Are Women’s Leadership Assumptions Holding Them Back

There has been a lot of discussion about the stereotypes contributing to the lack of women in the c-suite. But one of the biggest obstacles could be their own assumptions on what path they’re supposed to take.

While much has been written about the stereotypes propping up the glass ceiling, most gender difference research has focused upon the assumptions made about women by organisations and their (predominantly male) leaders.

What is less acknowledged is the limiting assumptions women place on themselves. Research  suggests that when all leadership contexts are considered, men and women do not differ in perceived leadership effectiveness. In fact, in some contexts women are rated as significantly more effective than men. However when it comes to self-assessment, men rate themselves as significantly more effective than women do. One of the greatest hindrances is women’s assumptions that they have to make choices and follow a specific career route if they are to take on senior leadership roles. The idea they must choose between a family or a career seems to be the biggest obstacle.

Accepting alternative career paths

When men enter the workforce with the goal of leadership, they take a very rigid and linear path. They make their way up the career ladder systematically, ensuring they meet the right people, take the right jobs (positions like COO), complete the right MBA and forge the right networks. Women on the other hand often expect their career to be temporarily interrupted at intervals by other life objectives or obligations; this might be motherhood, a husband’s career, or family commitments to children or aging parents. There is the assumption that hiatuses will limit their leadership potential and their work would be more effective and senior positions easier to come by if their career is cumulative and uninterrupted.

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