The difficulty that women face in reaching the top echelons of American Corporations and Political Systems is commonly referred to as “The Glass Ceiling”. However, according to Eagly & Carli (as cited by Northouse, 2016) the challenges imparted on females in their pursuit of leadership and other executives roles do not only occur when almost to the top, they occur in every stage in the journey. For this reason, they utilize a metaphor of a Leadership Labyrinth.
This challenges faced in the Leadership Labyrinth are categorized into three dimensions: human capital, the perception of gender differences, and prejudice.
Human Capital refers to the misconception that women are less invested in education, meaning they do not have the qualifications to lead. This is used to explain what is called the “pipeline problem”, or, simply put, not enough women in the pipeline towards leadership. However, the issue is not that women are not educated. In fact, they make up more than half of undergraduate degrees and earn graduate degrees at a higher rate than their male counterparts. So it is not that the pipeline doesn’t contain enough women, but it is more that it cannot sustain enough women. Women are often sidetracked from their pursuits by the disproportionate amount of responsibility they assume in raising children and managing a home. Women do the majority of the childcare and household chores (Northouse, 2016) Often times this will influence the decision to take a leave of absence or choose a role with more flexibility and, therefore, decelerating their path to leadership. This pipeline is also drained by the fact that women are less likely to receive the same inclusion into exclusive networks or have access to mentorship (Northouse, 2016)
The perception that men and women are “just different” also stands in the way of women obtaining leadership positions. Perceptions that the leadership style of females is different and therefore less effective than that of males is another oft-cited barrier for the advancement of women. Women are perceived as being better facilitators or organizers of groups but are less likely to consider themselves leaders. (Northouse, 2016) It is found that they are also less likely to ask for what they want and to self-promote. And when they choose to do so they are seen as less socially attractive and less hirable (Northouse, 2016) These perceptions are caused by the stereotypes that “men take charge and women take care” (Northouse, 2016) These gender stereotypes are pervasive, well-documented, and highly resistant to change (Dodge et al 1995 as cited by Northouse, 2016) and unfortunately, they have a strong influence on the perceptions of women in the workplace.
Besides the importance of egalitarian opportunity, allowing women to enter the lexicon of leadership also results in other progressive changes in the workplace and our culture as a whole. Whitney Wolfe Herd is the CEO and Founder of Bumble, a dating platform in which the female, in a heterosexual exchange, must make the first attempt at contact. Wolfe Herd designed the app this way after her tumultuous experience while working at another dating app, Tinder. After leaving, she sued them for sexual harassment and began to build her Bumble empire, which now includes a platform for executive networking and developing new acquaintances. Wolfe Herd’s decision, which now has more than 20 million users and an international presence has proved that putting the power back into the hands of women is a recipe for success.
But what can happen when women do make it to the top? Magic can happen. Whitney Wolfe Herd is the founder of Bumble, Bumble BFF, and Bumble Bizz. These are networking apps that have altered the way we operate and meet new people by putting the power back into the hands of females. On every platform, it is women who have to instigate the connection, which hopes to minimize the occurrence of pervasive and bothersome interactions. Whitney Wolfe Herd started her work as a member of the Tinder dating app team but found the environment to be too male heavy and extremely misogynistic. After filing a sexual harassment suit against them, she left and started her own venture which has grown ominously in the past years. Her company, which is a majority women company, is evidence that women leaders understand the variables that affect the lives of the modern employee and how to make accommodations that work for them.
In an interview with Forbes Magazine, the Company’s Chief Operations Officer, Sarah Jones Simmer defined these accommodations as “micro-agility” as they account for the small things that get in the way of the normal workday. Events such as a pipe bursting in the home so you need to go meet the plumber or going to the doctor without having to take PTO are some ways in which they are aware of what life can bring and how to allow the freedom to deal with them. They have also challenged the corporate structure and the concept of the hierarchy which tend to penalize women. By using more a Team Leadership approach they allow for more of a collaborative environment in which the build teams where there is “a creative mind complimented by a strategic one, or an operator sitting next to a visionary” (Spencer, 2018)
Acknowledging the challenges that stand in the way of women and the top spots of industry and politics is important as we attempt to challenge and change them. This pursuit is important not only for the furthering of civil rights but it ultimately creates a better working environment and world for everyone.
Spencer, E. (2019, January 13). Women Thrive At The Bumble Hive. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/erinspencer1/2018/07/03/women-thrive-at-the-bumble-hive/#76b975175741
Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership; Theory and Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.