The private medical practice where I’ve worked my entire adult life perpetuates the prejudice against women in leadership, even by women. In a private practice of four physicians, male and female doctors are represented 3 to 1. Women make up 46% of practicing doctors within this specialty (“Labor Force”, 2019), thus making the practice an inaccurate representation of the population. Despite the statistical representation, Dr. B experiences the struggles of women in leadership as the lone female doctor of the practice. Probably unbeknownst to herself, Dr. B yields to the prejudices of female leaders on a daily basis.
Pursuing her undergraduate degree at Carnegie Mellon when women at the school was one in every four, Dr. B navigated through the leadership labyrinth with successful investment in human capital through her education and professional training (Northouse, 2016, p. 399). This investment helped her land a job as one of the physicians of the top practice in New York City. Her leadership successes, however, are constantly shrouded by gender stereotypes that don’t allow her to lead effectively. According to Eagly & Karau (2002), “prejudice against female leaders helps explain the numerous findings indicating less favorable attitudes toward female than male leaders…and greater difficulty for women to be viewed as effective in these roles” (Northouse, 2016, p. 405).
Kanter (1977) posited that “women who make up a very small minority of a male-dominated group are seen as tokens representing all women; they experience significant pressure as their highly visible performance is scrutinized, and they are perceived through gender-stereotyped lenses” (Northouse, 2016, p. 406). One of the factors that led Dr. B to choose the medical specialty was because of the flexibility it allows her as a mother. She creates her schedule around her familial obligations. A male doctor, Dr. Q, at the practice also does this, but only Dr. B is judged for doing so. While Dr. Q is praised by the predominantly female staff for being such an attentive father, Dr. B is viewed as being an irresponsible physician and her “commitment to employment” (Northouse, 2016, p. 403) is questioned.
Eagly & Carli (2003) believe that “women face a double standard in the leadership role; they must come across as extremely competent but also as appropriately “feminine,” a set of standards men are not held to” (Northouse, 2016, p. 408). The head of the practice is male and is incredibly harsh in how he communicates with the staff. He is dismissive and rude. Dr. B is the complete opposite; patient and understanding. Both are also firm. When Dr. B exhibits any behavior like the head doctor, the staff automatically choose not to listen to her while the reaction to the head doctor is to do what he says., even in times of extremely inappropriate behavior. Dr. B is experiencing the “cross-pressure” that female leaders face – “as leaders, they should be masculine and tough, but as women, they should not be too manly” (Northouse, 2016, p. 405).
The male doctors of the practice constantly dismiss her schedule preferences around her familial priorities by taking those preferred days, leading her to have an inconsistent schedule thus effecting her patient care. Seeing this, the staff has also grown to treat her not as a doctor or leader of the practice and put their responsibilities for her on the backburner. Based on Wirth (2001), perhaps she would be able to “circumvent barriers” through starting her own practice (Northouse, 2016, p. 408). This way, she would change the workplace norms, have a greater negotiation power, and rid the incongruity between women and leadership (Northouse, 2016, p. 408).
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice 7th Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.