What's your bias?
Organizations are gender-structured
Setting the stage: Case study
Our literature review, meant to serve as a backdrop for our ideas, is organized thematically. The themes are outlined below and further developed in our Book Club. Click on the buttons to navigate directly to a theme of interest, or go to the Book Club.
How to find organizational solutions - many little steps generate critical mass.
Gender-role stereotypes associating men with authority and women with nurturing persist in the workplace in subtle ways. Men and women are still surprised to learn of their blind spots. Leadership stereotypes were established when only men were managers and are anchored on male gender norms. Modern theories are more balanced but practice lags behind theory.
Gender underpins organizational structures to various degrees, regardless of what the institutional discourse is. You can tell if you listen carefully. We have examples of what to listen for.
Despite applying the same early-career strategies, women do not advance as well as men do. The early disadvantages are small but cumulative, often only visible in hindsight – and then the gap is big and new challenges, such as family, may appear.
Opportunity, access and visibility that pave the road to promotion do not appear to be the same for women as for men. Research blames stereotypes, which result in shifting and asymmetrical evaluation criteria.
Women’s careers start with an assumption of gender-neutral meritocracy. But this assumption evolves as evidence accumulates against it. It turns out that merit is underpinned by gender.
Prevalence of the old boys’ style of networking makes the building of mentorship relationships more tricky for women than for men. Yet, having a sponsor appears to be a key senior-career success factor for both men and women.
Do women leaders use language differently than men? If there is a cultural perception that women are generally more socially skilled and more eloquent than men, then why women’s use of language is an obstacle in a male-dominated environment? Equally important, what language do we use to speak, write and think about women?
Women are not as forthcoming as men are in asking for what they need to succeed. They do not negotiate hard enough for themselves. They do not “sit at the table” but rather stay in the background and work hard. Don’t make themselves visible and heard, take too little space. Don’t communicate ideas clearly and linearly as men do. Self-help solutions range from how to play the game like the men to how to “lean in” and speak with one’s authentic voice.
Career breaks related to bringing up children do not have to be detrimental to women’s career progression.
The linear-career norm does not suit women. And it should not be the only path to senior leadership - given that, more generally, it is does not suit modern knowledge workers.
Senior hiring managers are men and they are often more comfortable with other men. Homogeneity improves communication and effectiveness. But it reduces the diversity of thought.
Below 40% they are a clear minority, and below 15% they are tokens. As tokens, people simply cannot be effective in positions of authority: group pressure forces them to conform, attention creates negative pressure, and stereotyping intensifies. Tokens are like outsiders.
Women opt-out at various stages. As a result, they are not adequately represented in the developmental “pipeline” of candidates for the most-senior roles.
There is an element of choice when women opt-out of the work force, whether relatively early or mid-career. But this choice is societally and structurally constrained.
More women in leadership mean more competition for a limited number of positions. This is a change in status quo by definition disturbing the men’s world. Much of the research is based on conversations with women. What can we learn when we listen to men speak out?
How to navigate through the themes