptions. These categories reflected the various kinds of criteria that had been used by many other researchers to judge the effectiveness of leaders in a wide variety of environments. Each description was then analyzed to determine the category or categories of criteria that the instructor was implicitly using when he or she identified the event as a particularly effective leadership behavior.
Table 1 Frequency of Use by Category of Criteria and Gender
Category of Criteria Female Male Total n % n % n %
Facilitate Group Process & Empower Members 1. Inspire a shared vision 1 0 3 1 4 2 2. Achieve unity & motivate 15 6 13 6 28 12 3. Implement change & empower 21 9 19 8 40 17 4. Exert external influence 18 8 15 6 33 14 5. Establish learning environment 15 6 9 4 24 10
Make a Personal Impact on Instructors 6. Satisfy job-related needs 20 8 27 11 47 20 7. Increase engagement with work 4 2 4 2 8 3
Impact Organizational Outcomes 8. Improve instruction 9 4 13 6 22 9 9. Provide student equity and access 6 3 2 1 8 3 10. Increase labor market responsiveness 14 6 5 2 19 8 11. Satisfy student development needs 3 1 1 0 4 2
Totals 126 53 111 47 237 100
Table 1 reports the frequencies and percentages with which instructors used the criteria to identify effective leadership by administrators in vocational education. (Note that most event descriptions implied the use of more than one category of criteria.)
Chi-square analyses of the data revealed, first, that Facilitate Group Process and Empower Members--the cluster of criteria that best reflects the authors' conceptualization of the desired role of leaders in vocational education--was used by significantly more vocational instructors than either of the other two clusters of categories (c= 47.50; df = 2; c.01 = 9.21). Second, the analyses showed that the gender of the vocational instructors was not related to the eleven categories of criteria used (c= 10.98; df = 10; c.01 = 23.21). Female and male vocational instructors used the criteria in the same proportions. At least to the extent that the findings can be generalized to a hypothetical population similar to the sample, it is indeed appropriate to use the same criteria for women and men to assess the effectiveness of leader performance among vocational administrators.
This result was confirmed by Beckstrom (1992) in her study of 223 male and female managers. She found men's and women's definitions of "successful managers" (an idealized version of what a manager should do) to be nearly identical. The result is also supported by Friesen (1983) and Uhlir (1989), who agree that current leadership theory says women and men should exhibit the same kinds of behavior to be successful as leaders.
Since female and male vocational instructors believe it is appropriate to judge all their administrators by the same criteria, regardless of gender, are the individual qualities needed by men and women to achieve success as leaders also the same? In other words, does effective leader performance require the same qualities in both women and men?
Leader attributes are qualities possessed by the individual that shape her/his leadership behaviors. Within the constraints of a given situation, attributes predispose individuals to behave in consistent ways. As such, measures of leader attributes should be highly related to measures of leader performance.
The authors developed an instrument, the Leader Attributes Inventory (LAI), to measure 37 attributes that were found to be highly related to the Leader Effectiveness Index (LEI) measure of leader performance. Correlation coefficients between each of the 37 attributes and the total score on the LEI ranged from .52 to .77. The coefficient between the total score on the LAI and the total score on the LEI was .84 (Moss, Lambrecht, Finch, & Jensrud, 1994a, 1994b).
Given the strong relationship between leader attributes and leader performance, is the same set of leader attributes also appropriate for both men and women? In a recent study designed to establish norms for the LAI and the LEI, a sample of 163 Vocational Teacher Leaders (VTL) consisting of 99 women and 64 men was identified in the technical colleges, community colleges, and secondary centers of 12 states (Moss, Lambrecht, Finch, & Jensrud, 1994a, 1994b). Vocational Teacher Leaders were defined as professionals in non-administrative positions who were nominated by their department heads and chief school administrators as particularly influential among their peers. No significant differences were found between the average ratings assigned by their peers to male and female teacher leaders on any of the 37 attributes measured by the LAI. Men and women who are recognized as leaders by their colleagues are perceived to have the same set of leader attributes. Like criteria for desired leader performance, the leader attributes that predispose that performance are the same for women and men.
Beckstrom (1992), in her study of 223 female and male managers, also concluded that where men and women encounter similar organizational influences, their perceptions about the individual qualities important for success are similar.
The Effectiveness of Leadership Performance
Since it is appropriate to use the same criteria for judging the leadership and the leader attributes of men and women, particularly as expressed by the LEI and LAI, the two instruments can be used to make a fair assessment of any perceived behavioral differences that might exist between genders. Two such comparisons were made using data from the study, noted above, that was designed to develop norms for the LEI and the LAI (Moss, Lambrecht, Finch, & Jensrud, 1994a, 1994b).
Methodology and Results
The purposive sample for the norming study consisted of 220 Chief Vocational Administrators (CVA), 168 Vocational Department Heads (VDH), and 163 Vocational Teacher Leaders (VTL) from the technical colleges, community colleges, and secondary centers of 12 states. Using the LEI and the LAI, each member of the sample was rated by three to five subordinates and peers who knew the subject well. The average of the three to five ratings for each subject on each instrument was used as the criterion measure of leadership performance and leader attributes.
The first stage of the data analysis was to determine whether two or more of the three groups (CVA, VDH, and VTL) could be combined to form norm groups. Table 2 reports the means and standard deviations of the LEI ratings of leader performance for the three groups. A one-way ANOVA revealed no significant differences among the means (a = .05). As shown in Table 2, the probability level of finding differences as great by chance was .255. Given the results of the ANOVA, the three groups were combined into one norm group (n = 551) called Vocational Administrators and Vocational Teacher Leaders.
Table 2 LEI Ratings of Leader Performance
Group n Mean SD
Chief Vocational Administrators 220 4.71 .56 Vocational Department Heads 168 4.76 .59 Vocational Teacher Leaders 163 4.80 .55
Note: 6 point scale.
The LEI norm group, Vocational Administrators and Teacher Leaders, was then examined for gender differences by applying a t-test to the mean ratings of females (n = 248) and males (n = 303). A significant difference was found at the a = .05 level with the female mean rating (Mean = 4.82, SD = .57) higher than the male mean rating (Mean = 4.69, SD = .57). The effect size of this small but statistically significant difference in means is .23, indicating that in the male distribution the average male ranks at the 50th percentile, whereas the average female would rank at the 59th percentile (Borg & Gall, 1989).
In the case of the LAI, two criteria were used to decide whether the average ratings of the three groups (CVA, VDH, VTL) were sufficiently different to warrant establishing separate norms. First, the probability of obtaining three sets of 37 leader attributes as different as those actually obtained for each group was determined. Second, the three sets of ratings were examined to see whether there were perceivable, reasonable differences among them. The statistical tests indicated that the mean ratings of the vocational teacher leaders (VTL) for the set of 37 leader attributes were significantly higher (p < .05) than the chief vocational administrator group's but not significantly higher than the mean ratings for the set of vocational department head leader attributes. Inspection of the mean ratings showed that the VTL group was higher than the other two groups on 78 percent of the attributes and that the VDH average ratings were more similar to the CVAs than the VTLs. The actual numbers of average ratings that ranked highest, in the middle, and lowest among the three groups are shown in Table 3. Given the results of the statistical tests and the confirming evidence revealed by inspecting the data in Table 3, two norm groups were formed for the Leader Attributes Inventory (LAI): (1) a Vocational Teacher Leader group (n = 163), and (2) a Vocational Administrator group (n = 388) that included both the CVA and the VDH groups.
Table 3 Frequencies of Rankings of Average LAI Ratings Among the Three Groups
Group Rankings Highest Middle Lowest Totals
Chief Vocational Administrators 4 6 27 37 Vocational Department Heads 4 26 7 37 Vocational Teacher Leaders 29 5 3 37
Data from the two LAI norm groups--Vocational Teacher Leaders and Vocational Administrators--were then examined for gender differences. In the vocational teacher leader norm group (99 women and 64 men), no significant differences (p < .05) were found between the average ratings of men and women on any attribute. However, in the vocational administrator norm group (149 women and 239 men), a significant difference (p < .05) was found between the two sets of 37 leader attributes with women having the higher set of ratings.
This significant difference was confirmed by an inspection of the data, which revealed that women administrators had higher average ratings on 34 of the 37 leader attributes, with the greatest differences on two attributes--energetic with stamina and information management. It was concluded, therefore, that female vocational administrators had higher ratings on the set of LAI attributes than male vocational administrators.
Explication of Results
The average leadership performance rating of the Vocational Teacher Leader group (VTL) on the Leader Effectiveness Index (LEI) was not significantly higher than the performance ratings of the Chief Vocational Administrator (CVA) and the Vocational Department Head (VDH) groups. However, there was a statistically significant difference in favor of the VTL group on Leader Attribute Inventory (LAI) ratings. Finding such a difference was not unexpected. The members of the VTL group were selected because they had been nominated by their colleagues as leaders; the vocational administrators (CVAs and VDHs) were included in the sample because of their positions, without regard to their effectiveness as leaders.
Significant but relatively small gender differences were found on LEI performance ratings in favor of women in the total sample of 551. Significant differences in favor of women administrators were also found in the sets of LAI ratings on leader attributes (but not in the VTL group).
These results are not unique; other researchers have also found female administrators superior to males in both leadership performance and leader qualities. Edwards (1992), after studying the ratings of 5233 managers in industrial firms, reported that women were rated higher than men by both peers and subordinates on all 35 leadership behaviors measured by his scale. Posner and Kouzes (1992) found that female managers (n = 235) were rated higher by subordinates than male managers (n = 1371) on two of their leadership subscales, Modeling the Way (p = .03) and Encouraging the Heart (p = .002). No gender differences were found on their other three subscales, Challenging the Process, Inspiring a Shared Vision, and Enabling Others to Act.
Why do women administrators tend to be rated higher than their male colleagues? One of the explanations often offered is that subordinate and/or peer raters are influenced by gender stereotypes. Raters may expect women or men to perform in certain ways and this expectation colors their judgment of perceived performance. The result is a systematic bias in ratings. The extent of the bias is the subject of the study reported in the next section of this article.
Gender Biases of Raters
Do women and/or men have gender biases that lead them to consistently award male or female vocational administrators higher leadership ratings? For example, do men rate male vocational administrators higher than female vocational administrators? Do women rate female vocational administrators higher than male vocational administrators? Or vice versa?
Several studies conducted in industry have produced conflicting answers to this question. Haccoun, Haccoun, and Sallay (1978); Petty and Miles (1976); and White, de Santis, and Crino (1981) all found that raters prefer leadership behaviors that are consistent with sex role stereotypes--female and male raters prefer female leaders who display female characteristics and male leaders who display male characteristics. On the other hand, Greene, Morrison, and Tischler (1980) and Welsh (1979) found that raters favored leaders of the same sex. But Golub and Canty (1982) and Megargee (1969) report that both sexes feel males are better leaders because they fit the traditional stereotype of the role.
Jensrud (1995) recently explored the gender biases of vocational educators who had rated the leadership performance and leader attributes of their department heads. She used part of the data collected for the Leader Effectiveness Index (LEI) and Leader Attributes Inventory (LAI) norming study (Moss, Lambrecht, Finch, & Jensrud, 1994a, 1994b). Her sample consisted of vocational department heads who were nominated by the chief vocational administrators of community colleges, technical institutes, and secondary centers in 12 states. Each of the vocational department heads in the sample had been rated by 2 to 5 subordinates and/or peers, with at least one male and one female among each set of raters. Only those department heads whose average ratings were at least 3.5 (between somewhat effective and effective) on the LEI overall scale (6-point maximum rating) were included in the sample. Then, raters were randomly omitted so that the number of male and female raters was equalized (i.e., each department head was rated by either one female and one male rater or two female and two male raters). Table 4 shows the gender distribution of raters and vocational department heads (VDH) in the sample.
Using the criteria of (a) the mean LEI overall score and (b) the mean LAI score on each of the 37 LAI leader attributes, Jensrud employed two-way ANOVA to test for significant differences (a = .05) (a) between the ratings of male and female vocational department heads, (b) between the ratings awarded by male and female raters, and (c) in how female and male vocational department heads are rated by female and male raters (interactions).
Table 4 Gender Distribution of Vocational Department Heads (VDH) and Raters
Gender of Vocational
Gender of Raters Female Male Totals
Female (n = 53) 78 78 156 Male (n = 90) 128 128 256 Totals 206 206 412
The leadership performance of female vocational department heads (Mean = 5.09, SD = .85) was rated significantly higher (p = .025) on the LEI than the performance of male vocational department heads (Mean = 4.87, SD = 1.04). The effect size of this small but statistically significant difference was calculated to be .22, indicating that in the male distribution, the average male ranks at the 50th percentile, whereas the average female would rank at the 58th percentile (Borg & Gall, 1989). There was no significant difference between the LEI ratings awarded by female and male raters. And there was no difference in how male and female vocational department heads were rated by female and male raters (interactions); the leadership performance of female vocational department heads was judged superior to that of their male counterparts by both male and female raters.
On 17 of the 37 leader attributes, as measured by the LAI, female vocational department heads had significantly higher ratings (p < .05) than males. Men were not rated significantly higher than women on any attribute. The average ratings for each of the 37 attributes are shown in Table 5.
Female raters gave significantly (p < .05) higher ratings to both male and female vocational administrators on only four attributes. On the other 33 attributes, male and female raters applied the same standards by awarding similar average ratings to female and male department heads.
Table 5 Average Ratings for Female and Male Vocational Department Heads
1.Energetic with Stamina 5.47 5.22 9.613 .002* 2.Insightful 5.21 5.08 2.801 .095 3.Adaptable, Open to change 5.17 5.03 2.168 .142 4.Visionary 5.19 5.09 1.022 .313 5.Tolerant of Ambiguity & Complexity 4.98 4.81 3.147 .077 6.Achievement-Oriented 5.48 5.16 16.319 .000* 7.Accountable 5.35 5.20 2.376 .124 8.Initiating 5.19 4.94 7.715 .006* 9.Confident, Accepting of Self 5.34 5.19 3.021 .083 10.Willing to Accept Responsibility 5.50 5.36 2.972 .085 11.Persistent 5.34 5.14 6.045 .014* 12.Enthusiastic, Optimistic 5.39 5.05 13.820 .000* 13.Tolerant of Frustration 4.97 4.88 .757 .385 14.Dependable, Reliable 5.54 5.30 5.957 .015* 15.Courageous, Risk-Taker 4.97 4.82 2.417 .121 16.Even Disposition 5.14 5.10 .148 .701 17.Committed to the Common Good 5.55 5.32 6.582 .011* 18.Personal Integrity 5.59 5.27 14.112 .000* 19.Intelligent with Practical Judgment 5.48 5.36 2.400 .122 20.Ethical 5.60 5.21 19.269 .000* 21.Communication 5.37 5.09 9.183 .003* 22.Sensitivity, Respect 5.40 5.20 4.521 .034* 23.Motivating Others 5.15 4.95 4.483 .035* 24.Networking 5.30 5.16 2.829 .093 25.Planning 5.24 5.10 2.433 .120 26.Delegating 5.10 4.95 2.467 .117 27.Organizing 5.22 5.08 2.342 .127 28.Team Building 5.08 4.89 3.694 .055 29.Coaching 5.13 4.95 3.348 .068 30.Conflict Management 4.95 4.70 5.686 .018* 31.Time Management 5.21 5.07 1.981 .160 32.Stress Management 5.01 5.00 .010 .919 33.Appropriate Use of Leadership Styles 5.01 4.79 5.139 .024* 34.Ideological Beliefs Appropriate to Group 5.40 5.18 7.339 .007* 35.Decision-Making 5.29 5.06 6.047 .014* 36.Problem-Solving 5.21 5.07 2.267 .133 37.Information Management 5.40 5.17 6.924 .009*
Note: * p < .05.
No significant (p < .05) interactions were found for any of the 37 LAI attributes. In other words, the raters in this study revealed no gender biases. Neither the female raters nor the male raters favored either gender.
Conclusions and Discussion
The results of the series of leadership studies in vocational education described above make it possible to answer the three questions posed at the beginning of this article. Within the limits imposed by the samples and the instruments employed, it can be concluded that
- Male and female vocational instructors use the same criteria to judge the leadership effectiveness of their administrators. They subscribe to the same conceptualization of the role of leaders in vocational education, which is reflected in the criterion items on the LEI and in the LAI attributes that predispose the desired behaviors.
- Female vocational administrators are judged to be slightly more effective leaders than their male counterparts by both male and female subordinates and/or peers. Women also tend to have a higher level of many desirable leader attributes.
- Overall, vocational instructors do not exhibit any gender biases in their ratings of vocational department heads. Neither male nor female raters demonstrate preferences based upon the gender of the administrator being rated.
It is clear that the female vocational administrators in these studies are perceived to be more effective leaders than male administrators, but the studies offer no clear explanation for the small but statistically significant difference. One possible reason for the difference is that the socialization process of females in our culture tends to develop those values and skills that support an empowering, facilitating leadership style--the style both men and women see as desirable. Some data from the Jensrud (1995) study might be interpreted as evidence of this explanation. Of the 17 leader attributes on which female vocational department heads were rated higher than males in Jensrud's study, only one attribute was a management skill and six were personal characteristics, while ten were social skills and characteristics.[ ]These classifications were based upon a factor analysis that organized the leader attributes into three factors (Moss & Liang, 1990).
A second explanation might lie in the process by which vocational administrators are selected. Because it is frequently more difficult for women to attain administrative positions, those who overcome the discrimination barriers are likely to be a more select group than their male counterparts. The vocational studies also provide some support for this hypothesis. There were no leader attribute differences between men and women in non-administrative positions who had been identified as actual leaders among their peers (Vocational Teacher Leaders). But when vocational administrators were compared, females had the higher set of leader attribute ratings. Since the administrators were included in the sample because of positions they held and not because of their performance as leaders, the gender differences in attributes might well be the result of the selection process.
Two implications for practice are evident. First, the extent of the gender differences in leader performance found in this research reflects largely overlapping distributions of male and female effectiveness. Thus, the best policy in selecting vocational administrators is to evaluate candidates' leadership styles and other qualifications independent of their gender. Practices that discriminate against promoting women to administrative positions because of their gender are harmful to the long range development of vocational education. Unless these practices are eliminated, many of the better leaders will be lost to the field. Second, many current leadership development programs are focused on women. It is important that these programs continue to be available to them as a means of opening up leadership opportunities as well as developing leader attributes. But it is now apparent that leadership development programs should also be made equally available to men. Certainly, many men currently in vocational administrative positions would benefit from them. Finally, research focused more specifically on the reasons why women are judged to be more effective leaders (e.g., doing cross-cultural studies) would increase our understanding of gender differences and contribute to the improvement of leadership development programs.
Moss is Professor Emeritus and Jensrud is Coordinator of Special Services in the Department of Vocational and Technical Education, University of Minnesota. Many of the studies reported herein were supported by the National Center for Research in Vocational Education, University of California at Berkeley.
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