Think for a moment about what a CEO of a Fortune 500 company looks like. If you’re like most of America, you pictured an older, white male, suited up and likely named John.
It turns out there’s good reason why this is what a CEO is pictured as. According to the New York Times, there are more male CEO’s named John than all female CEO’s combined. There are more David’s too.
In 2014, Pew Research reported that only 5.2% of Fortune 500 companies were led by women. The ratio is no better among Fortune 1000 companies at 5.4%.
Women are still missing from most senior leadership positions. (Credit: Pexels.com).
The small percentage of women in leadership should come as no surprise to anyone in the corporate world today, but what should shock you has more to do with women’s presence and attainment.
Women are earning college degrees far more frequently than men. Pew Research stated that, “By 2013, 37% of women ages 25 to 29 had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30% of men in the same age range.”
It doesn’t stop there. Women outpace men in attainment of Master of Business Administration degrees as well. MBA degrees are traditionally pursued to prepare oneself for senior leadership.
Women’s attainment in education is not translating into achievement in the workplace. The change in education attainment occurred in the 1990s, meaning that women have been outpacing men for about 20 years, with little progress to show in positions of senior leadership.
Perhaps women aren’t attaining high leadership roles because there’s too much they have to sacrifice in order to get there. “The desire of work and life balance is often unattainable if a woman wants to reach the top,” said Caroline Stokes, Executive Headhunter and Executive Coach at Forward, a talent solutions company for innovation leaders. “When going for the top, in whatever field, decisions need to be made on what the priorities are and what will take second place at various stages of the career between 18-25, 26-35, 36-45 and so on. We are told we can have it all but generally if you want to have a leadership role the woman needs to make some tough decisions on what her priorities and to go for it.”
Stay at home moms cannot be used as an excuse for the lack of women at the highest levels. As of November 2014, women made up 47%, nearly half, of the American workforce. There’s no lack of female presence in offices around the country.
PricewaterhouseCoopers found that women were hired at the same ratio as men into entry-level roles. Somewhere between assistant and CEO, women are lost in the mix. The same PwC study found that women are voluntarily terminated at a two or three times faster rate than men once they’ve attained experienced points in their career, usually capping around senior manager level.
We know that somewhere beyond the senior manager level, women are lost in the mix of advancing their careers. Causes for this trend are a lack of mentors or examples to follow, higher standards for advancement among women, and gender stereotyping.
Lack of Female Mentors
With so few women currently in leadership roles, women trying to climb the ranks find it difficult to find relatable examples to model their career on. Further, when they search for mentors that can take them under their wing and pave a path to the top, they find that men can be more comfortable mentoring lower level employees that are much like themselves.
In a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Martha Frase-Blunt explains this as the ‘mini-me’ syndrome. The idea is that leadership has functioned well as it is, so why change it? Male leaders can often look for mentees that look and act much like themselves. To be fair, this is often true of female leaders as well, but there are not enough women in high positions to cause the same problem with women.
In order to bring about change, today’s leaders need to consciously identify biases when they occur and seek high performing individuals that are very unlike themselves to offer a hand up to.
Women Are Held To Higher Standards
A study conducted by Corinne Moss-Racusin, a social psychologist at Skidmore College, found that gender biases are alive and thriving among hiring in the American workforce today.
The study consisted of polling hiring managers for a position, offering one of two candidates randomly to each person participating. The qualifications on the resume were the same. The only difference was that one resume belonged to John and the other to Jennifer.
The hiring managers were less likely to recommend hiring Jennifer and would offer her $4,000 (13%) less than John, despite both having the exact same qualifications for the role.
In addition to the Skidmore College study, Pew Research reported that 52% of women said the reason there are not more female leaders is because they are held to higher standards than men.
These are two of many examples that show women are working harder for less money and measured on higher standards than men are. Until performance and advancement measurements are modified to make the marker gender blind, women are likely to continue falling short of leadership positions, simply because of gender bias.
Catalyst released a study appropriately titled, “Women Take Care, Men Take Charge”, that discussed how gender stereotyping hinders the growth of female leaders. The study explored stereotypes assigned with each gender.
Women are expected to be appreciative, emotional, friendly, mild, sensitive, and warm. Men are expected to be dominant, achievement-oriented, aggressive, self-confident, and unemotional.
Generally held beliefs about leadership traits are that they often include ambitious, driven, dominant, confident, and thick-skinned.
Since common leadership traits align more often with male stereotypes, the general public is more likely to prefer a male leader over a female leader. Further, if a woman exhibits leadership traits that are inconsistent with her gender, peers judge her harsher than when she acts in line with her gender stereotypes.
When a woman displays more dominant, self-confident, and forward behaviors, they are more likely to be viewed as bossy, mean, or unlikable.
There’s clearly a shortage of women in leadership roles among corporations and much of the reason why is unfortunately held in subconscious beliefs. Male and female leaders can change the tide by recognizing ‘mini-me syndrome’, evening the standards used for leadership measurement and calling out gender stereotypes when presented in leadership assessments.
This article was written by Kaytie Zimmerman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.