Why are there so few women in leadership and managing positions?

The assertion that ambition, firmness, and maybe also aggression are essential characteristics to make a great leader is definitely outdated and totally out of line. Yet, it could be one of the many reasons for the underrepresentation of women in leading positions.

A clear understanding of stigma and stereotypes is key to combating them. In this post, we will present and explain some of the sociological factors that operate as obstacles to the presence of women in leadership positions.

1. Vertical Segregation denotes the situation whereby opportunities for career progression for a particular gender within a company or sector are limited. The latter concept is connected to the glass ceiling and sticky floor phenomena. The term glass ceiling refers to the invisible – yet genuine – barrier to career advancement that many women come up against. There is also an evident underrepresentation of women in leadership and managing positions. They tend to remain “stuck” on the so-called sticky floor, which prevents them from moving from the bottom of the organizational hierarchy to the top.

Women are penalized both for deviating from the masculine norm and for appearing to be masculine.

2. Double Bind Effect (damned if you do, doomed if you don’t) articulates the role of stereotyping in holding women back from leadership roles: “Women are penalized both for deviating from the masculine norm and appearing to be masculine. When women try to establish competence, they are scrutinized for evidence that they lack masculine (instrumental) characteristics and for signs that they no longer possess feminine (expressive) ones. They are taken to fail, in other words, both as males and females.”

3. In-group Favoritism is a sociological phenomenon in which individuals tend to value like-minded people more favorably, especially regarding managing positions. It has been observed that the nature of managerial tasks - often characterized by a significant degree of uncertainty and discretion - creates pressure for homogeneity and conformity within the working group. People generally deem more trustworthy, competent, and cooperative people with whom they recognize themselves: people with the same social background, characteristics, and experiences. Considering that boardrooms are primarily composed of men, women tend to become the minority: out-group members.

  • Have you ever experienced one or more of the above-described phenomena in your career path?

  • Did you know they stem from sociological factors?

  • Does knowing about their existence make you feel more “prepared” to respond to them?

We hope that with this post, we contributed to raising awareness about a topic that is so crucial, much-discussed but still somehow not entirely understood.

With love and light,

Giulia, Femme Lead


European Observatory of Working Life, Segregation, Eurofound, https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/observatories/eurwork/industrial-relations-dictionary/segregation

Holmes Michael, Why are there so few women CEOs?, The Conversation, 5 September 2019, https://theconversation.com/why-are-there-so-few-women-ceos-103212

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Beyond the Double Bind: Women and Leadership, 1995

Ding W. W., Murray F., Stuart T. E., From bench to board: gender differences in university scientists' participation in corporate scientific advisory boards, The Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 56, No. 5, October 2013

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