Women in Leadership
We will see socio-cultural and attitudinal factors impeding women access to leadership
Social- Cultural Factors
Social cultural factors have continued to enforce unjustified biases and stereotypes. The theory on cognitive biases, uncovered the effect of other cognitive biases which means that people are more likely to notice and recall information that confirms their prior stereotypes than information that contradicts it. As such, dissonant data is filtered out. A common example of this socio-cultural bias in the workplace is seen when a single female professional gets married and begins a family. Employers will usually assume that she will now give her family responsibilities more priority than the job at hand. As a result, they will remember the times she left early or worked from home due to a critical family commitment as opposed to recalling the times she worked longer hours than usual and exceeded the work expectation.
Attitudinal factors are mainly based on gender stereotypes. When the female leader role is traditionally perceived to be a male role, she is deemed inconsistent with an effective leader’s attributes and negative preconceptions occur. The team culture in many organisational settings is averse to women exercising extensive authority that involves the power to make decisions. Conventional assumptions about the gender differences between men and women have been used as a fact rather than opinion. This has impeded women from taking leadership opportunities proactively and positively.
The traditional leadership model was based on men due to the historical context whereby Leadership was seen in the art of war and naturally was viewed from masculine perspectives. Masculine traits included assertiveness, decisiveness and strategic thinking, have been and continue to be associated with good leadership.
On the other hand, feminine leaders have been viewed as sensitive, thoughtful, empathetic, approachable, autonomous, participative, fostering growth and development. Feminine leadership styles provide qualities such as being collaborative, inclusive, democratic and participative. Female leadership styles are also credited with effectively managing and inspiring performance and possessing high levels of cultural competence These attitudes as seen in research outcomes have had an impact in placing labels on women leaders and have resulted in a negative connotation and bias towards women in leadership. This view is convergent with several experiences of women in leadership in the public domain.
The legacy of traditional stereotypes remains and recent research in the United States suggests that two co-existing and complementary forms of sexism exist. We describe these as benevolent and hostile sexism which are at the root of the trade-off between competence and likeability. Benevolent sexism is a subjectively favourable chivalrous ideology that offers protection and affection to women based on the premise that they are weaker and need the support. It is used to women who conform to traditional gender role expectations. Hostile sexism was defined as antipathy towards women who challenge the status quo.