For all the talk of equality in the workplace, there are some things that die hard. There exist unconscious stereotypes about women pursuing their careers and their strengths, when compared to men. These stereotypes are all unfortunately deep-seated.
A study by Catalyst, titled “Women Take Care; Men Take Charge: Stereotyping of US Business Leaders Exposed”, addressed the negative results for women as they try to climb the career ladder. According to the study, women only lead 10 Fortune 501-1000 and seven Fortune 500 companies despite comprising 45% of the workforce.
So just what are these lingering stereotypes? Here are several of the stereotypes that are still impacting women in their careers:
Problem-solving is a key skill. Interestingly, every MBA program in the world requires coursework in this critical area, and everyone is taught and practises a number of problem-solving exercises. Both men and women are equally prepared for problem-solving activities. However, men are still seen as superior. A couple of stereotypes seem to be accountable for this. The belief that women are more emotional and that they have difficulty delegating responsibility to others.
It is assumed that women will be the primary care providers for their children. With that assumption come additional ones. That they will be willing to take leaves of absence, quit, or downshift when the ‘going gets tough’. It must also be remembered that not all women have kids. Further, parenting roles are increasingly blurred today, precisely because women are more serious about their careers.
High-level positions require risk-taking, especially when key decisions must be made about finances, mergers, acquisitions, etc. It is assumed that men are more willing to take the risks that will catapult an enterprise forward. The correlating assumption is that women would rather take the safer route even if it means less growth and revenue.
Women have ‘traits’ that make them less desirable leaders
Here are a few of these ‘traits’.
1. Men are assertive; women are aggressive.
2. Men are forceful; women are bitchy.
3. Men are strong leaders; women are bossy.
4. Men have confidence and strength in their convictions; women are domineering and selfish
If men in high positions are clean; if their clothes are clean and pressed; and if they wear deodorant, then they are ‘good to go’. As they age, they may lose some hair, develop a mid-section pouch, etc, and they will still be ‘good to go’. A woman, on the other hand, must be far more careful. She has a greater responsibility of looking good. Otherwise, she will be characterised as someone who ‘lets herself go’, with a negative connotation that she is less caring about everything, including her work responsibilities.
Perhaps the worst part of this stereotype is that women come to accept it themselves. Media, of course, is partly to blame. One of the net effects of this, moreover, is the fact that plastic surgeons’ offices are far more filled with women than men.
There is nothing that working women can do to change the inbred thinking that has created these stereotypes. Thankfully, time will take care of some of them, as the ‘older boys’ clubs move into retirement and new generations take the helm.
In the meantime, however, there are things to do:
Women must understand that they will be competing with many men for managerial and executive positions. Their documents must literally ‘knock the socks off’ of decision-makers. For this reason, it makes good sense to get some help from within the niche/sector to provide professional assistance when crafting resumes and cover letters.
This cannot be stressed enough. Make connections with those in your sector outside of your organisation. Get a name for yourself; become an influencer. This takes time, and it does seem a bit unfair when your male counterparts are at home or at the sports bar watching their favourite events.
It won’t always be this way. The stereotypes are peeling away. What you do now blazes the path for women who come after you – remember that.