Gender: The unspoken prejudice for leadership roles


The world of
opportunities is yet to open for women and emerge from the confines of gender stereotypes.
There exists a strong bias towards having a masculine
model of leadership. Although there is a significant improvement in the trends
of leadership roles for women, gender stereotype continues to be a compelling
barrier. Men have always outnumbered women in leadership roles. Women
leaders execute more of a transformational style of leadership. Women have
time and again proven to be effective crisis management leaders. Women are more
risk-aversive and also focus more on long-term interests than do their male
counterparts. In her book 
Why the Best Man for the Job is a
Woman: the Unique Female Qualities of Leadership
, Esther Wachs dwells into
the careers of successful top female leaders and their life. The book echoes
the qualities of a female leader that includes persuasiveness, determination to
reinvent opportunities and rules, envision a bright future and sell their
visions, and focus on the details and yet not forget the larger picture.

 

In spite of
being capable leaders, women are still at large declined the status of leaders
due to typical gender stereotypes. The society continues to believe in having
transactional and aggressive leaders which best define a male leader.
Behavioral traits exhibited by men and women though similar are not liable for
the same treatment. Men are perceived to be more competent, eligible and of
higher status than women in the same leadership roles by the society at large.

Gender leadership roles

 

Source: A report from the
Girl Scout research institute, girl scouts of the USA,    March 2008                      

 

When you analyze the
above poll results, women are preferred for tasks like taking care of others,
running a household, organizing an event, conflict resolution, crisis
management, money management, collaborating with others and yet when you
actually require a leader it’s a man. Ironically when women exhibit all the
desired characteristics of being an eligible leader and the society defines her
to be an eligible leader it fails to accept her as a leader.

It is important to create
a stress-free work environment and an ability to deal with situations in a
holistic and harmonious manner. Most women lack aggression in such situations but
definitely are assertive. In the prevailing organizational structure, there
needs to be a higher degree of sensitivity to help prevent discrimination and
provide equal opportunities to both men and women in workplaces. It is
necessary to address the gender equity issues and stand up to our rights. So, all
of us women need to start a collective business planning process to improve the
market share of women in leadership positions in the world of entrepreneurship.

 

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  • gwmchstudents

    One of the problems with supporting “woman’s leadership styles” is that it requires supporting gender stereotypes. Though I believe that there are some inherent differences in men and women, I do not think that leadership style is necessarily one of them. Think about the many social structures in place that encourage women to be harmonious, holistic, to alleviate stress, to care for others needs. For example, since this article mentions a Girl Scout quiz, lets look at Girls Scouts of America (GSA) vs. Boy Scouts of America (BSA). According to their websites, GSA promotes “fun and friendship” while BSA promotes “building character and the responsibilities of participating citizenship”. GSA focuses on an “accepting, nurturing environment” “social conscience” and “self-worth” while BSA “has helped build the future leaders of this country”.
    Obviously, every leader is not a product of one of these organizations, but it is easy to see that even in Leadership Activities among youth, women are encouraged to think and feel while men are encouraged to do. Currently, the Girl Scouts are organizing fundraisers for Haiti while the Boy Scouts are ACTUALLY THERE. Many of the “female characteristics” used to describe female leadership may be true, but that does not mean they will always be a part of female leadership. I do not believe that women are born without the ability to be aggressive or transactional. I do believe that the VALUE society assigns to these attributes is unjust. I do not think aggression should be valued over collaboration. And I think herein lies the problem. Here is why. This not only prevents women who were socialized as “girl scouts” from being leaders, it also prevents jobs traditionally held by women from being valued in our society.
    This is why some people think the gender revolution is over, because women ARE in fact making equal pay for equal work! We did it! So why have you heard that women make only $.75 for every dollar in the work place? It is because if the feminization of different work fields. Nurses and teachers and social workers do not get paid as much as engineers, scientists, or even CONSTRUCTION WORKERS. Is it because the jobs men take are harder or require more education? Most definitely not (though you were probably socialized to believe this). It is because “women’s work” will always be “women’s work”. And if a job entails many of the qualities that make women such great leaders, it will be devalued for those exact reasons.
    So what do we do? How do we change value assignment? I think it is happening, albeit very slowly. More women are working, making money. A study released this week revealed that wives out-earn their husbands in 22% of married households! But that still means that in 78% of households, husbands are still the primary bread-winner. Better, but not great. I am not helping. I chose to join the public health field, where 80% of my colleagues are women. I plan on getting my work done through collaborative, innovative, holistic leadership. But I also am not afraid to be aggressive if a man is trying to block my progress. I am not afraid to leap into action if I cannot get the full support of a team around me. I am not afraid to ditch the fundraiser and hitch a ride on the Boy Scout’s plane to whatever area is in need. I pledge to do my best to value a person’s leadership style based on his or her effectiveness, not conventionality.
    So that is what I think we should do. As a woman, you should never feel confined to the leadership criteria traditionally exhibited by your gender. Encourage your peers and superiors to value a diversity of leadership styles. Feel free to take a masculine position or feminine position within the work place, switch them up! Because I also believe that in many ways, if you feel free, you are free.

  • carab

    While I agree there are clear barriers to women reaching the highest of leadership positions, could some of this be the result of women feeling certain conflicting expectations of their role? At a certain point women have to decide whether they want to reach the top of their career, becoming a CEO or President of a company, or whether they want to be the mother society expects them to be. While we continue to say "You can DO both! You can BE both!", the truth is you cant without one area showing some give. Men still continue to do less housework than women (even women who work full-time) and this will always put an extra burden on women. Whether we want to admit it or not, many women, even career-focused women, will at some point be conflicted by their want to break the glass ceiling and their desire to take care of responsibilities at home. And this is amplified as aging parents require care at the same time you have children at home.
    And I think the solution to this is changing the work environment to better reflect the society we now live in–with women working full time and no one home to take care of the house, work schedules and environments will need to be more flexible and adapt to make it possible for women to be both! It’s not that we can’t, but policy definitely needs to catch up to reflect the world we live in.

  • drsowole

    "Behind Every Good Man There is a Good Woman"
    Why has this statement been such a statue for men who hold great leadership roles in America. For example, this statement was used when referring to First Lady Michelle Obama when President Barak Obama was elected as the first African American president of the United States. Women have always been placed on the back burner when it comes to leadership. The gender stereotypes that currently exist in our society cause statements like these to continue to prevail. Women are more than the shadow of the men they support! Women must break out of these shadows and stand in her own light!

  • crowepps

    It seems to me that the sense of the saying is that if that good woman weren’t there, he wouldn’t bother being a good man.  I always figured she was figuratively holding a gun on him, FORCING him to be good.

     

    It does seem like an enormous waste of a good woman’s time to have to  spend her life keeping him on the straight and narrow, when if he would just take some personal responsibility and do it all by himself, she could go accomplish something else.

  • tysanchez

    What always surprises me about this topic is how women are always the ones expected to change. Not once does society just simply expect men’s traditional roles to change. Why is it that with the increase of women working full-time jobs, do we not see a comparable increase of men staying at home taking care of the kids? Women always seem to conform to what society expects of them. If women work full time, then perhaps they are not dedicating enough time at home. If they stay at home, then professionally they might not grow as much as they wish to. Why does society continually label women as “homemakers” and men as the “breadwinners”? I think the problem we are facing here is the fact that most men continue to hold on to their traditional gender roles and have yet to begin making compromises, while women have evolved and are taking larger roles. Women should not need to conform to traditional leadership roles, but rather embrace their abilities and excel. We should fight against that stereotypical mold that was created for women and make an individual effort to ignore traditional gender roles. We need to encourage people to make individual efforts to fight the traditional gender roles, as society will not transform, as a whole, anytime soon.

  • sheresej

    Many of the gender equity issues we continue to face in today’s society are the result of policymakers and leaders adopting technical solutions to fix ongoing problems. It’s almost like we’re putting Band-Aids on wounds that we know will eventually bleed right through the Band-Aid! While women have benefitted tremendously from shifts in policy like the rise in minimum wage, increased funding for child care, and making it illegal to fire a woman just because she was pregnant, more progress definitely needs to be made in getting others (particularly men) to adopt new ways of thinking about women in leadership. The Harvard Business Review published an article titled, “A Survival Guide for Leaders,” which discusses the differences between adaptive versus technical change. Women’s right activists and leaders have done an exceptional job when it comes to advocacy and fostering change for women in a variety of areas (i.e. workforce, reproductive rights), but now we must utilize our transformational leadership skills more than ever before to empower other women and men to get the big picture! It’s pretty obvious that men AND women will have to work to support their families and individual aspirations, but we must also focus on devising the strategies necessary to promote adaptive change to resolve the “Susie Homemaker” mentality that seems to be engraved into the minds of many across the globe!

  • skim129

    I feel torn when thinking about this issue. Stereotyping is not the problem–they only describe the situation. As George Clooney says in Up In the Air (I’m paraphrasing here), "I stereotype because it’s faster." So really, the depictions of the feminine and male leadership styles are not inaccurate; but contrary to TYSanchez, I believe we must encourage social change so that it values feminine leadership in all of its manifestations–glorious and non.

     

    Although I am definitely pro-woman and definitely believe that every field needs more female leaders, I’m not sure the problem is that society’s expectation for leadership is gender-biased. As many of the other commentators have alluded to, I think gender roles in society are more the issue than what society values as leadership. Speaking only from my limited experiences, if I have the a man and a woman before me with the same characteristics of leadership that society currently upholds (i.e. efficiency), and they are going for the same leadership position in an organization, I believe it would be given to both of them all other factors the same.
    However, I do not believe that the woman would *choose* to take that leadership role because of how she values her other priorities in life, as my other peers have commentated above, which may affect my decision to actually offer the position to both equally. If I doubted the woman would not prioritize her children/family life over her job, even if she is just as capable and has the same leadership style as her male counterpart, I would not give it to her simply because I think she would turn it down. And if taking that leadership role meant she couldn’t have her boundaries and continue to be an active mother, I don’t think she should take that role. As CaraB mentioned earlier, we just can’t have it all.

     

    Perhaps instead the attention should be on men to turn down the positions offered to them for the sake of family and relationships, then the playing field could perhaps be leveled. But so long as men get away with being able to prioritize work and business over family and relationships, women will always be at a disadvantage for being imbued with the virtue of wanting balance and having a long-term perspective on matters (though that’s stereotyping…).
    Also, why is it bad for a woman to be that stable, supportive force behind a man? Why isn’t that viewed as leadership in itself? She is leading her partner to be a better leader–the neck turning the head (My Big Fat Greek Wedding)? Just because the leadership role is less in the spotlight or not given accolades, does that mean it is worth less in the end? If the woman is satisfied with her life and her decisions, what does it matter if she was the on the PTA rather than the Board of Directors?

  • crowepps

    I’m not sure the problem is that society’s expectation for leadership is gender-biased. As many of the other commentators have alluded to, I think gender roles in society are more the issue than what society values as leadership.

    I think the problem may have something to do with society and business’s insistence that ‘leadership’ is a 24-7 job and that the ‘leader’ isn’t entitled to have any life outside of that role. 

    Although I am definitely pro-woman and definitely believe that every field needs more female leaders…

    If I doubted the woman would not prioritize her children/family life over her job, even if she is just as capable and has the same leadership style as her male counterpart, I would not give it to her simply because I think she would turn it down. And if taking that leadership role meant she couldn’t have her boundaries and continue to be an active mother, I don’t think she should take that role.

    So you think there should be more female leaders, but only if they’re single and childless?  Because women are supposed to prioritize their family life/children before their job and so they wouldn’t WANT to be leaders and if they did, they shouldn’t, so the fact that they DO want it means their character is defective and they don’t deserve the job?

     

    But it’s okay for men to prioritize their job before their family life/children because children get along fine without active fathers? 

    Also, why is it bad for a woman to be that stable, supportive force behind a man? Why isn’t that viewed as leadership in itself?

    Because she’s not ‘leading’.  He’s living a life and she’s following along behind doing all the boring stuff he doesn’t want to bother with (like raise their kids).

    If the woman is satisfied with her life and her decisions, what does it matter if she was the on the PTA rather than the Board of Directors?

    If the woman is satisfied, it doesn’t matter at all.  If the woman is NOT satisfied, telling her leading the PTA is just as good as running IBM is kind of patronizing, don’t you think?  Especially when she is qualified to lead IBM?

     Just because the leadership role is less in the spotlight or not given accolades, does that mean it is worth less in the end?

    Yes.

  • arsmith

    While statistics show the better leadership qualities of women we also have to consider the reality of the situation. Do other women actual believe in women taking on a leadership role? I’m certain the polls taken within this certain sample population did not consist of men only. These gender stereotypes are perpetuated by both genders. How can we look forward to women taking their place as leaders if other women don’t support the skills their peer’s posses? I mean let’s face it….women naturally internalize. Can we honestly say women are ready to be lead by other women? Let’s think about an office space and the different dynamics which take place on the daily within a male dominated office compared to a female dominated office. Women are sometimes each other’s worse enemy. The bias we see is within a society of men and women. I think the reality of women in leadership has so many hurdles to climb but it can become a constant if women can lay a solid foundation of support for each other.

  • krerucha

    I believe that skim129 touched upon a valid talking point – what is the definition of a ‘leader?’ and it begged the bigger, more broad question that no one is really asking or alluding to throughout this entire conversation, ‘"do we all need to be leaders to be successful?"I think what we forget is that being a stay at home mother and being a role model for your children, being approachable by your kids and your community, and by choosing not to enter the work force does not necessarily diminish your leadership role in yours or your children’s lives. These women are not keeping others from breaking through the glass ceiling, in fact I believe they provide everyone with a solid foundation within our society. Is that not the essence of a true leader – working at a grassroots level in sorts and empowering others?At the same time, I feel like even if you do not hold the title of Executive Director or Director of (fill in the blank here) you, as a woman, have not failed at being a leader. From my own work experience, and through observation, it is often that strong silent hand that is truly the leader and evoker of great change and paradigm shifts. Throughout my readings on leadership and how to become a great leader I was offended how the focus was on high level and intense positions. I truly believe sometimes those working ‘below’ can be leaders as well, and I think that is where the conversation should go – what is a leader to YOU? What do YOU aspire to be? Because the definition of a leader is so linear throughout academia and our societal view I think we have misclassified what a true woman leadership role looks like. I think perhaps we need to step back and look at the picture more holistically….not from strictly a man vs. woman lens, but perhaps from a more all-inclusive screen.

  • crowepps

    lead·er


     (ldr)

    n.
    1. One that leads or guides.
    2. One who is in charge or in command of others.
    3.
    a. One who heads a political party or organization.
    b. One who has influence or power, especially of a political nature.
    You apparently are thinking of a ‘leader’ as one who leads – guides – teaches and business articles generally are talking about those who have successfully gained influence or power.  They don’t spend a lot of time talking about those who have subtler influences because people don’t buy books called ‘how to lead’ to find out to remain unnoticed and get along without having power.
     I think what we forget is that being a stay at home mother and being a role model for your children, being approachable by your kids and your community, and by choosing not to enter the work force does not necessarily diminish your leadership role in yours or your children’s lives.
    I really enjoyed my years as a stay-at-home mother.  The idea that being a role model for your own children is being a ‘leader’ is kind of a stretch though, because my recollection is that my husband, the neighborhood moms, and my children’s teachers didn’t see me as the ‘leader’ with regard to my children but instead as someone they should all be able to correct and direct.  Having a bunch of little kids look up to you as a terrific person isn’t ‘leadership’ if other adults don’t respect your role.
    Is that not the essence of a true leader – working at a grassroots level in sorts and empowering others?

    It seems to me you’re describing someone who is inspiring, not someone who is leading.  The most common understanding of a leader is the person who identifies a goal, determines the tasks necessary to reach that goal, assigns those tasks to others, supervises their training and effectiveness, and then coordinates efforts until the goal is reached.  While the stereotype is that men lead through direct orders down the chain of command and penalties for non-compliance, and women lead through persuasion in a more equitable circle and use social pressure on laggarts, I have had bosses of each sexes who have used both styles.

     

    Certainly I don’t think people need to be ‘leaders’ to be successful, any more than they need to have lots of money or be famous — but it does seem to me that insisting that men can earn all those things as a consequence of their work excellence but that women shouldn’t even try because they’re supposed to instead focus on facilitating the accomplishments of others is just another way of saying that women are supposed to be happy serving others and men just ‘naturally’ will strive to boss them and everyone else around.

     

    The problem with that paradigm is that telling men they are ‘naturally’ supposed to strive to be tyrants is really bad for their characters.  The more egalitarian relationships are, the less likelihood there is of corruption taking root, and the more likelihood there is that each person can develop their natural talents, whatever they are.

  • cristenbates

    I completely agree! As a society, we should try to look at "women’s issues" as gender issues and include all of society in these discussions.