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Women Pursuing Leadership:obstacles Verses Reality and Why Talented Women Thrive to Be on Top

Essay by   •  April 28, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  5,393 Words (22 Pages)  •  981 Views

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Abstract

This paper explores three published books that discuss the research and results conducted on women and leadership and the many challenges they continue to face in their pursuit of the top floor. One book discusses the theory that the metaphor of the "glass ceiling" no longer exists. Women are forced to find their way through the contemporary metaphor of the "labyrinth" (Eagly and Carli, 2007). There is no longer a straight line to the top and more women are struggling to find their way through the maze. Another book focuses on the perceptions that women are learning the necessary skills in their home lives and work experience that are allowing them to become better leaders in the workforce. For a while there was an emphasis on women possessing certain male traits in order for them to be great leaders. A role model is a person who serves as a model in a particular behavioral or social role, and a mentor as a trusted counselor or advisor in an occupational or professional setting. Today, mentors play an important part in developing our future leaders and woman still get the short end of the stick in this area. This is another hurdle for women in trying to reach the leadership role. This paper examines the challenges, perceptions and obstacles that women are currently facing as well as some possible solutions to level out the playing field.

The authors are examining theories as to why women have been held back from advancing in the workplace. Many people today still ignore the fact that real barriers do exist today. Women still find that they are being stereotyped and it is keeping them from obtaining high level positions. Unlike men, women are forced to strategize and resolve obstacles in order to realize their leadership goals. One area that is lacking for women is the concept of having a mentor or advocate to vouch for their competency. There are currently 18 women CEO's as of January 1, 2012 that are running "Fortune 500" companies translates to only 3%. Previously there have not been more than 16 female CEO's at "Fortune 500" firms at the same time (Petrecca, 2011). Progress is being made but women are still watching men rise above them in management and leadership positions and they are unable to achieve the same outcome.

It is almost incomprehensible to believe that today, in the year 2012, women are still being perceived as less capable of handling positions of leadership. It should not be of any surprise that there are many theories and rationales as to why this is. Women have come a long away especially in fields predominantly dominated by men. Research is showing that women today are earning almost 57 percent of the bachelor's degrees and 59 percent of the master's degrees and 48 percent of the PhDs (Eagly and Carli 2007, p. 15). I am sure many would feel that is because women are not working in the higher leadership capacities and they are turning to education to help them further their careers. These changes, especially in advanced degrees, reflect extraordinary shifts in social patterns. When taking into account people of all ages combined, the percentage of men with bachelor's degrees still slightly exceeds that of women in the United States, but the trend continues to shift in favor of women (Eagly et al., 2007, p. 15).

The "glass ceiling," does it still exist or is it still even relevant metaphor? The term "glass ceiling" was coined from a Wall Street Journal article in 1986. This metaphor came to imply that women like their male counterparts have the same access to mid-level positions within the corporate structure. Well, that is not exactly the case. In fact, many tend to see the "glass ceiling" as a true barrier and women tend to hit it much earlier in their careers then men.

While researching this topic, I found it very interesting to understand what some other schools of thought are regarding women and being able to define their roles under the leadership umbrella. Looking at a new metaphor that is being called the "labyrinth" re-defines the path that women take to get to the top. The straight line really does not exist. The "labyrinth captures the varied challenges confronting women as they travel, often on indirect paths, sometimes through alien territory on their way to leadership (Eagly et al., 2007, p. 1).

The labyrinth metaphor is seen as a contemporary symbol, which symbolizes a journey towards a specific goal that truly is worth achieving. There is an understanding that the goals are attainable with definite obstacles but should not be seen as discouraging. Men as a group still earn higher wages and obtain promotions much faster during their careers. In 2005, women who were employed full time earned 81 cents for every dollar that men earned (Eagly et al., 2007). Why would this be? Is it not obvious? Many economists and sociologists have been attempting to find the answer. Some attribute it to the fact that men seem to have fewer family demands in the traditional role and they have the ability to have longer careers then women. One school of thought was that men are able to gain superior qualifications. This thought did not differentiate between on the job training or higher level of education as it pertains to superior qualifications.

Today, discrimination is not as obvious which sounds like we have made a lot of progress. The interesting fact is many people who are discriminating against women or even the women who are the perceived targets have no idea it is even happening. The reason for this is a form of "gender stereotyping." Status differences between the sex's foster expectations that men are controlling, assertive and directive while women are supportive, sympathetic and cooperative. These expectations arise from people's everyday observations of inequality between individual men and women (Eagly et al., 2007). One positive observation is that stereotypes about women are often positive, but can be a hindrance in the area involving women taking charge and being a leader.

Two connotations predominate in people's association about women and men: the communal and agentic. Communal (female) associations convey a concern with a compassionate treatment of others. In contrast, agentic (male) associations convey assertion and control (Eagly et al., 2007, p. 86). These associations about agency and communion form the basis of gender stereotypes (Eagly et al., 2007, p. 86).

With these stereotypes we have been discussing women, especially those in leadership positions often find themselves in an unresolvable dilemma. If they are highly "communal" they may be perceived as not being "agentic"

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