The Glass Ceiling: Leadership Barriers for Women



Next Topic

Leadership > Best Practices > The Glass Ceiling: Leadership Barriers for Women

The Glass Ceiling: Leadership Barriers for Women
According to a study by, gender stereotyping is one of the key barriers to women’s advancement in corporate leadership. It leaves women with limited, conflicting, and often unfavorable options no matter how they choose to lead.
The 2006 Catalyst Census shows that, even though women make up over 50% of the management, professional, and related occupations, only 15.6% of Fortune 500 corporate officers and 14.6% of Fortune 500 board directors are women.
They are either considered too soft or too tough, they face higher standards than male leaders and are rewarded with less, and when women exhibit traditionally valued leadership behaviors such as assertiveness, they tend to be seen as competent but not personable or well-liked.
Those who do adopt a more stereotypically feminine style are liked, but are not seen as having valued leadership skills.

Leadership barries for Women
Uma Shashikumar
Women in Leadership role is challenging. Especially when she is at the Core level. She has to face the ego problem with the male in the top. When she proposes the valued views or ideas, she is been pushed down, ignored and criticized. Leadership role as women is challenging.

Labyrinth instead of Glass Ceiling for Women
Ellie M.
In a HBR article (Sept07) Alice Eagly and Linda Caril say there is no glass ceiling (one reason that women cannot reach top functions), but rather a labyrinth of obstacles (at various management levels). They mention the following leadership obstacles for women:
1. Vestiges of prejudice (men still earn more)
2. Resistance to woman's leadership (due to gender stereotyping as described in the comment by Elaine)
3. Issues of leadership style (women struggle to adopt an appropriate leadershipstyle, because of issue #2)
4. Demands of family life
5. Underinvestment in social capital (lack of time to invest in networking: the core work activities plus issue #4 consume all their time).

Women reaching the C-Suite
Ellie M.
In another HBR article (June 2008, p.36) , Louann Brizendine adds another reason as to why women don't make it to the C-suite: according to her it's a timing issue.
In many companies, the selection for C-suite candidates takes place when managers are in their forties. For men this is a good time, for women not, because at that moment their stress levels are high and their multitasking capabilities are challenged to the maximum. At this age, their preadoloscent and teenage children require a lot of attention at unpredictable times, and also women are beginning to experience normal hormonal changes leading up to menopause.
Brizendine recommends to open the window of promotability wider - especially for women.

An Observation
April K
Ellie, #5 (lack of time to invest in networking) struck a chord for me. I think part of the problem resides with women and scarcity. I do not see women supporting eachother and networking in the same fashion that men do.
Social pressures and messaging has developed a false sense of scarcity at the top which puts women in an adversarial position with each other.
The results of this are very destructive. I think women hold part of the power to change this equation.

Women in Management - Little Progress in Gender Parity
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Nancy Carter and Christine Silva of consulting firm Catalyst have done research among 4100 graduates of elite MBA programs from all over the world and found that considerable gender disparity continues to exist.
Men continue to get better first jobs, are paid better, have higher career satisfaction, and are less punished for bad career moves.
The authors conclude from their research that women do NOT aspire less to the top, and that the findings are NOT a matter of parenthood slowing women's careers either.
Rather they suggest the following phenomena contributing to the problem:
1. Systemic bias in the Talent Pipeline Processes
2. Women are found to have more difficulties with supervisors.

Upward Mobility of Women
Sibongile Nxumalo, Director, South Africa, Member
Is the glass ceiling shattering or has it changed into a brick wall ceiling?

Leadership Barriers for Women
OSHUN, GRACE OKAIMA , Lecturer, Nigeria, Member
I agree with Elaine that gender stereotype is one of the barriers to women's advancement in corporate leadership. In fact gender roles are determined by society. First, she must overcome the barrier of discrimination in the patriarchal system that exists in most societies around the world. That in itself is tasking.

Leadership Barriers for Women
Geethalakshmi.J, Manager, India, Member
I too agree with the comments post by different people, women are really not reaching the corporate leadership, because of the multi task, balancing work and life.
But I never give up for the male in all sorts of work. Women is more than men in all aspects. Problem is after going from work she concentrates on kids / studies / house hold work. She doesn't spend time on networking.

Top Management Barriers for Women
Georgina Popescu, Manager, Austria, Member
I agree with what is said above, even though I would not call it "leadership barriers", but "top management" barriers. Women are indeed less paid than their male peers, challenged to prove best and flawless before getting top promotion.
What I miss is an element which I believe is important: the freedom to choose. The higher one climbs, the more demanding the job becomes and takes its toll in terms of time and also pushes tolerance levels (being politically and ethically correct becomes a real challenge). Women have different set of priorities and are less willing to compromise on those issues. Why should we transform ourselves in men?
Therefore I would say the truth is somewhere in between - women's choice not to go for 'top' may be part of it.
Choosing family over career and strong ethics over compromise is not at all bad, children and society need this.
History taught us that behind every strong men there is an even stronger woman.
Being a good wife and mother on a mid-management position is not such a bad career mix!

Leadership Barriers for Women; The Glass Ceiling is Actually a Labyrinth
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
I embraced the material produced by Alice Eagly & Linda Caril, which accurately states that the glass ceiling is yesterdays rant (Editor: ~old term) when in reality there exist a labyrinth for women and minorities of selected ethnicities.
This Labyrinth encourages professional development through education and internships, even "interim" positions. But it is just a maze that seldom leads to the realization of key top leadership positions.
Another issue with women seeking the top position is that too many believe the only way into the executive suite is by behaving as men do.
It really bothers me when women do this because they can bring a nurturing, firmness, listening quality to the executive suite that seldom exist. In addition to this, too many women that aspire to be in the top position adopt the attire of the men, why?
No one wants to dress like the men - not even the men. Continue to wear smart dresses and be a full woman that is professional in knowledge, outcome-oriented and just a woman.

Labyrinth versus Ceiling
Cindy Lanphear
@Greg Johnson: I believe these terms are two very different situations for women. Part of the problem with researching them (my dissertation topic) is that so many researchers intertwine them. My impression from the research is that the labyrinth can be applied to any part of women's efforts to navigate a successful, top level career. On the other hand, and from my own experience, the glass ceiling is that barrier that doesn't even let us get to those top level careers - and trust me - it is still ALIVE AND WELL - unfortunately!

Alpha Female Leadership, Beta Male Leadership
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States, Premium Member
@Cindy Lanphear: I think that the Alpha Male leadership model is inferior to the Alpha Female leadership model, size and aggression being the singular characteristic that tips the dynamic in the favor of the male. The Army Ranger School, as a model of a successful leadership development, is an industrial process designed to produce an approximation of the Alpha Female leadership model, the Beta Male leadership model, whose singular characteristic is captured in the unofficial motto of the program, "Cooperate and Graduate".
The Alpha Male leadership model is what I call the Queen Bee command style and tends to be narcissistic and authoritarian in nature. This is the default leadership model of the Harvard Business School MBA program and impacts directly on the subjects of your dissertation.

Women as Leaders: the Invisible Barriers
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
In the HBR of September 2013, H. Ibarra, R. Ely and D. Kolb write about women as leaders. They argue that gender biases currently existing in organizations and in societies hinder the process of becoming a leader when being a women. Internalizing a sense of oneself as leader and creating a sense of purpose are the most important factors for becoming a successful leader. This process is said to be especially difficult for women for two reasons: first, we still live in a culture in which leadership roles are not suited for women; a culture that struggles with the question of whether, when and in what way women should exert power. Another important reason is that human beings tend to gravitate to people like oneself, as a result that men will probably support other men to become leader.
Therefore, three actions that enable women to more efficiently plan their way to leadership are suggested, these actions improve women’s access to leadership roles:

1. Education about second-generation gender bias: Second-generation gender bias is not a discriminatory intent and certainly does not bring forth direct damage to any person. However it generates a context that holds women back from reaching their full potential. It creates subtle and often invisible obstacles for women that indirectly puts women at a disadvantage. Education of second generation bias is needed, since a complete understanding of second-generation will remove the stereotypes that explain why women have not accomplished parity with men. Recognizing the second-generation bias effects will empower women to fight against them of feeling victimized.

2. Establishment of identity workspaces: ,Scarcity of women is high in top positions of organization, as a result that women positioned near the top are very visible and can be examined carefully. This often leads to women becoming risk-averse and focusing too much on details. In other words they lose their sense of purpose, which is an important factor of successful leadership. Therefore , a safe environment for learning, experimenting and communication is essential for women in the process of becoming a leader.

3. Anchoring in Leadership Purpose: People overly focusing on how they are perceived wastes some of their emotional and motivational resources needed for bigger purposes. They seem to be unclear about their main objectives, they are less willing to learn from mistakes and also less able of regulating oneself. Women’s development efforts need to be anchored in leadership purpose, since this enables them to fully pay attention to shared goals and to what is necessary to successfully realize these goals. Besides, women will engage in more activities that are essential to their success when concentrating on leadership purpose.

These actions provide women with a greater insight into themselves and their companies; following these actions will therefore lead to better results than doing what companies currently pursue..

Gender Stereotyping and Homosexual Reproduction
Tom Wilson, HR Consultant, United States, Premium Member
@Anneke Zwart: Of the three strategies you have outlined, Anchoring in Leadership Purpose strikes me as the most promising, in particular the observation that focusing on managing perceptions is divergent from the essential nature of leadership. Relative to the Mission-Men-Self priorities, the focus on the human capital of the enterprise relative to the mission is by far the most rewarding, operationally.
There is a tiresome debate regarding the difference between the Manager and the Leader, the singular difference being Charisma which reflects this point regarding perception management. This is a dimension of the Alpha male leadership model which is best avoided in favor of mission orientation.
Men acquire more opportunities to expand their leadership repertoire as a direct result of homosexual reproduction, a feminist term reflecting the natural inclination to surround oneself with similar personalities compounded by male executive dominance.

Organizational GLASS: Can Females Crack It?
Harlen Williams, Student, United States, Member
Decades of the invisible barriers limiting the advancement of qualified females surfaced in 1986 as a phenomenon known as the “Glass Ceiling”. As the number of skilled women in the workplace continues to increase, organizations are challenged with ensuring biases toward them created by organizational perceptions associated with:
G - Gender
L - Leadership qualities
A - Assignments
S - Society, and
S - Stereotyping
(GLASS) are cracked and will provide the opportunity to remove the obstacles that plague managerial progression.

Despite the credentials and rich history of labor force participation, gender continues to influence the number of advancement opportunities afforded to qualified females. Gender-based discrimination extends to many aspects of employment that include hiring, firing, pay differentials, promotions, and access to training. The dynamics of gender and how it influences leadership advancement and opportunities for females continue to be significant in today’s business world.

As females continue to position themselves in the ranks of top management, myths regarding leadership qualities seek to devalue their traits while valuing those of males. Female leaders possess a strong sense of interconnectedness with subordinates that permit more empathy and flexibility, which provides the interpersonal skills needed to evaluate situations and objectively assess and accept information while making all involved feel understood, valued, and supported. There are many mainstream myths that persist female leaders are not interested and cannot cope with being a leader, which influence organizations that men possess the qualities needed for strategic, results-oriented, and visionary leadership.

Females often occupy a status in organizations that does not succeed in providing a “sense of recognition” necessary for managerial advancement. Organizations can assist in this acknowledgment process by presenting females with challenging assignments that will offer development opportunities to prove their abilities and fulfill growth needs. Females should be offered key assignments that will put their skills on display, making senior management “take notice” of the contributions to the organization, which will support progression to top management.

Tradition has not prepared society for female leadership in any capacity outside the home. The impact of customary concepts continues to be instrumental in plaguing females professionally, because cultural norms, preconceptions, and stereotypes regarding their roles and abilities engineered by society are upheld in the business world. Females are impacting the corporate community despite social perceptions, which will require organizations to move beyond the ramification of societal traditions that has led to their disproportionate representation at the senior levels of management.

The construction of leadership is stereotyped by a tradition of male dominance and power. Females are labeled as lacking the general management experience, skills, and knowledge needed to be an effective leader, which often leads to a misrepresentation of their true talents. Stereotyping weakens a female’s ability to lead and present serious challenges to their managerial progression, causing organizations to underutilize a significant resource within the workforce.

Gender, leadership qualities, assignments, society, and stereotyping (GLASS) contribute to a host of unfavorable assumptions regarding the ability of females becoming leaders. Organizations can assist females in “cracking the GLASS” by dispelling myths, eradicating biases, and exercising a level of equality that will provide opportunities for advancement into the hierarchy of management.

Glass Ceiling??????
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
@Harlen Williams: A very good dissertation on the topic of Glass Ceiling. I have been engaged in this topic for a while now, and I wonder if there is another theme sticking its head out of this conversation and that is the topic of "Victimization".
Through passive precipitation, the victim may unconsciously exhibit behaviors or characteristics that feed into the denial of opportunities. Siegel (2006) lists job promotions, job status, successes, love interests, and the like as examples of these unconscious behaviors and characteristics. Additionally, political activists, minority groups, those of different sexual orientations, and other individuals pursuing alternate lifestyles may also find themselves as targets of victimology due to the inadvertent threat they pose to certain individuals of power.
Could it be that in order to preserve the executive suite, those that sit there are protecting it by reinforcing behaviors that are more consistent with the labyrinth.

Organizational Glass - Yes we Can Crack It!!
Kari Egge, CEO, Norway, Member
@Harlen Williams: To add to the misery, almost every leadership book and theory is written by men for men. Such theories are not even acknowledging the existence of women in leadership positions and roles. I am developing, organizing and delivering net-based leadership development programs for women at junior, and middle levels and resident programs for senior women leaders as a way to appreciate women in their own rights as leaders, our special traits, leadership style and challenges in male dominated fora.
I've been in leadership since mid 80s and know that the glass can be broken if women organize and promote each other, acquire knowledge and skills, based on women in leadership terms and not through those traditional, conform ways of learning leadership. We need however a woman leadership model, which is ours and not messed up by male counterparts!

Lack of Emotional Awareness is a Leadership Barrier for Women
Jemima Riley, Trinidad and Tobago, Member
Leadership by women can be intellectual, visionary and stimulating.
However, many women struggle to maintain objectivity. In human related situations, emotional responses and ideas change the environment and reduce objectivity. When a cool head is required, it is too often not present and the environment then takes on an emotional complexity that can make subordinates and peers retreat instead of support the female leader.
Emotional awareness by women ensures that the team is together, on task and on target.

Sexes are not So Different
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Professors Riley and Ely report on meta-analysis (combining the results of many studies) done by various researchers about the question if women are fundamentally different from men in that they:
Basically, the answer to all 3 questions is simple: NO. All three believes / stereotypes are fallacies!
Any differences that were found turn out to be caused by different CIRCUMSTANCES / CONTEXTS to which men and women are exposed. Companies should therefore not invest resources info "fixing" women, but rather ensure women get the right context that enables them to reach their potential and maximize their changes to succeed.
They recommend a 4-step approach:
1. QUESTION THE NARRATIVE: Question the assumptions people make and the explanations people give for any differences, which are typically caused by:
a. Fundamental Attribution Errors (human tendency to use the easiest available explanation ("men are simply different from women"))
b. Mere Exposure or Validity Effect (being exposed to some idea multiple times) and
c. Confirmation Bias (tendency to seek, notice and remember conforming evidence and to ignore or forget contradicting evidence)
2. GENERATE A PLAUSIBLE ALTERNATE EXPLANATION. Investigate the factors really causing the difference.
3. CHANGE THE CONTEXT AND ASSESS THE RESULTS. Make appropriate changes and see if they work.
4. PROMOTE CONTINUAL LEARNING (increase the know-how about dealing with gender stereotypes).
Catherine H. Tinsley, Robin J. Ely, "What Most People Get Wrong about Men and Women: Research Shows the Sexes aren't So Different", HBR May-Jun 2018, pp.114-121."

Hot Button Topic
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
This is such a "Hot Button Topic", because it crosses so many lines of control and denial based on gender, race, religion and more.
There seems to be a profile similar to Hitler's "Perfect Race" mantra, which was also gender-focused.
I see this mental deformity in many curious settings and the logic makes NO sense when we are living in a well-educated society in the US and beyond when equal opportunity for such attainment is allowed.
In my Coaching practice I am often confronted with a Faith-Based Leadership conundrum that embraces gender bias and discrimination through convenient biblical interpretation. I know the same mindset carries over into the corporate world because the same hierarchical framework drives both when it comes to gender, race, religion and beyond.
See, the hierarchical constructs are based on a military, power and control paternal management defect. I say "defect" in appreciation of our emerging citizenry of inclusiveness and sharing millennials. Pay attention!


Best Practices



Next Topic

About 12manage | Advertising | Link to us / Cite us | Privacy | Suggestions | Terms of Service
© 2019 12manage - The Executive Fast Track. V15.1 - Last updated: 23-8-2019. All names ™ of their owners.