Women have made significant advances in the struggle for gender equality; however, despite these advances women are globally underrepresented in leadership positions. It is often stated that women face a glass-ceiling in the workplace, which means that they can only advance to a certain level within a company and then become blocked by an invisible barrier (Northouse, 2016). Men are more frequently put into leadership positions even though statistically speaking, women earn over half of the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees (Northouse, 2016). Three explanations have been established in an attempt to understand this leadership labyrinth (Northouse, 2016). These explanations include human capital differences, gender differences, and prejudice which will be discussed in further detail below.
In 2018, Greguletz, Diehl, and Kreutzer completed a study to determine why women build less effective networks than men. Thirty-seven female participants who worked on executive boards, were in top leadership positions, or were successful entrepreneurs with management backgrounds were selected for 45-90 minute face-to-face interviews (Greguletz, et al., 2018). The interviews focused on the seven following themes: “individual career paths and career transitions; the family-work interface and potential conflicts; personality traits and strengths/weaknesses; leadership styles and role conflicts for females; career networks and gendered networking activities; societal pressures and role expectations placed on women; and future female leaders ways to support them” (Greguletz, et al., 2018). A qualitative data analysis program, NVivo, was used to transcribe the data from the interview into an open coding system (Greguletz, et al., 2018).
The study found that there was structural exclusion as a cause of ineffective networking which included work-family conflict and homophily in professional networking (Greguletz, et al., 2018). Women mentioned that there were often time constraints that required them to be at home with their family rather than engage in after work or weekend networking opportunities. Recently, more men have engaged in domestic responsibilities, but women are still often the primary caregivers and take on more household chores (Galinsky, Aumann, & Bond, 2008, as cited in Northouse, 2016). Homophily refers to how individuals are more likely to interact with people more like themselves because it makes communication easier and behavior more predictable (Greguletz, et al., 2018). While the women are not necessarily discriminated against, a lot of the networking opportunities available to them are more focused on male interests (Greguletz, et al., 2018). Women reported that they believed that male homophily is what ultimately gets men into leadership roles, because a male supervisor is looking to promote someone similar to him (Greguletz, et al., 2018).
The study also found that personal hesitation due to the role of relational morality and gendered modesty result in ineffective networking (Greguletz, et al., 2018). In terms of relational morality, women reported that they do not like the exploitation aspect and would rather not engage in instrumental networking by taking up hobbies such as golfing (Greguletz, et al., 2018). Further, some women reported that they felt the need to foster relationships with lower-level employees to offer support (Greguletz, et al., 2018). “Women are often stereotyped with communal characteristics such as concern for others, sensitivity, warmth, helpfulness and nurturance” (Deaux & Kite, 1993; Heilman, 2001, as cited in Northouse, 2016, p.404). Gendered modesty is related to self-doubt, limited faith in abilities, and lack of self-confidence (Greguletz, et al., 2018). Women reported on having a lack of self-confidence due to not being able to engage in networking opportunities including work conferences (Greguletz, et al., 2018).
Based on the study discussed above, one could easily argue that females are, in fact, limited to advancement opportunities based on the inability to network due to a combination of structural exclusion and personal hesitation. Human capital, gender differences, and prejudice due to lack of networking can all play an integral role in why women are not selected for leadership positions. However, while women may not be able to network due to family obligations, they still have the option to work on personal growth and build their self-confidence by taking workshops or classes that can help them build this essential leadership skill and break through the glass ceiling.
Greguletz, E., Diehl, M., Kreutzer, K., (2018). Why women build less effective networks than men: The
role of structural exclusion and personal hesitation. Human Relations, 72(7), 1234-1261. DOI:
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage