What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

The BSRI adjectives that describe masculinity are: self-reliant, strong personality, forceful, independent, analytical, defends one’s beliefs, athletic, assertive, has leadership abilities, willing to take risks, makes decisions easily, self-sufficient, dominant, willing to take a stand, aggressive, acts as a leader, individualistic, competitive, ambitious, and masculine. The feminine traits, in addition to “feminine,” include yielding, loyal, cheerful, compassionate, shy, sympathetic, affectionate, sensitive to the needs of others, flatterable, understanding, eager to soothe hurt feelings, soft-spoken, warm, tender, gullible, childlike, does not use harsh language, loves children, and gentle.

These traits may seem as laughable as watching Leave it to Beaver, but the deeply-rooted cultural ideals of masculinity and femininity create unconscious stereotyping by both men and women that show up in expectations and judgments about behavior at work. (Daly & Ibarra, 1995) This can be seen when choosing who should be a leader and who is a good leader, and in labeling men as “appropriately aggressive” but women who demonstrate the same behavior as “bitches.” (Powell & Graves, pg. 136-137) Overall, the stereotype, “think manager—think male” remains strong. (Sczesny, 2003)

Fanning the fire, Fletcher (2002) said that there is a deeply ingrained prejudice that equates feminine behaviors such as sociable, compassionate, sensitive to the needs of others, eager to soothe hurt feelings and warm with being female and being female with being powerless. Eagly and Karau (2002) called this “role congruity.” From their perspective, women are seen as less qualified to be leaders because the competencies required are described as male attributes and incompatible with the communal qualities associated with women. In addition, women leaders who demonstrate the suitable leadership characteristics (male) are looked at less favorably than their male counterparts because their behavior is inconsistent with appropriate female behaviors.


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Marcia Reynolds

Marcia ReynoldsIn addition to coaching leaders in global companies, Dr. Marcia Reynolds travels the world speaking and teaching classes in advanced coaching skills, leadership and emotional intelligence. She is the author of 3 books and has been quoted in major online and print publications in the US and Europe.

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