The Conundrum of the Glass Ceiling in Top Positions!!


Abhinanda Gautam
Faculty Marketing/HR
ICFAI National College

A new school of thought is emerging that contends women make superior leaders for 21st Century organizations. Then why is it proving so difficult for women to reach the top of corporations? Are they simply less ambitious, less excited by the idea of limitless (albeit first-class) travel, late nights and the burdensome and time- consuming responsibilities imposed by mounting regulation?

Top businesswomen give three main explanations for why so few of them reach "C-level"—that group of executives who preface their titles with the word "chief".

First comes the exclusion from informal networks. In many firms jock-talk and late-night boozing still oil the wheels of progress. Everywhere it has become almost traditional for sales teams to take potential clients to strip clubs and the like. These activities specifically exclude most women.

The second hurdle is "pervasive stereotyping of women's capacity for leadership". Everyone is unconsciously biased and there is strong evidence that men are biased against promoting women inside companies.

The third hurdle is the lack of role models. There are too few women in top jobs to show how it is done.

Research also shows that many female managers are uncomfortable with the imposed leadership style and this, in turn, can lead to severe stress.  Most senior female managers have no children, believing that the combination of a career and a family is untenable. This is in stark contrast to the majority of senior male managers who have children and a wife at home to support them.  Today's culture of long working hours is exacerbating the problem.  Many senior women managers are simply voting with their feet, to spend more time with her children

Although it is being that women are superior to men at multi-tasking, team-building and communicating, which have become the essential skills for running a 21st-century corporation. "The links between the rational and emotional parts of the brain are greater in women than in men. If so, and if leadership is about making links between emotion and intelligence, then maybe women are better at it than men."

More recently, Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt's (2001 Journal of Social Issues) review of the latest research shows that women managers are better leaders than men because they are more likely to act as charismatic leaders.  Because organizations are increasingly emphasizing employee involvement, women's "natural" leadership style is more effective with today's workforce (who increasingly reject autocratic management).

This will be a challenge.  The long term solution is a cultural one both within the workplace and in the wider world outside.  Shattering stereotypes of gender roles that perpetuate inequalities between men and women cannot be accomplished by single individuals or in the short term. However, as women continue to slowly break through into senior positions where they can effect organizational change it is more likely that shifts in the perceptions of women at work will occur.

Many of the country's leading employers recognize the business advantages of recruiting a more balanced workforce in terms of gender. A diverse workforce, composed of men and women from a variety of backgrounds and cultural experiences, is a more creative workforce capable of challenging old attitudes and practices and bringing fresh thinking and greater innovation to service development.


Abhinanda Gautam
Faculty Marketing/HR
ICFAI National College

Source: E-mail June 2, 2007


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