Often researchers start out by asking, “Can women lead?” (Northouse, 2016, p. 397) We can see evidence of this from the percentage of female leaders. There are 51.4% of female leaders among American Organizations and only 4% of fortune 500 CEOs (as cited in Northouse, 2016, p. 398). With respect to the top elite roles, women are still underrepresented in the upper ranks. The invisible barrier named the glass ceiling has turned to an alternative image of a labyrinth which is a passage through a journey riddled with challenges all along the way-not just near the top-that can and has been successfully navigated by women (Northouse, 2016, p. 399) This picture of a labyrinth leads us to the question that we all ask which is why are women underrepresented in elite leadership roles? There are a few explanations to understanding the Labyrinth which include Human Capital Differences, Gender Differences, and Prejudice.
Women have earned 47.3% of law degrees and make up 45% of associates with only 19.9% of partners (as cited in Northouse, 2016, p. 400). With that said, women have less human capital investment in education, training, and work experience than men. This gap is largely due to the work-home conflict obstacle that women face with their responsibility for taking care of their children. As stated in Northouse, 2016, choosing “mommy track” positions do not funnel into leadership positions (Belkin, 2003).
There are gender difference interpersonal barriers which are driven by prejudice which are lead to not being included in key networks, formal job training, and receiving encouragement. (Northouse, 2016, p. 401) One may ask the question, do men and women lead differently and are men more effective leaders than women? Meta-analysis research examined the style between women and men. The findings indicate that a women who uses a democratic style, transformation leadership brought positive outcomes of leadership. In regards to effectiveness, men and women were equally effective leaders overall, but more effective with their particular roles were corresponding to their genders.
In addition, the leadership gap revolves around gender biases stemming from stereotyped expectations that women take care and men take charge (as cited in Northouse, 2016, p. 404). This leads to women feeling less qualified when this is the perception. Gender biases can be unfavorable in the decision-making process for selecting elite leaders being the decision makers are influenced by the stereotypes and choose to hire others similar to themselves which is an organizational barrier.
Now that we have gone over the barriers that leader to the underrepresentation, how do women break the through these barriers that are in organizations and society today? In order to break barriers, women would have to counter the essence of what is holding women back from raising to elite roles. Women must build their social networks to be successful leaders, push for higher salaries, and promote themselves which will all show self-confidence and increase the likelihood of rising to the top. Also, Eagly’s meta-analysis results on gender and leadership showed that women leaders tend to use participative/democratic versus men using autocratic/directive styles, female leaders are seen more negatively in male dominated leadership roles, and woman leaders seen more negatively when they lead in masculine styles (PSU WC, 2019, L. 12). While showing signs of femininity is good, women must also assertively taking charge and demonstrating competence. All of these actions will increase the number of female Fortune 500 CEOs as we can see is already rising reaching 33 in 2019 (Zillman, 2019).
To conclude, “Women can’t be expected to tear down the labyrinth on their own” (Carli, 1995). There are also external conditions that will finalize the obstacle to be broken. Organizations have to reduce barriers that favor men over women, men have to share more fully in domestic responsibilities, and society in general has to have a more open and inclusive understanding of what a good leader is (Martin, 2007).
Martin, S. (2007). The Labyrinth to Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug07/labyrinth
Carli, L.L., S.J. LaFleur, and C.C. Loeber. (1995). Nonverbal behavior, gender, and influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 68: 1030-1041.
Zillman, C. (2019). The Fortune 500 Has More Female CEOs Than Ever Before. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2019/05/16/fortune-500-female-ceos/
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 485: Leadership in Work Settings. Lesson 13: Leadership and Diversity. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/canvas/su19/2195min-5376/content/13_lesson/printlesson.html