Yes, there is progress in seeing more women at leadership levels in business; but the pace remains glacial. We need to understand the reasons at the deepest level – so we can pick up the pace and capture the known benefits. I was invited to post a blog on the London School of Economics Business Review. I used the opportunity to express my thoughts on the root cause. I hope you’ll read it!
Unconscious gender bias doesn’t’ appear exclusively in the corporate world. As illustrated by a true story a friend recently told me, it resides in small business, too. Our unconscious (and gendered) images of leadership are everywhere. In a family business, a woman who had worked for years was passed over when the founder retired — by a much less experienced, but male, relative. How can we broaden our “pictures” of leadership?
The numbers and graphs in the report by Lean In and McKinsey & Company, Women in the Workplace 2015, support some beliefs, and challenge some myths, about why women remain underrepresented at the executive level of American business. What about gender bias? The report concludes that women are more likely than men to perceive gender bias. Of course they do! One of the recommendations of the study is training to “interrupt gender bias,” including to assure men can see and understand the challenges women encounter.
New research confirms what we know. Being one of very few women in a “male-dominated” organization or field can be stressful. Researchers found high levels of the stress hormone cortisol (“linked with later negative health outcomes”) in women in this situation. Even in industries where women are well represented, men dominate upper levels of management. It is stressful to walk the tightrope of the “double bind” and work to be heard and seen as competent. So my guess is that this research is applicable to many many women in business.
Have you ever seen people not only judge, but actually fear, a way of doing things different from their own way? I already knew that leaders may not think of women because they do not “look the part.” Now I know they may actually fear giving assignments and promotions to a woman. They have a harder time envisioning her succeeding. And they may fear that her different (feminine) approach will not get as good a result as the more common (masculine) approach.