Posted on October 14, 2008. Filed under: Academic Publishings |

Robin Ely begins her introduction by highlighting a modern definition of leadership. She states that “leadership, by which we typically mean a particular constellation of valued abilities, including the ability to provide a vision and influence others to realize it (153).” This modern definition differs from that of the ‘traditional’ definition in that it does not incorporate gender roles or stereotypes, permitting only the excellence of character and qualities as key stimulants.

Most research and evaluation methods are founded in traditional male-leadership qualities and do not accurately reflect modern leadership quality and standards. The change in definition is not mandated from state or federal policy, but the changing demographics of business leaders and executives. This is not to say that the definition has officially changed and used in corporate evaluatory measures, but rather, it is an application that includes gender neutral relational and emotional competencies.

In continuing with changing demographics, the contemporary workplace has experienced gender differences in expectations, goals, and advancement opportunities for women and racial minorities. “Gender stereotypes, limited access to mentors, and workplace practices that fail to accommodate family commitments have clearly made it more difficult for women to achieve and succeed in leadership roles (155).” Most women are less-prepared to enter into upper managerial roles due to several reasons; male standards remain intact, sex differences, and less education, few challenging projects, and little access to training and mentorship opportunities.

Unfortunately, leadership is still measured by male standards and images. According to this philosophy, women must adopt male characteristics and roles in order to fulfill leadership expectations; however, it is not expected for men to engage in traditional ‘feminine’ roles. These standards influence leadership application and are imbedded in its philosophy. “Two-thirds of surveyed men and three-quarters of male business leaders do not believe that women encounter significant discrimination for top positions in business, the professions, or government (160).” This misconception clearly suggests the inherent faults of corporate leadership identity, particularly in traditionally white-male dominated industries such as law, medicine, and politics.

This disparity has caused an imbalance between male and female percentages in managerial positions. The largest percentage of women remain in low and non-management positions. Unfortunately, women comprise nearly 50% “of managerial and professional positions but only 12% of corporate officers, 4% of top corporate earners, and about 1% of the Fortune 500 CEO’s (161).” Statistically, this demonstrates a significant difference in corporate leadership expectations, particularly since women make up over 50% of the U.S. population. This disparity suggests that there are remaining factors that have yet to be identified.

There are several assumptions that are used to justify these statistics. One assumption is that women are continuing to enter the workplace and are no longer remaining house-wives, and that they need to remain in the workplace longer in order to qualify for leadership opportunities. They haven’t been in the “pipeline” long enough to earn merit, networks, or challenging projects. Another assumption is that “they are the product of cultural lag; current inequalities are the legacy of discriminatory practices that are no longer legal, and it is only a matter of time until women catch up (161).” However, as recent research has demonstrated, the ‘pipeline’ theory does not accurately reflect the new definition of leadership – the ability to influence and inspire others to perform responsibilities and duties outside of requirements. Research also portrays the percentage of gender difference in equally-qualified candidates applying for similar positions.

Gender still plays a significant role in understanding professional and social interactions. Professionally, women suffer from the double-edged sword, in that if they achieve upper-management positions, it supposed that they benefited from an affirmative action policy or that they portray traditional leadership characteristics, which stereotypes women as being overly aggressive or bitchy. Once in these positions, “they are held to higher standards than their male counterparts…and their performance is subject to special scrutiny and more demanding requirements (162).” Women are expected to behave and perform according to traditional leadership qualities, and must do so at a higher and more efficient manner than their male-counterparts in order to be considered for higher positions.

In order to maintain these positions, women are forced to make trade-offs, which are generally associated with child-rearing responsibilities. Because female managers must undergo gender adaptation, they must sacrifice personal and gender identity in order to fit into leadership roles. As their male counterparts receive promotions, women internalize these activities as barriers to advancement and rewards, inferring that their levels of performance are inadequate for leadership positions. This orients women to being risk-adverse and to not pursue other challenging positions that may increase their chances for leadership opportunities.
These standards and practices place women into categories of underperforming and unmotivated employees, not willing to try challenging positions, resulting in devaluation and undervalued contributions. “Expectations affect evaluations, work assignments, and other career development opportunities (164).” Because they receive poor recommendations, supervisors are unlikely to suggest mentors, network groups, projects, and opportunities which continue the vicious cycle of gender stereotypes and assumptions.

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Ely Robin J. and Erica Gabrielle Foldy, and Maureen A. Scully. Reader in Gender, Work, and Organization. Blackwell Publishing. 2003. Pgs.153-172.


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