Women in Leadership Today and Societal Roadblocks – Part 6

By Jordan Winberg

The following article is part of a multi-part series of excerpts from the author’s senior thesis. Begin with Part 1.


The Glass Ceiling

Furthermore, women seem to hit a “glass ceiling” in their career, presumably due to descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes. An impenetrable, invisible barrier, which is, again, thought to be adverse effects of stereotyping, tends to stop women from advancing in male dominated jobs, regardless of competency (Morrison, White, & Van Velsor, 1987).

This effect is not seen for males in female dominated jobs. When a male enters a female dominated career, he is more likely to advance than an equally qualified female counterpart, which is known as the “glass escalator” effect (Hultin, 2003). The hypothesis for why this occurs is that the stereotypes that revolve around females have negative effects for them in leadership roles, while the stereotypes that revolve around males have positive effects for them in leadership roles.

While data regarding men working in female dominated positions is hard to find, studies regarding women in male dominated positions are more abundant. As, previously stated, females are not always given credit for their work (Heilman & Haynes, 2005). Females can also be given lower performance evaluations due to the “lack of fit” model or adverse stereotypes (Heilman, 1983). In addition, society is not always accepting of people who do not prescribe to their gender norms, and some research suggests that women are punished for having “male” jobs.

One example of this was found when Heilman had 242 participants undergo three different experiments regarding attitudes towards successful women. Participants were both male and female. In the first experiment, Heilman asked participants to rate potential candidates for a “male” job (the job description and candidates were created by Heilman). Participants rated one male and one female candidate based off of background information, and the two sets of background information rotated between genders. Results showed that while both candidates were equally qualified, the female candidate was described as more hostile and less likeable (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004).

During the first replication, there were two alternating sets of jobs that participants rated candidates for. One job was a “male” job while one was a “female”. Results stated that participants had hostile feelings towards female candidates, but only when they were reviewing a job position that was not consistent with typical female roles (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004).

In the final replication, specific data was given on likeability and competency for each candidate. Results showed that regardless of gender or competency, participants did not recommend unlikeable people for the job (Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004).

Overall, these results show that being competent is not the only important factor for obtaining a job; being likeable is also important. However, women who were successful in “male” job were less liked. Therefore, success itself can be detrimental for females in jobs that are commonly associated with males, such as leadership positions.


Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, there are many societal issues that may be interfering with women obtaining, maintaining, and advancing in leadership roles. To begin, evidence shows differences between men and women may be overstated, and people like to create differences where there are none (Hyde, 2005). Two personality characteristics which may be different for men and women, and which may be detrimental to females in leadership roles, include assertiveness and self-esteem (Feingold, 1994; Ames & Flynn, 2007; Chemers, Watson, & May, 2000). However, evidence suggests that low levels of assertiveness and self-esteem in females are influenced by social expectations and learned associations (Twenge, 2001; Jule, 2004; Etcoff, Orbach, Scott, & D’Agostino, 2004; Martin, 2008). In addition, society may be encouraging gender normed career outlooks at an early age (Jones, 2000).

Nevertheless, evidence suggests that females, in practice, lead just as well if not better than males (Eagly & Johnson, 1990; Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, & Engen, 2003; Eagly, & Carli, 2003). Therefore, evidence suggests that social expectations are not affecting the performance of females in leadership roles. However, males continue to dominate leadership roles (Warner, 2014). Evidence suggests this is due to negative effects of stereotypes; women are victims of the lack of fit model/self-confirming bias effect, women are not always given credit for their success, and women are punished for success itself (Heilman, 1983; Heilman, 2001; Heilman & Haynes, 2005; Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, & Tamkins, 2004; Hultin, 2003; Morrison, White, & Van Velsor, 1987; Quinn & Steele, 1999).

For the sake of the pursuit of fairness and equality for all, society needs to make it a priority to change any social expectations and negative stereotypes that may be harming females in the workplace, particularly in leadership roles. Based off of the evidence in this paper, it would be helpful for teachers to treat boys and girls equally, for school-aged children to pursue activities outside of their gender norms, for the media to stop portraying women in an unrealistic manner, for the media to stop influencing the importance of outward beauty, for psychologists to publish more information about gender similarities, for society to accept women in male dominated fields, and for all people to get rid of adverse stereotypes regarding women and their inability to lead, as this is not supported by fact.

Jordan WinbergJordan Winberg is…


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