Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership

Eagly and Carli (2007) Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership identified the following barriers to women’s progress:

Vestiges of prejudice, grounded in historic practices, and evidenced by lower wages and slower rates of promotion for women than men. When appointments and promotions processes are conducted in a “gender blind” environment male advantage disappears. This general bias is evident in equal strength at all levels. The scarcity of women at the top is the sum of discrimination that has operated at all levels, not evidence of a particular obstacle to advancement as women approach the top.

Resistance to women’s leadership, and issues with leadership style, essentially played out through a set of widely shared conscious and unconscious mental associations about women and men as leaders. Women are generally associated with communal qualities, which convey concern for the compassionate treatment of others; men with more instrumental, task oriented qualities, which convey assertion and control. Women find themselves in a double bind - labelled too assertive if they exhibit typical “male” qualities, too communal if they are not assertive enough. Different descriptions of the same behaviour apply to men and women which result in a clash of assumptions when people confront women in management. The end result is that women are perceived as lacking the right leadership qualities for powerful roles.

Demands of family life. Women have more career interruptions, are more likely to be in part-time work and have more days off for carer responsibilities than men. Despite the fact that more men are taking on primary care-giver roles, women still bear the brunt of these responsibilities. This results in fewer years of job experience and fewer hours of employment, which impacts on career progress and reduces earnings. Women leave organisations for work/family tradeoffs, especially when family obligations clash with explicit or implicit demands to work longer hours.

Underinvestment in social capital. Advancement depends not only on what you know, but who you know, and who knows you. Socialising with colleagues and building professional networks are essential activities to be engaged in, particularly for gaining access to higher positions. A number of factors inhibit women’s capacity to engage and benefit from informal networking – time, the actual activity or venue at which it is held, and the fact that women are often a very small minority even if they have got the time.

Women in the Science Research Workforce: Identifying and Sustaining the Diversity Advantage, was funded as an ARC Linkage project 2011-2014 (LP110200480).
Project Cis were Professor Sharon Bell and Professor Lyn Yates. The project was hosted by the University of Melbourne.