Women in Leadership: Barriers to Upward Social Mobility

Women in Leadership: Barriers to Upward Social Mobility

Nadine L. Leblanc (Mavericks High School, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch049


Women are generally viewed favorably as a group, except when they assume roles that were previously dominated by men. We see examples in industries that demonstrate that the complex issue of a woman's qualifications is judged more harshly than those of their similarly situated male counterparts. Women face barriers to leadership positions because of the limitations placed upon gender roles in as society. This chapter discusses the barriers that have historically limited the social mobility of women, while examining the current trend where women in academia are currently obtaining advanced degrees than men which positions them to potentially challenge the glass ceiling. Historical literature will be reviewed to highlight the persistent issues resulting in a very low number of women in leadership positions in the United States. Additionally, contemporary literature will be analyzed the impact of a greater number of women in the workforce with the skills and abilities and yet lacking opportunities to crash the proverbial ‘glass ceiling.'
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“I am woman, hear me roar” is the opening line of a popular 1970s song by Helen Reddy that has become the anthem for many women. The words command you to listen to women being hailed in a non-stereotypical and non-submissive role. The song progresses to the chorus in a triumphant battle cry: “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman...” The popularity of the song in the early 1970s is bedded in a second wave of feminism as women were seeking to stand “toe- toe” with their male counterparts. Fast forward to pop sensation Beyoncé’s “Queen B’s” song “Run the World (Girls)” in 2011 where she passionately affirms that men know” ... we're smart enough to make these millions, strong enough to bear the children, then get back to business.” The popularity of the song as marked by the millions in sales suggests a universal agreement that women have successfully demonstrated that they can achieve the balance of being the primary nurturers in their children’s lives while still being leaders in businesses and their communities. “My persuasion can build a nation, endless power...” This affirmation by the Queen of Pop, Beyoncé is still necessary as women’s social mobility is severely limited because of beliefs in their limitations and lack of opportunities and mentorship. Although women still do not rule the world, the discussion continues (Harris, 2001).

In this the 21st century, women’s role in leadership position is still challenged by the Glass Ceiling. The Department of Labor in 1991 defined the “Glass Ceiling” as the “artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions (Johns, 2013) .” In 1991 the United States Congress determined that, despite a dramatically growing presence in the workplace, women and minorities remained underrepresented in management positions in business and that artificial barriers were inhibiting their advancement. Consequently, in Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Congress enacted the Glass Ceiling Act establishing the Glass Ceiling Commission. The purpose of the commission was to study:

  • The manner in which businesses fill management and decision-making positions;

  • The developmental and skill-enhancing practices used to foster the necessary qualifications for advancement into such positions;

  • The compensation programs and reward structures currently utilized in the workplace; and

  • The creation of an annual award for excellence in promoting a more diverse skilled workforce at the management and decision-making levels in business (Johns, 2013).”

“More than 50% of the employees at the lower levels in organizations are female. At higher levels in the organization, the number of women decreases significantly. At the CEO level worldwide, there are only 3% to 4% who are women” (Men, 2016). In 2016, women are still experiencing barriers to upward social mobility as supported by these numbers. Carly Fiorina in 1999 upon being selected as chief executive of the Hewlett-Packard Company stated in response to her promotion, ''I hope that we are at a point that everyone has figured out that there is not a glass ceiling... My gender is interesting but really not the subject of the story here (Markoff, 1999) ''. In her memoir, written eight years later, she recounts multiple instances when she experienced sexism and was called “bimbo” or “bitch” (Ely & Rhode, 2010). Ms. Fiorina was a candidate in the 2016 race for the President of United States was the only woman on the Republican ticket. The example of Carly and so many other women in similar scenarios demonstrate that the complex issue of a woman’s qualifications, are often judged more harshly that the qualifications of similarly situated male counterparts, and women face more barriers to leadership positions because of the limitations placed upon gender roles, not just for the workforce, but as a general societal issue.

Key Terms in this Chapter

CEO: Chief Executive Officer. The highest position within a corporate institution.

Mentor: A person who has taken on the role of trusted advisor to a younger or more junior role in a professional setting.

Gender: The culturally and socially constructed definition of being male or female.

Management: The directing of systems within an organization to ensure the realization of pre-determined objectives.

Leadership: The ability to comprehend your own talents and appropriate effectively and efficiently within a team in a situation or institution.

Protégé: The younger or more junior person who is partnered with someone older or in a more senior professional role to guide or influence them positively.

Concrete Ceiling: An invisible barrier that limits/prevents women of color from ascending to the highest levels of leadership.

Labyrinth: A series of complex barriers that include gender discrimination, work- life balance for women and sometimes lack of self- confidence in women that prevent women from ascending to the highest levels of leadership.

Glass Ceiling: An invisible barrier that limits/prevents women and minorities from ascending to the highest levels of leadership.

Tokenism: A strategy employed to give the illusion of equality by making symbolic gestures such as hiring a small group of people from groups deemed as a minority.

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