Think manager, think male. The notion that only males possessed the qualities for a manager was first publicized in the 1970s by Dr. Virginia Schein. More than half a century later research regularly reminds us that people still think manager – think male. This is so even though study after study shows that most of the qualities employees find attractive in a leader are commonly associated with female leaders, and just as many studies show that women and men are equally effective as leaders. But, none of this matters, if men are overwhelming selected for positions of leadership because people think leader and reflexively think man.
It’s amazing how strong the forces have been to perpetuate the thought that managers are men. It has though been passed on for centuries. Women have so many inherently amazing qualities to lead, but they have been discounted and even denigrated just because women are not thought of as leaders. Men are assertive, women with the same qualities are described with the B word. Men are decisive, women are dictators. He takes charge, she’s a ball breaker. He’s a family man, she’s taken the Mommy track. He’s perceptive, she’s sensitive. He develops talent, she’s a nurturer. He’s a risk taker, she’s reckless. He’s a good communicator, she never shuts up. He’s competent and this makes him likable. She’s competent, and this makes her unlikable.
With so many double standards in the workplace, it’s no wonder so many women are opting to stay at home after graduating from college and a short spell in the labor force. Most young women come into the workforce and think they will encounter a meritocracy that allows them to rise to the top. Older women are no longer naïve. Once realities set in that in spite of legislation and endless commitments to equality, women in the workforce face biases aplenty. Disillusionment sets in.
It shouldn’t. The reality is that women are unprepared for many of the challenges they face in the workplace. The biggest challenge is silent sexism. It’s an unconscious preference for men in positions of leadership. Women need to learn how to be aware of its presence and how to neutralize it.
Women have so much to offer. Studies show that more women in leadership leads to better financial performance, more innovation, higher qualities of life, less conflict, and less racism. Women have demonstrated that they are inherently better at building relationships, they are better listeners, they have higher levels of honesty and integrity, they are better executors, they are less hierarchical, less aggressive, and they are generally better people persons. Women have qualities that can make them superior leaders.
Women are equal to the job of leading, but they must be seen as equal to the job. This means learning how to take charge of silent sexism.
You can read more about unconscious bias and women in leadership on my blog posts here, especially these: