Women\' trek through the labyrinth Essay

Women Trek Through The Labyrinth Term paper

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Unfair practices, such as denying opportunities for employment or career advancement based on gender are illegal, yet despite decades of equal opportunity, women are still missing in action when it comes to occupying senior management positions. Historically, the lack of women in leadership positions has been commonly attributed to the “glass ceiling,” a term coined in the mid-1980s to explain the invisible barrier in place to prevent experienced and qualified women from reaching the top. However, scholars such as Alice Eagly and Linda Carli (2007) argue that the glass ceiling no longer adequately portrays reality. According to them, what is really going on is that this outmoded metaphor has been replaced by the labyrinth metaphor. The labyrinth describes conscious and unconscious barriers that stand in the way of women’s advancement. When women do make it to the centre of the labyrinth, they are usually placed in a precarious leadership position, known as the glass cliff - a phenomenon that may keep many women from wanting to reach the top. There is a fear that if those women at the very top fail, they do not just fail themselves, but they fail all women (Ryan and Haslam, 2007). Because they dread the consequences of failure, they may be happy to leave the pioneering to others. Of course, if the majority of women react in this manner, it can have devastating effects on women’s advancement. However, times are changing and I argue that young women need to stay the course and instead of trying to learn to play the “game” like a male would, they need to embrace the leadership skills they naturally possess. Historical Perspective Reviewing the past is significant when trying to make sense of the present. Therefore, we must ask ourselves why, this late in the twenty-first century, is a male-dominated culture still so deeply embedded in our nation? Firstly, it is necessary to examine the stereotypical beliefs that existed and still exist, to a large extent, with regard to women and leadership. Many earlier theories postulated that men were more natural leaders, women did not want to lead, and men were more suited to top leadership positions because of their aggressiveness, a trait women simply did not possess. It was an overall belief by those that studied leadership that women lacked the masculine personality traits that would help them get ahead. These beliefs remain essentially influential for women in the military. While women have always served in the military, it was not until the 1970s, when women began to flood the job market that the military realized it was lagging behind Canadian society. Scholars began to ask, for the first time, could women lead? This led researchers to examine the style differences between men’s and women’s leadership. Perhaps the most pertinent question broached was why women were so blatantly underrepresented in high level leadership positions. Documents such as the 1970 report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women tried to answer those questions and made recommendations toward creating equitable work environments for women. Some of the recommendations included standardization of the enrolment process, equal pay and benefits, the right to join the CAF if they were married, and the right to continue to serve as a member of the CAF if they became pregnant (Davis, 2007 ;Haevens, 2012). Following on the heels of this Commission were the trials for Service Women in Non-Traditional Environments and Roles (SWINTER) trials (Davis, 2007). The SWINTER trials explored the effect of women’s employment on operational effectiveness in occupations that were previously restricted to males only. The trials lasted until 1986, when the Canadian Human Rights Commission decreed that all occupations, including combat roles, would be open to females, with the exception of service on submarines, which came in 2000. The Department of National Defence was given a decade to complete gender integration (Davis, 2007). Despite the 1987 ground-breaking decision to fully integrate women into the CAF, gender stereotyping was still alive and well 24 years later. It was not until 2011, that the CAF finally discontinued the “Special Selection” process for Staff College (Gray, 2008). Attendance at Staff College is highly competitive as there are only 100 seats for the one year long course designed for those (Majors and lieutenant-colonels) that have been earmarked to fill key operational command and senior staff positions (Gray, 2008). These officers are chosen to attend primarily from their ranking on annual merit boards and their performance evaluation reports, and only 40% of the spots are allocated to non-operational occupations. Five additional seats were allotted to females who did not gain entry on their own merit. This special selection process was put in place by the CAF to “compensate for the past wrongs” (Gray, 2008) and became known by the derogatory term “the pink seats” (Gray, 2008). This only served to enhance the perception that women did not possess the traits necessary to lead at that level. More disturbing is that even today, if the Canadian public, women included, were asked to describe a soldier the image they would conjure up in their minds would be of a male. This is a sad reality, considering women have served in militaries since 1885 (Davis, 2007). Women’s Movement in Current Labour Force Despite a steady increase in overall female labour force participation, “Statistics Canada data from 1987 to 2009 revealed that the proportion of women in senior management positions has virtually flat-lined over the past two decades” (Wohlbold and Chenier, 2011, p. 3). The August 2011 Report from the Conference Board of Canada revealed that over the past two decades, women have increased their presence and now hold 48 percent of all occupations in the Canadian labour force. Yet, in 2009, there were twice as many men (56,200) than there were women (26,000) in senior management positions (Wohlbold and Chenier, 2011). This would suggest that there is a considerable amount of bias against female leaders. Since the Canadian Forces is a cross section of society, it would be natural to assume the same results. Numbers of women soldiers have also stagnated since the early 2000s, and currently sit at 12.67 percent, a far cry from the 20 percent that was predicted in the early 1990s (Forces.ca). Are these low numbers caused by the so-called glass ceiling? Glass Ceiling or Labyrinth – You be the Judge Historically, the lack of female representation at the top ranks was attributed to the “glass ceiling.” The metaphor was used to explain the invisible barrier that women “smashed their heads into” when they tried to reach the “box seats” of big business. Many theorists claimed the glass ceiling was a result of the existence of male traditions and invisible rules, which kept women out of the leadership arena. Since civilian corporations have appointed women as Corporate Executive Officers (CEO), Corporate Finance Officers (CFO), and Corporate Operations Officers (COO), and the military has promoted females to positions of Command Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) and General Officers/Flag Officers (GOFO) it would seem only natural to assume that the glass ceiling has been shattered – but it turns out that it was never a glass ceiling, but rather a labyrinth that women had to execute (Eagly and Carli, 2007). A labyrinth conveys the idea of a journey through a structure of interconnected passages that is difficult to navigate, and one often gets lost at various career and life stages (Eagly and Carli, 2007). There is no doubt that passageways are open for women who aspire to lead at the highest levels ;it is just a matter of executing the twists and turns and successfully running the obstacle course to get to the finish line – the centre of the labyrinth. The interesting difference between the two metaphors - glass ceiling and labyrinth - is that while the glass ceiling provided complete exclusion, the labyrinth provides a glimmer of hope. However, if women are not prepared to battle conflicting gender roles and leadership expectations, juggle family responsibilities, engage in self-promotion, participate more fully in mentoring and networking, and adjust the manner in which they communicate, they may find the trek to the centre of the labyrinth too difficult to manage. The labyrinth metaphor allows us to see the influence of these factors that get lost when we oversimplify the concept of a glass ceiling. Contemporary Conditions of the Labyrinth One of the more common arguments stemming from women’s poor showing in the leadership arena stems from notions that men were born to be leaders. Inherently, the thinking goes, they are better at leadership than women, simply because they are male. Despite all the affirmative action in-roads that have been made, masculinity is still viewed as the key leadership characteristic, especially in a military context. King (2013) points out that sociological studies Since the end of WWII have highlighted the “centrality of masculinity to military performance” (p. 6), thus masculinity was a key motivating factor used to encourage soldier solidarity, which in turn proved a soldier’s manhood (King, 2013). While these bonds of male friendship were thought to encourage soldiers to fight - and are still encouraged today - scholars have discovered that training and professional competence are increasingly more important than male friendships (King, 2013). Soldiers, regardless of whether they are male or female, are accepted into the fold based on the professional ability, and as such, more emphasis is placed on “task cohesion, over personalized social cohesion” (King, 2013, p. 7). This would suggest that gender becomes less relevant as professional competence is prioritized. However, it would be ludicrous to deny that gender discrimination has ceased. As Cynthia Cockburn claimed in her book Brothers: Male Dominance and Technological Change “men are not men in the company of women…The presence of a woman, one woman, any woman is enough to destroy the mystique that women could not do the work and its corollary, that men must be superior because they can” (as cited in King, 2013, p. 8). Thus, according to this paradigm, women, especially those ascending to very senior levels, would upset the natural balance. After all, if running the institution is a “man’s job,” and that job is given to a woman, it can no longer be used as a sign of manhood. As we can see society has specific gender role beliefs for men and women. Barriers – Gender Roles Gender role beliefs are described as being “both descriptive and prescriptive,” (Eagly, 2009, p. 645) such that they tell us both what men and women usually do and what they should do. Descriptive roles help us understand what is typical for each gender, especially when the situation is ripe with confusion. People will ascribe to “sex-typical behaviours” (Eagly, 2009, p. 645) when confronted with ambiguity. Conversely, prescriptive roles are behaviours that are considered okay for that specific sex. According to Eagly and colleagues, males will typically be described as possessing agentic traits, while women are thought to be communal (Eagly, 2009). At a very young age, children have a clear understanding of expected behaviours for their genders (Eddleston, Veiga and Powell, 2006). Eagly, Johannesen-Schmidt, and Van Engen (2003) point out that the stereotypical roles that are played out in childhood will influence an adult’s behaviours and characteristics, including their interpersonal and leadership style. Indeed, subconsciously, these stereotypical gender roles become guiding principles for workplace conduct. Within an organizational context, agentic traits, which are associated with males, are characterized by aggression, ambition, domination, self-confidence, and force. These specific traits are thought to be indicative of an effective leader as opposed to communal traits, which are characterized by affection, helpfulness, friendliness, kindness, and sympathy (Eagly and Carli, 2007). Communal traits are commonly associated with women. Much of the research to date has indicated that the prototypical leader possesses more agentic than communal traits, thus the perception of “role incompatibility has detrimental effects for women with respect to leadership effectiveness” (Eagly et al., 1995, as cited by Rosette and Tost, 2010, p. 221). There is no getting around this, because an individual’s gender is a very noticeable feature, which automatically leads to how we classify people and their behaviours (McCann, Ostrom, Tyner, and Mitchell, 1985). Therefore, because these views of masculinity and leadership are widely held, a “natural bias” forms against women. Automatically, they are seen as a poor fit for leadership. This was proven in a recent study by the Pew Research Centre, Men or Women: Who’s the Better Leader, the results of which emphasized these stereotypes. According to this study, “15 percent of Americans say the scarcity of women in top business positions is primarily due to the fact that women are innately not tough enough for business” (Wohlbold and Chenier, 2011, p. 9). Bass and Avolio (1994) dispute this assumption. These authors contend that the trend toward high-involvement work teams, consensus decision-making, and empowerment should benefit women, since these factors are more conducive to their leadership styles. Yet, they recognize that there is a perceived inharmoniousness between the female gender role and leadership roles, which may be holding women back. In Duehr and Bono’s (2006) study it was revealed that today’s managers rate women and other males more similarly than they did 15 to 30 years ago. This was great news, except that the second part of the study indicated that male students today hold gender stereotypes very similar to those held by male managers 15 years ago. Double Binds Recognizing that society still holds differing perceptions of male and female behaviours, Eagly and Karau (2002) proposed their role congruity theory. Their theory states that “a potential for prejudice exists when social perceivers hold a stereotype about a social group that is incongruent with the attributes that are thought to be required for success in certain classes of social role” (Eagly and Karau, 2002, p. 574). As a result, women experience a “double bind” or more simply a “Catch 22” situation. In their article Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t, Catalyst (2007) defined a double bind as follows: A double bind is defined as a psychological impasse created when contradictory demands are made of an individual…so that no matter which directive is followed, the response will be construed as incorrect. Jamieson, (1995) points out that “throughout history, double binds have been used by those in power to oppress those without power, and most often the victims were women” (as cited in Oakley, 2000, p. 324). If women act in ways that are consistent with their gender stereotype (communal), they are viewed as being too soft and by default less competent. When their actions are inconsistent with their gender stereotype, they are often criticized for being too agentic ;rarely is a woman’s leadership style considered just right. This double bind creates additional hardships for women leaders – men do not suffer the same fate. To highlight this, Brescoll and Uhlmann (2008) examined the relationship among anger, gender and status conferral. Their results revealed that women were afforded lower status if they expressed anger and their emotional outbursts were consistently attributed to internal characteristics, such as being out of control. On the other hand, men who lost their temper and expressed outward anger were not afforded a lower status. Their emotional outbursts were attributed to external circumstances. Shields (2002, 2005) and Tiedens (2001) suggest that displays of anger tend to heighten the status of men, whereas for women, expressions of anger
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