Do We Still Have A Glass Ceiling Because of Stereotypes?
I think we have a problem at work, but just in case I’m exaggerating, I’ll give you the statistics and let you decide.
In the beginning, or at least for a very long time, women have been 51% of the population. In 1950 women made up only 29% of the workforce. Today women are half our workforce (46.5% to be exact). Half of our midlevel managers are women—that sounds fair to me. But, and here’s the big but, women are only 15% of the top two tiers in the Fortune 500. So let’s do the math: Men are 85% and women are 15%. That’s a huge difference—discrepancy—handicap. At least in my mind it is. How do you feel about this? (Your comments are important to me.)
What do you surmise is the reason for the 85-15 Handicap? By the time a woman makes it to middle-management, she’s probably already started a family and has learned to handle those outside-of-work balancing acts. She has the knowledge, the experience, and the desire to advance, but in most cases, is held back by a glass ceiling.
Why is this? At first glance, you might think that the way women act and talk are the culprits. Well, we gave the “talk and walk like a man” advice a go and we were quickly labeled barracudas, or worse. It wasn’t what was expected of a woman—it didn’t fit our stereotype of a woman.
Are stereotypes the culprits? Recent research by Catalyst and a number of universities show an interesting (I mean depressing) result: Changing the names on resumes from male to female gave distinctly different results. Catalyst says: The stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders can be summed up as Women “Take Care”, Men “Take Charge.”
Stereotypes are so ingrained that their effects are everywhere and at the same time are usually invisible—unless someone points them out. Well, we have one to point out. I usually try to stay out of politics, but there’s a great example under our noses. One of our presidential candidates—a woman—recently got teary-eyed at a minor coffee get together in New Hampshire. Headlines blared “The Moment” across the nation. Jokes abounded: How could we count on her to lead us? Prior to that, a male presidential candidate got even more teary-eyed on Meet the Press, and hardly anyone mentioned it. Why do we treat men and women differently? And why does it usually remain invisible?
We have to start shining a light on these examples as they occur. There are many other things that can be done, as Professor Hilary M. Lips of Radford University points out:
“Organizations can strive to avoid isolating women as tokens in male-dominated departments, where their gender becomes the defacto explanation for any perceived misstep. Established leaders can endorse and legitimate women who seek or attain leadership roles. Opinion leaders such as journalists can cultivate sensitivity to the possibility that they are setting different standards of likeability and other interpersonal qualities when they publicly critique male and female leaders. As individuals, we can examine our own criticisms of women leaders for telltale signs that we are expecting the impossible—imposing the double-bind of contradictory expectations.”
As more women break the glass ceiling, we’ll have more role models who will challenge the stereotypes. Meanwhile, if you’re a woman and you’re in the workforce today, you need to do a balancing act. Since you’re expected to show you care, heed my tip of the week.
This tip is good advice for a man as well (although it’s not as necessary). I want you to make 2 lists. On the first, list all the people you work directly with. Decide how often you should make a point to chat with them about how they’re doing—and how you’re doing. Put a note on your calendar to remind you. In the past (when most managers were men—ah, progress), business books advised you to not discuss any nonbusiness-related concerns. If a female manager takes this stance she gets the “uncaring” demerit.
The second list is for those people who are not direct reports but could help you with your management skills. Check in with them periodically to see how they’re doing, to tell them how you’re doing, and to ask them to advise you on what you could be doing better.
Now get out there and chat—I should rephrase that—now get out there and play office politics like a pro!
Podcast (always less than 10 minutes), Working in Heels, by Nancy Clark, Gender Stereotypes Hold Women Back —Those Little Put-Downs Really Do Add Up!
Blog, Women’s Lunch Talk, by Nancy Clark, Powerful Communication For Women —How To Change “I Speak Like A Girl” to “I Know What I’m Talking About”
Website, WomensMedia, by Hilary M. Lips, Women and Leadership: The Delicate Balancing Act