Women in leadership roles in the United States face numerous obstacles. Of course there is the historical perspective of the inferiority of women. Women may also face unsupportive superiors, but one of the most significant issues is subordinate devaluation of women’s leadership abilities.
Women are faced with some tough choices when it comes to leadership styles. In consideration of the historical belittlement of women, some may feel pushed to pursue traditionally masculine leadership styles. That seems like a logical choice; however, subordinates are frequently unreceptive to female leaders displaying typically masculine traits or leadership styles (Northouse, 2013). At the same time, subordinates tend to dislike women leaders for being too feminine (Northouse, 2013). This double limit provides little wiggle room for women leaders to find their own leadership style. As a result, they must always be policing their behavior to ensure that they are being assertive, but not so assertive that they suffer for it. Likewise, they may feel obligated to display feminine characteristics, but they must be mindful to avoid looking overly feminine if they wish to be taken seriously.
Yet another issue faced by women in the United States is the wage gap. The exact figure is debated, and one of the major reasons skeptics of the common amount quoted rely on is that men are better negotiators than women so it makes sense that they receive better compensation (Sommers, 2012). That is likely the case, but one must also consider that self-promotion by women is often received negatively (Eagly & Carli, 2007). What is disregarded as personal choice is also influenced by societal expectations, and when women make the opposite choice. they are penalized for doing so. If women are inferior negotiators, one must take into account their limited options in aggressively pursuing an attractive compensation package.
Eagly and Carli suggested that these problems result from a dissonance between expectation and reality (2007). Women are expected to be community-minded: they should pursue harmony, put the group over their own needs, and be sociable. When a woman’s behavior varies from these societal norms, she can face harsh criticism. Men are expected to be agency-minded: they should be goal oriented, demonstrate control, and be forceful. When a man’s behavior varies from this expectation, they are equally liked and valued as a leader (Northouse, 2013).
I have to admit that I have fallen victim to these assumptions before and I perhaps still do from time to time. Any deviance from norms can be jarring, but research has shown that men have much more leeway in their leadership styles. I cannot rely on that excuse completely. I have seen women in leadership positions whom I thought were behaving like men, and I unfairly judged them for that. On the personal level, I think men and women must confront their reasoning. If a thought like that arises, examine the underlying thoughts. When I find that I have no good reason for thinking a thought like that and that something just feels off, it is a good sign that perhaps there is nothing wrong with the situation. The problem is in my own prejudices not the leadership practice exhibited by these women.
Alipour, K. (2015). Race and other individual differences and leadership.PSYCH485: Leadership in Work Settings. Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp15/psych485/002/content/13_lesson/08_page.html
Sommers, C. H. (2012). Wage gap myth exposed. HuffPost Politics. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-hoff-sommers/wage-gap_b_2073804.html
Eagly A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Women and the labyrinth of leadership. Harvard Business Review, 85(9), 146. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2007/09/women-and-the-labyrinth-of-leadership
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.