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Women and leadership

Women and leadership

Presenting the contemporary issue

Unconsciously when we read, we recognize words as pictures, scientists came to the conclusion that words are not encoded in the brain by their meaning, but rather simpler characteristics such as sound and shape (Sutherland, 2015). What about more simplex words are our stereotypes allowing us only to imagine a word in one way. By reading the title, we all have a different image of a leader and a woman leader. The IAT Gender-Career test which was established in 1995 by Greenwald, shows exactly how our stereotypes work in the real world, paring women with supporting roles, and men with leading, proving the fact that societies are formed around stereotypes. We unwelcome men who develop what we consider feminine characteristics, such as being sensitive or weak and resist women with masculine qualities such as being ambitious and domineering (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Broadbridge and Simpson (2011), argued about the fact that we tend to believe that contemporary issues such as gender inequalities have been solved, emphasizing on the belief that gender disadvantages, is a personal choice. Despite the fact that women have been fighting through the years for what we consider absolutely normal in our days, like the right to vote and work, the struggle of our generation to eliminate, the global phenomenon of the gender gap in leadership, is more real than ever (Northouse, 2016). Numerous managers in today’s labor market, unfortunately, tend to adapt to traditional business ethics, ignoring the contemporary issues, and the important positive impact of a feminine presentation in leading positions. Women and leadership are not a forbidden combination, but indeed is a hard one to achieve.

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The truth behind ‘promoting inequality’ in today’s labour market.

In 2008, Dr. Micheline Skeffington applied for a promotion to a senior lectureship at the NUI Galway, from the thirty professors that were shortlisted for an interview, sixteen men and only one woman were promoted, Dr. Skeffington was unsuccessful for the fourth time in a row. After appealing to the ‘Equality tribunal’, in 2014 the tribunal ruled that she had been discriminated based on the gender, ordering the university to review its policies (O’Brien, 2018). Similar case appeared in the United States, where Dr. Katrina Miranda, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Arizona board of regents, claiming that the women in the faculty, are denied adequate salaries and promotions (Trager, 2018). When cases like these are becoming public, we can see actions taking place in order for the companies to leave from the spotlight. However, the important question is not what happens in one case, but if managers really try to improve their policies to change and move beyond ‘tokenism’.

Northouse (2016), gave some explanations for why women are still less promoted than men in the workplace. The first one is the low human capital investment for women in education, training and work experience, which leads to the absence of qualified women to fill leading roles, or in other words, the “pipeline problem”. In addition to having fewer responsibilities for the same job as men, women are less likely to receive encouragement and be included in the company’s networks (Morrison & Von Glinow, 1990). Another factor is the “double-burden syndrome”, the absence of men in the household, the unequal separation of responsibilities outside the workplace (Northouse”,2016), which leads in many cases to women choosing not to create a family and only concentrate on their careers. Even the interviewing process is based on double standards, no man is ever asked if he is planning to have kids, or get married, compared to especially young women, when these kinds of questions – even though these are considered illegal questions when are only made towards one group of individuals- are typical during an interview (Betterteam, n.d).

Maslow’s theory of needs represents the exact problem when it comes to the motivation of women. There is always one part missing from the pyramid, the level of social needs. Inequality in the workplace means, lack of respect by others, and lower self-esteem (Maslow”,1943). It becomes harder for women to achieve their goals or dreams and the consequences are going two ways. One is towards the level of ‘Safety needs’, feeling loved and belonging. When women take work problems into the family, disturbing relations and crossing the thin lines of balance, creating the feeling that they are ‘never good enough’. Second, is the self-actualization level which in many cases is hard to be reached.

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While we have been using the concept of ‘glass ceilings’, to show that there is a clear path to the top (Hymowitz & Schellhardt, 1986), Eagly and Carli (2007), argued the misleading concept of that term nowadays, while introducing the term of the ‘Labyrinth’. The first concept implies that the opportunities are equal for both genders in lower positions and the only obstacle is that invisible ceiling or barrier to the top. On the other hand, the ‘labyrinth’ concentrates not only on the barriers but on the whole complexity of the causes that hold women to the ground. We know that women managed to “break the glass ceiling”, we know that it is possible to reach the top, they just have to find the correct way to overtake the dead ends.

Innovative ideas, not companies.

While new innovative companies are expected to be also innovative in the business structure they follow and exclude any gender bias from their directive boards and managerial positions, we come across almost every year with cases opposed to big companies and organizations. We have seen plenty of cases through the years such as Google, when it was sued by Kelly Ellis and a group of women that acted on behalf of other female employees in the same situation, when after of years of dedication to the company, they were not recognized either offered what they were deserving (Google gender case, 2017). Nike, Microsoft and so many other companies, facing charges, because of unequal payments, sexual harassment, with all of them having in common the statement that “women are less likely to get promoted”. While the two last companies managed to win their cases, because of the lack of evidence, google is kept in the spotlight because of continuous complains about gender bias.

What managers need to implement in order to achieve equality and what is the impact of women in leading positions to organizations.

The first step towards real change, from the manager’s perspective, is leaving behind the prejudice against female leaders. Other suggestions would be the change in corporate social and individual attitudes, offer affirmative support (cite) and understand how female qualities are directly connected to the changes that are happening. Transformational leadership is the response to the big diversity in the workplace, having a positive effect on performance while the followers are committed to collective goals, are more flexible being resistant to stress and more open to change (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Different authors tend to believe that women are more effective in the contemporary society (Book, 2000), while researches have shown that women lead in a more democratic and participative manner than men (Eagly & Johnson, 1990). The complexity of female personal and ethical qualities, such as warmth, need of power that emerges within cooperation, paying attention to ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and disapproval of unethical business, is what associates women with more effective transformational leadership (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Although gender bias in most of the cases works on a negative way for women, new believes connected women with the reduction of fraud, and we have seen many cases where CEO’s where replaced by women during periods of financial inspections since a feminine presentation equals to high ethics. Recently Elon Musk was accused with financial fraud, the approach to this problem was him stepping out the board chair and choosing Robyn Denholm to replace him, the next thing we know is the titles from articles saying, “Tesla, you have just made the leadership hire of the year” (Weinstein, 2018), or “if Elon listens to her” (Hull & Melin, 2018).

On another approach, we have examples of women managers responding better to an issue than male managers, only because they really had the need and felt responsible to offer more in order to find a solution. Ford, for many years, has been in the news because of the continuous sexual harassment against women, in the workplace. Despite the fact that it has been a known problem for so long, last year new statements came to the light, Jim Hackett’s respond, was an apology letter, promising that the company will learn from their mistakes (Chira & Einhorn, 2017)On the other hand, one of the plant managers of Ford, Debbie Manzano, except from working along to the employees and having a more friendly relation with them, in order to bring more women in the manufacturing industry, and make them feel safe and encourage them, she has tried to provide female workers with more networking opportunities pushing at the same time managers to incorporate women into succession planning (Hsu, 2018).

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The demand for change in the workplace implies a new modification on the requirements of the leadership roles. Transformational leaders are needed now more than ever, as Maccoby (2007), said, the leaders that we need, are people interested in the common good, understanding the technological and the market transformations, offering solutions through collaboration. Managers now have the best opportunity to promote equally women and men for leading roles, because of their inherent ability to adapt easily. Grate companies and institutions as stated earlier, showed that change is possible only when we are aware of the problem and realize the importance of the issue. The modifications that managers will implement to their companies will set strong fundamentals to help women ‘negotiate the labyrinth’, in order to find their way through it and balance work with family, in order to complete Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. More focused research on genders and leadership needs to take place, in order to make connections between them and give answers. However, the gap will only close, when we will focus first of all on closing the gap at home (Northouse”,2016) and educate ourselves on sensitive issues.

Personal reflection.

For the first project, as a team, we were lucky enough to share the same ethics. All the team members made clear that we had zero tolerance when it came to sexual harassment in the workplace, supporting both men and women. Most important we managed to maintain what Resnik (2015) calls, “ethical norms in research”. These include honesty, being true to the reports and statistics found, being objective, where we minimized bias and our self-deception and social responsibility, offering solutions for the social good.

The process and the steps for our work were very clear from the first moment. We managed to put into action our Belbin team roles. Roles that we did not take into consideration at first but only at the end of the work. The main characteristics that helped the most, in order to complete the presentation where the “shaper”, which organized the outline of the work, the “monitor evaluator”, who had the ability to evaluate our research and the “complete finisher” was the person that managed all the small details in order to reach a close level to perfection (Belbin, 2010).

On a personal level, I managed to come across with one of the biggest weaknesses that I had, which was my lack of motivation. Because of that, I ended up with a small part of the task, which I found unfair for the rest of my team members. Awareness of the problem is the first step towards behavioural change. Being open to feedback, either that is from ourselves, or from other team members, is what leads to the acknowledgment of our strengths. This is the first step in order to create a plan for improvement (Parker, 2008). Having my action plan in mind, in order to improve my performance, I took into consideration my strengths. I know that my skills when it comes to creating a presentation are on a very high level, so I made the best possible presentation, trying to provide a good visual experience for our audience, and of course, eliminate the inequality in the task separation.

The second project was more concentrated on technical contemporary issues. The zero-hour contracts made an impression to us since it is a topic where we could find advantages and disadvantages, so the level of interaction and discussion was higher than the first one. During that work, I tried to follow my action plan, by enriching my participation from the beginning and remind myself to stay focused on our goal, which was to deliver a good presentation. The separation of the tasks was fair, and we managed to keep harmony and motivation at a better standard from the first one.

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For both projects, the lack of time was the biggest problem. As Stanley (2004) said, time is the most valuable commodity in the world, it cannot be replaced, and it is easily wasted. That is why it is important to plan ahead, and even include in those plans the unexpected. Having in mind this obstacle, we maintained continuous communication, which is an important fundamental of teamwork, since eliminates frustration, stress, and working together is more pleasant creating a friendly environment. In such environments, it is natural to expect a positive impact on the performance (Souza, Vieira, Citation, Costa, & Campos, 2016). Through the projects assigned to us, we were given the opportunity to understand personal strengths that need improvement, and weaknesses that have to be eliminated. I learned that in most cases I will be the one motivating myself, so in my long-term action plan, my first priority will be to develop that ability.


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First project:

Second project:

Representing the contemporary issue.

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