Tag Archives: Women

Glass ceiling or labyrinth? Reexamining the gender gap at the top

By Kevin R. Betts

I was recently asked to give a talk in an organizational psychology course about the gender gap in leadership positions. In determining the approach I would take for this talk, I asked several colleagues for their thoughts on the issue. The near immediate response from many of them was stated directly, “The glass ceiling!” Ostensibly, an invisible barrier referred to as a glass ceiling prevents women from securing positions of power. I imagine that this metaphor resonates with many readers as well. Ever since the Wall Street Journal’s Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt coined this term in 1986, perceptions of a glass ceiling have been central to the public’s understanding of gender inequality in the workplace. But how accurate is this metaphor today?

Emerging evidence now suggests that the glass ceiling metaphor inadequately depicts the experiences of women in the workforce (Eagly & Carli, 2007). For example, the glass ceiling metaphor implies the presence of an impenetrable barrier to top leadership positions. Today, it is clear that this barrier is no longer impenetrable. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi serve as examples of women at the top (Hoyt, 2010). Additionally, the glass ceiling metaphor leaves challenges faced by women at lower- and midlevel positions unaccounted for. Women do not progress through the ranks unimpeded before reaching these top positions. Rather, they face a series of challenges and problems along the way. Considering these limitations, Eagly and Carli (2007) have proposed that the challenges faced by women in the workforce can be better understood through the metaphor of a labyrinth. Consistent with traditional uses of the term, women aspiring to attain top leadership positions must navigate routes that are full of twists and turns. Some problems encountered within the labyrinth include prejudice, resistance to women’s leadership, issues of leadership style, demands of family life, and underinvestment in social capital. Although certainly more complex, the metaphor of a labyrinth seems to better depict challenges faced by working women today.

One can also better understand how to address the leadership gender gap using the metaphor of a labyrinth. If resistance toward women’s leadership is a primary obstacle, then interventions should target attitudes of those who are resistant to women’s leadership. If demands of family life are deemed problematic, then interventions might target the nature of relationships at home. As obstacles are identified and overcome, the leadership gender gap can be expected to shrink at a faster and faster rate.

Read more:

Where is the female Steve Jobs? (New York Times)

Glass ceiling not the obstacle it was (Yuma Sun)

Eagly, A.H., & Carli, L.L. (2007). Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women become Leaders. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Hoyt, C.L. (2010). Women, men, and leadership: Exploring the gender gap at the top. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/7, 484-498.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Psychology, rape and the attribution of responsibility

The recent ‘Wake Up To Rape’ report by Havens rape centres in London found ‘that more than half of women believe victims share the blame for what happens’. This provides an alarming example of the self-serving attributional phenomenon – attribution of responsibility (Weiner, 1995). In short, some social psychologists believe that people hold on to the notion of a ‘just world’ (Lerner, 1977). That is, good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. In this view of the world, sits the ‘illusion of control’ (Langer, 1975). In other words, people believe they and others are in control of their own lives and destinies. What happens to them therefore, is to a large extent their own doing. Unfortunately, this belief also extends to victims of crimes in which people frequently hold them accountable for their own misfortunes. Miller and Porter (1983) also suggest that victims draw on the notion of the ‘just world’ to account for their victimization. Havens rape centres report provides some evidence of a ‘gendered’ self-blame. Of those women questioned, over 50% suggested the victim should ‘share the blame’. The reasons women cited for this were, ‘wearing provocative clothes’ and ‘engaging in conversation in a bar or accepting a drink’. Ironically, by victims attributing some responsibility on themselves, they reinstate the ‘illusion of control’ (Hogg and Vaughan, 2005).

Rape Crisis – Stats

Fawcett Society

1 in 4 women admit to being a ‘victim of rape’

Culture, Gender, and Men’s Intimate Partner Violence

‘Teen girls abused by boyfriends warns NSPCC’: Standardised Relational Pairs and Membership Categorisation Analysis.

Women with hairy legs – an oxymoron?

The Daily Telegraph (and other media channels) reported that the actress Mo’Nique caused quite a stir at the Golden Globe Awards, not only for winning an award, but also for her ‘fashion faux pas’. That is, she had hairy legs. Such reactions tell us something about gendered identities and specifically about cultural notions of what is means to be a woman.

The negotiation and representation of women’s identities centre around what is called ‘emphasized femininity’ (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). That is ‘emphasized femininity’ is a normative femininity, which is oriented to accommodating the interests and needs of men. It presents as the current most honored way of being a woman, even though most women do not enact it. However all women are required to position themselves, and are positioned by others, in relation to this ideal form (Giddens, 2009). Specific practices associated with ‘emphasized femininity’ include presenting oneself as ‘sexually attractive’ by being ‘well-groomed’. In other words, removing body hair other than on the head (and perhaps the genitalia). Those that fail to conform to this norm tend to be held accountable.

Hairy moment for Golden Globes winner

Emphasized femininity

Femininity and Feminine Values

Mothers, Sex Tapes and Gender Morality

Coleen NolanColeen Nolan’s recent televised revelation that she made a sex tape provides an interesting example of how talk and discourse is saturated with moral work. Her self-confession allowed for a host of consequential moral assumptions to be made about her making of a sex tape. These assumptions rest on the known-in-common attributes that are associated with gender categories. The apparent ‘shock’ experienced by her sons, panel and audience about the revelation allows us to see her actions as a ‘breach’ to the common-sense cultural knowledge about how ‘moral types of women’ (e.g. mothers) should behave.

Wowk’s (1984) research from a murder suspect interrogation and Stokoe’s (2003) neighbour disputes research provide interesting examples of this moral accountability in practice. Their data revealed that peoples’ perceptions of morality, in relation to women, were aligned with specific activities and characteristics for ‘good mothers’ (e.g. ‘sexually discreet’, ‘mother-as-childcarer’) and ‘bad mothers’ (e.g. ‘being overtly sexual’, ‘swearing’). They also found that moral judgments were often non-explicit and smuggled in through indirect references to illicit behaviour in order to subtly police moral boundaries. Coleen’s sons, the panel and the audience therefore, by their very (re)actions, can be seen to be unavoidably engaged in producing and sustaining a gendered moral order out of the particulars provided by Coleen.
square-eyeLoose Women – Coleen Nolan

square-eyeColeen Nolan shocks the Loose Women TV audience – and her sons – as she admits to starring in a sex tape

square-eyeSocial Psychology and Discourse

square-eyeMothers, Single Women and Sluts: Gender, Morality and Membership Categorization in Neighbour Disputes

Ageing, beauty and women’s bodies

696px-Anti-aging_creamThe recent article in the Daily Mail newspaper ‘No longer the bees’ knees: Should any woman show her legs after 40?’ tells us much about the social expectations of feminine identities. In Western societies femininity is presented, in various media discourses (e.g. film, newspapers), in opposition to hegemonic masculine identities. Although media discourses constitute ‘ideal’ femininities, many women act upon and determine their own individual identities in relation to them. ‘Ideal’ femininity typically encompasses aspects of beauty, slenderness and stylishness, which are commonly linked to the youthful body. The individual can attempt to gain or maintain those aspects of femininity by consuming a myriad of anti-ageing and grooming products, cosmetics and various diet and exercise programmes. As social psychologists, understanding the pressure to conform these discourses exert on the individual, helps us understand the growth of more extreme forms of body maintenance such as eating disorders and cosmetic surgery.

square-eye Daily Mail ‘No longer the bees’ knees: Should any woman show her legs after 40?

square-eye Body talk: Questioning the assumptions in cognitive age

square-eye Body weight preoccupation in middle-age and ageing women: A general population survey