In my research I have identified five primary barriers to women’s leadership. They are identified in the diagram below. In the next five modules I present evidence-based research explaining each of these five barriers. I suggest that you take notes as you read and write down your personal responses. The reflective questions will help you further identify the barriers that you have faced.
Assertive Equals Success represents the way that stereotypical male-gendered assertive traits (also called “agentic”) are more highly valued in our society than stereotypical female-gendered communal traits. Though women are socialized and expected to behave in communal ways, both men and women who display assertive instead of communal behaviors are viewed as more competent in male sex-typed jobs.
In addition, women who display more stereotypical male, or at least androgynous leadership characteristics, are more likely to gain access to leadership especially in male sex-typed positions. This need to be highly assertive may contradict with their self-beliefs, and women may self-select out of these jobs, or feel less inclined to seek promotions.
Women leaders are often uncomfortable using power over other people, and so it may not be success per se that many women fear, but rather that behaviors may not meet the approval of others. Depending on the culture of the organization and the woman leader’s identity-orientation, there is evidence that women may experience discomfort when crossing into masculine sex-typed jobs, and those with masculine or androgynous orientations exhibit higher self-confidence.
Self-PromotionThere have been several studies conducted where results showed that men as compared to women: evaluate their performance more favorably, despite comparable scores; claim greater ability following performance on tasks, and are less prone to explain successful performance as due to luck.
These gender differences on performance evaluations are highest in response to failure on masculine tasks; men are likely to persist until there is no possibility of success, while women persist only until there is some possibility of failure. This research offers explanations that the transgression of gender norms provides women incentives to change or lower their high-status career goals when encountering hardship, self-doubt, and the possibility of failure.
In a more recent study, researchers found that female physicians’ self-efficacy for 34 out of 35 competencies required to succeed as an independent clinical investigator were lower than male physicians following a three-day workshop on clinical research in which all the faculty presenters were men. As there are gender-differentiated double standards on how men and women attribute performance to ability, men and women will also form different aspirations for career paths because of their own competence beliefs.
In a study of discrepancies in pay expectations of male and female management students, females had significantly lower career-entry and career-peak pay expectations, as women undervalue the financial worth of their work. In studies of perceived pay entitlement, women allocate themselves less pay than do men, especially when their experience is not made specifically relevant to the decision.
There are strong social mores against self-promoting women as women suffer social reprisals for violating the gender prescription of modesty. An affirmative action study confirmed that while women believe men receive unfair benefit, men believe women are responsible for their own disadvantage. While women may not be responsible for conscious and unconscious discriminatory practices, women are responsible for becoming aware of self-abnegating behavior and seeking constructive solutions.
- Do you have any “masculine” traits that have made you successful?
- Describe times when you have seen men persist until there was zero possibility of success while you persisted only until there was any possibility of failure.