15

Oct2015

The Overpowering grip of gender stereotypical bias

In the cut-throat corporate world, confidence is often mistakenly equated with competence. It has been observed that men who exude confidence and charisma are more likely to be selected for positions of leadership, even  though a female counterpart may be equally competent (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2013).

Self-confidence also plays a part in why tall men are evaluated more favourably and appear to have a faster career progression and higher earnings, although as we all know, tallness has no connection with competence (Blaker et al, 2013).

This overpowering grip of gender stereotypical bias often leads organizations and co-workers to underestimate the latent talent ofwoman leaders.So if the veneer of confidence and poise is so important at the leadership level, should women consciously work on exuding supreme confidence to better their chances of climbing the hierarchy?

Possibly not, if the concept of double bind is to believed: studies have shown that if women display stereotypically ‘male-like’ characteristics to a great extent, then this can have an adverse impact on how they are perceived as a leader. So, for example, a male manager expressing anger as an emotion in the workplace may be respected, while a woman manager expressing the same emotion is perceived to be ‘not in control.’ This double bind phenomenon is well summarised in the Catalyst 2007 report, which explains why men often become ‘default leaders’ (Report: ‘Damned or Doomed--Catalyst Study on Gender Stereotyping at Work Uncovers Double-Bind Dilemmas for Women’).

In other words, women who exude more ‘feminine characteristics’ such as one who nurtures team members, is often liked by her colleagues, while those who exemplify more stereotypical male characteristics such as ambition or assertiveness, may be respected but not liked. Trying to find a path in between is like a tightrope walk between your qualities and between expectations that others have around you.

Said Shefali, “I have always been a tomboy. I know I am not at all feminine in my outlook, and am known at the workplace for being hell-bent on getting things done. I may not be popular, but I am a die-hard performer. I would want people to respect me for being an efficient worker.”

This heavy bias towards hiring men in leadership roles appears to be particularly strong in India:As per the Catalyst’s latest 2015 research report,it seems that even well-intended, seemingly inclusive corporate initiatives have had little impact when it comes to women and leadership roles. Men are still three times more likely to be hired and promoted than women at every level. It is also worrying to note that the rate of attrition of women is the highest at the executive level (28%), and that this figure is globally one of the highest.

Said Taniya, “I couldn’t believe it when my male colleague was promoted, even though my performance has been consistently been better than his. I am also much more popular with my team members and hardly have any attrition, whereas in his team the level of attrition is quite high.”

So what can you as a woman aspiring for a leadership position do to find a middle path between displaying feminine qualities and also exuding confidence? In her next article Payal Kumar will share some tipson how women can develop leadership presence.

  • Written byPayal Kumar

    Payal Kumar has worked in senior managerial positions in the higher education sector and in the corporate sector in India, including as Registrar and Professor at a university in north India, and earlier to this as Vice President Editorial and Production, SAGE India Publications Pvt Ltd. Amongst her scholarly publications, she has published a book on Indian women leadership with Palgrave-Macmillan She can be contacted at payalk1@gmail.com

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