Gender Inequality

Commentary:  by Daniel Merz, Ph.D.

Gender Inequality in the Workplace

One aspect of leadership that has received attention in the last two decades is the topic of gender inequality in the workplace. Currently women comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population. One study of S and P 1500 companies discovered the following. Women comprise 45% of the positions in business and industry, yet only 27% of women hold positions in executive or senior management. Even fewer, 19% occupy seats on corporate boards and only 10% hold top management positions (Center for American Progress, 2018).

There are various causes cited for leadership inequality of women. Among the causes are the presence and effects of outdated gender stereotypes, women lacking helpful connections in the world of work, and biases and discrimination against women. Discrimination is particularly problematic for older women and women of color. Sexual harassment, hostile work environments, religion, capitalism, patriarchy, and unconscious biases also are problematic for women who want to pursue leadership positions in business and industry (Scott, 2018).

Some women continue to think that they need to display traditional male qualities in order to be accepted in a male dominated environment. It is widely recognized that leadership roles have been historically represented by masculine images. This becomes a significant factor when you examine the differences in male and female leadership practices. It may be possible to overcome the prominent role played by masculine leadership by examining the different leadership approaches between men and women. Men tend to favor what has been labeled as a command-and-control leadership style. The masculine image of a leader is viewed as being a dominant figure in the office whose primary goal is results. Men are perceived as more task oriented and directive compared to their female counterparts (Career Advancement, 2016).

But the leadership style of men tends to result in downplaying the qualities of leadership see in women. Women leaders have been found to prefer a leadership style that focuses on cooperation. The cooperative approach promotes a conversational and listening atmosphere in the office. Women leaders also more often rely on mentoring, coaching, and a participatory role in decision making (Career Advancement, 2016).

Developing an appreciation for a more cooperative approach to leadership can help reduce gender inequality in the workplace. These strategies could be coordinated and managed through the Human Resources division of a business. Topics that could be offered in a Professional Development program include addressing the use of denial, identifying the barriers and policies that are exclusionary to women, manners and behavior involved in sexual harassment, and identifying behavior that is driven by unconscious biases (King, 2020). Other gender inequality issues in leadership that could be addressed by Human Resources are creating a workplace culture that supports and encourages individual differences. This would help everyone including women. Additional topics to address include a safe procedure for identifying inappropriate or exclusionary behavior and ways in which female identities are devalued in the workplace.

If the workplace does not have a Human Resources office, gender inequality issues could be addressed and monitored by a committee for Advancement and Placement.

Sources cited:

Career Advancement University of Chicago, Aug. 2016.

King, M. (2020).  Leaders, Stop Denying the Gender Inequality in Your Organization.

 Harvard Business Review, June.

Scott, J. (2018) Persistence of Gender Inequality. Institute for Advanced Studies.

Warner, J. & Corley, D. (2017) The Women’s Leadership Gap. Center for American Progress.

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