Historically, women and men have been regarded to play different roles in society and when those roles are challenged for women, prejudice and discrimintation arise. Although women have made great strides in challenging these stereotypes. There is still a long way to go. According to Northouse (2018), “women earn 57% of the bachelor’s degrees, 60% of the master’s degrees, and more than half of the doctoral degrees, and they make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force. However, women are still underrepresented in the upper echelons of America’s corporations and political system” (p.398). This hits close to home. My aunt is a part of a multinational company. All of whom with a leadership role are all men except for her. She mentioned to me that a lot of women are highly capable but only a few women are able to make it to the top simply because of barriers and prejudices that come with being a woman. Northouse (2018) continues by pointing out that “women represent only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs, and hold only 16.9% of the Fortune 500 board seats and a mere 14.6% of the Fortune 500 executive officer positions” (p. 389).
The gender gap is something that my aunt felt despite her having extensive work experience and graduating from Harvard. She was not an exception and still felt this global phenomenon where women are concentrated in lower-level and lower-authority leadership roles as compared to men in which women quit their jobs more often than men do, or that they opt out of the leadership track for the mommy track (Northouse, 2018, 399). Northouse (2018) mentions why women today are treated as such and these points are in line with the experiences of my aunt in the workplace. According to Northouse (2018), “the first set of explanations highlight differences in women’s and men’s investments in human capital” (p.399). For example, one factor that my aunt’s boss asked her about before bringing her into a high level position was whether she was going to marry and have kids. This was understandable because many women do quit their jobs after having a baby. My aunt kept her word that if she was going to have a baby there will be equal division of domestic work at home between her and her husband as to avoid her being overloaded at home and not able to concentrate at work. She wanted to invest in herself by not overworking herself domestically.
According to Northouse (2018), “women are no less effective at leading than men, and women are no less committed to their jobs or motivated for leadership roles than men” (p. 404). And this was true based on the experience of my aunt. She had both men and women managers who were leading under her and both were as capable as the other. She mentioned that they had different leadership styles as compared to men, but nonetheless, would be effective. She told me a story where she was interviewing fresh graduates for open positions in their company. She found that most men who would apply would usually negotiate their salaries as compared to women who would simply accept what was given to them. Northouse (2018) mentions that “women are less likely to self-promote and negotiate than men. Furthermore, research shows a small gender difference such that women are more likely to focus on the welfare of others and ethical behavior” (p. 404). My aunt noted that it was as if it was offensive if the women would negotiate their salary. The is the next category considered on why women do not hold high positions compared to men come from the gender differences between women and men (Northouse, 2018, p. 399).
The final type of explanation why women do not hold high positions compared to men come from the prejudice and discrimination against female leaders (Northouse, 2018, p. 399). When women don’t fit the mold that society has placed upon them, the tendency is for them to be discriminated. My aunt felt this during the first few days as a part of the core group of her company. In one instance, one of her colleagues asked her to get a glass of water while they were all a part of the meeting. This was not something so offensive but when you look at why he asked my aunt and not anyone else in the room raises some questions on prejudice and discrimination. Women are especially seen as secretaries. The women are there to take notes or assist them in any way possible. Stereotypically, men are the ones that take charge while women are the ones that take care (Northouse, 2018, p. 404). My aunt was shocked that her colleague asked her and when she mentioned that he can ask the secretary to do that for him he backed off. She needed to set her foot down and not be a pushover. Of course, that statement also came with some comments on the side on how she lacks femininity because she had “qualities” that were stereotypically for men and not attributed to women. According to Northouse (2018), “men are stereotyped with agentic characteristics such as confidence, assertiveness, independence, rationality, and decisiveness, whereas women are stereotyped with communal characteristics such as concern for others, sensitivity, warmth, helpfulness, and nurturance” (p. 404). And when my aunt challenged this stereoptype she was faced with discrimination.
The relationship between gender and leadership and its understanding enables more women into the upper level leadership status. The experiences of my aunt and how she was able to build up to having an upper-level position is also in line with the lessons pointed out by Northouse. For example, Northouse (2018) mentions that “greater gender equality in domestic responsibilities, greater negotiation power of women, especially regarding the work–home balance, and changes in the incongruity between women and leadership” all have an effect in narrowing the gap between gender and leadership which was seen through the experiences of my aunt. However, these findings on gender and leadership are mostly taken out of the Western context and may not be applicable to other cultures (Northouse, 2018, p. 410).
Northouse, P. G. (2018). Leadership: theory and practice (8th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.