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Issue - 09/06/2011
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Why is there a Dearth of Women Leaders in Business?
With Extensive research on Gender Discrimination at Workplace, this Article talks about some obstacles that Prevent the Fairer Sex from Securing top positions at the workplace.
| Issue Date - 09/06/2011

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In recent decades, legal barriers to women’s educational and employment opportunities have been overturned in most countries. Yet, 40 years following the “second wave” of North American feminism in the 1970s, we still see a dearth of women in business leadership positions around the world. According to the latest figures from Catalyst, Inc., in the U.S., only 2.4% of Fortune 500 firms have female CEOs, and in Canada, only 3.6% of CEOs in the FP 500 are women. Cranfield School of Management’s Female FTSE Board Report, 2010, indicated that just 5 of the FTSE 100 (UK) are headed by female CEOs (5%). Standard Chartered Bank’s report on Women on Corporate Boards in India, 2010, indicated that only 8 of 323 (2.5%) total executive directorship positions (generally considered to be prerequisites to holding the CEO position) on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100 are held by women.

Given the low numbers and lack of apparent legal restrictions to women’s career development, one has to ask why it is that the leadership ranks of our largest and most powerful business organisations remain so stubbornly male-dominated. It’s not because women are not good leaders. Indeed, the evidence from a large number of qualitative and quantitative studies suggest that women are equally competent as men at leading and maybe a bit better than men at supporting and inspiring their people.

It’s also not because women don’t aspire to become leaders. On the contrary, every new cohort of young women is more assertive and comfortable with leadership than the last. My large research study, examining data from over 1 million people, showed that even in the 1980s and 90s, women who choose business and management careers are just as likely as their male counterparts to aim leadership positions, high earnings, promotions, responsibility, and power.

The answer to the question as to why there are so few women leaders in business can be answered in the context of business houses. They usually set up a series of stumbling blocks for women on the road to the C-suite. Only the most intrepid female traveller can make it to the end of the road.

The first stumbling block is the educational system. Top tier business schools are not easy environments for female students, who are assumed by some of their male classmates to be less qualified. Relatively, few of the professors are women, and most of the role models brought into class in person or through case studies are men. The next stumbling block is the negative attitudes toward women in authority. The Standard Chartered Bank report indicated men’s negative attitudes when it comes to being supervised by a woman as a significant barrier to promoting more women to leadership positions in business. And negative attitudes toward women in authority are by no means limited to India. A large study by Alice Eagly, Ph.D., showed that employees rate women leaders negatively if they act in an authoritative manner. Only if women act in a participative, democratic manner are they accepted and evaluated positively by employees. Another recent experimental study showed that when women had better information than everyone else in the group, they were disliked and rated negatively; while men with better information were looked up to and rated positively. Overcoming people’s unconscious negative reactions, which is quite a rampant phenomenon, to their authority is a tricky business, and women have to develop a much higher level of leadership finesse than their male counterparts do in order to go ahead.

The third stumbling block is the structure of the business hierarchy. Career ladders demand commitment and devotion of effort, energy, and long hours. Those individuals who are able to focus themselves exclusively on their careers have a significant advantage in business career opportunities. But in most societies, developing and developed alike, women are expected to devote a significant amount of their time, effort and energy to their families. In case of young children, it is the mothers, not the fathers, who are most likely to scale back their careers in order to accommodate childcare needs. When schoolchildren are ill, it is the mothers again, who are expected to take time out of work for doctor’s appointments and nursing. When teenagers are troubled, it is the mothers, and not the fathers, who are expected to turn away from career demands to provide support. Only when societal expectations change regarding the need of both fathers and mothers to provide care and support for their children at every life stage, will the business playing field be truly levelled.

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