Why Women Do Not Need to Behave Like Men to Be Good Leaders

The messages to women about how to advance in organizations still, regrettably, urge women to behave like men, but men don’t seem to get messages that say they need to change at all. Reward systems in organizations still undervalue feminine workplace values and leadership behaviors and predominantly reward masculine ones. For example:

  • Assertiveness is rewarded more often than collaboration.
  • Women are urged to work long hours and pretend they don’t have children. (I’m not joking.) Women in a financial services firm whom I just interviewed are told not to talk about their families—even with each other—if they want to be considered for advancement.
  • Women must show they are task focused by not “wasting time” on building teams and relationships by soliciting or listening to input or problems.

Ruth Whippman, writing for the New York Times, notes that “anything (in most organizational cultures) associated with girls or women . . . is by definition assigned a lower cultural value than things associated with boys or men.” She goes on to say that “the assumption that assertiveness is a more valuable trait than, say, deference is itself the product of a ubiquitous and corrosive gender hierarchy.”

I agree with Whippman that achieving equality in organizations means, in addition to parity in representation, that organizations must come to value both feminine and masculine workplace values. These differences are described by Dr. Joyce K. Fletcher in her book, Disappearing Acts, in the table below:

Masculine Workplace Values Feminine Workplace Values
·       Task focused

·       Isolation and autonomy

·       Independence

·       Competition—individualistic competitive achievement

·       Hierarchical authority

·       Rational engagement is valued (focus on task, logic, and the bottom line—leave personal matters at the door)

·       Leadership style is directive

·       Community and team focused

·       Connection

·       Interdependence

·       Mutuality—success achieved through collaboration

·       Collectivity, or flat structure

·       Emotional engagement is valued (notice body language and process, encourage relationships, share feelings and personal information, and show empathy)

·       Leadership style is supportive

Fletcher emphasizes that organizations and society need both masculine and feminine values to have healthy and productive environments and relationships. When they are not both valued and our society and workplaces are out of balance, with a higher value placed on the masculine, as they are now, many problems occur for both women and men that could be prevented. For example:

  • Whippman notes that the emphasis on masculine assertiveness has led us to many of our current social problems, such as #MeToo, campus rape, school shootings, and President Trump’s Twitter rages.
  • The problem is not that women are not speaking up but that men are refusing to stop to listen to others and reflect on the impact of their behavior.
  • The problem is not that women apologize too much, as suggested in magazines and books, but that men don’t apologize enough. Whippman quotes a study that suggests women apologize more because they have a “lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior.” She is quick to point out that many of our problems with male entitlement and toxic behavior can be traced back to a “fundamental unwillingness among men to apologize.”
  • Rather than pouring money into encouraging only girls to take up STEM subjects, why aren’t we also pouring money into encouraging boys to become nurses? Are we saying that boys have no capacity for empathy, or that nursing isn’t considered masculine enough to count as real work?

Imagine having organizations where both masculine and feminine workplace values were rewarded and valued for leadership—where leaders could be valued for being both task and relationship focused, both competitive and collaborative, both directive and supportive—where leaders could be role models for how to have both careers and families rather than hiding the fact that they have families. This dream scenario is possible, and having a balance of both feminine and masculine values and behaviors will create more productive, equitable, and inclusive workplaces. We need men to “lean out,” though, rather than blaming the victim and putting all the pressure on women to become more like men. Women and men have to work together to make these changes in organizational cultures. Women can’t change things alone, but the results will be organizational cultures that are better for everyone.


Photo courtesy of Maryland GovPics (CC BY 2.0)

Why We Don’t See Women as Leaders and Why This Matters

The number of women leaders in the largest companies in the United States declined by 25 percent this year, as reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times. Because the number of female chief executives is small to begin with, the departure of even one, such as the recent departure of Denise Morrison as the CEO of Campbell Soup Company, has a big numerical impact. In fact, the number of female CEOs has dropped from thirty-two to twenty-four in the past year. Why does it matters that so few women are CEOs and that the numbers are declining? One reason is that unconscious assumptions about gender determine who gets seen as leadership material when managers need to hire or promote. In a study reported by Heather Murphy of the New York Times, both women and men almost always draw a man when asked to draw an effective leader. Murphy reports on another study where research participants were asked to listen in by phone to a fictional sales meeting. In some of the “meetings,” study participants heard “Eric” offer change-oriented ideas while other participants heard “Erica” read the same script. When research participants were asked to rate the speaker, either Eric or Erica, on how much he or she had exhibited leadership, the Erics were far more likely than the Ericas to be identified as leaders, even though the Ericas shared exactly the same ideas. Murphy cites Nilanjana Dasgupta of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who explains that “when people are consistently exposed to leaders who fit one profile [male], they will be more likely to notice leaders who fit that same profile in the future.” In other words, even when a woman acts like a leader, her talents are less likely to be noticed or identified as leadership because the generally accepted profile of a leader is a man. This inherent bias is why it matters that the number of women in high visibility CEO roles in big companies is declining. Murphy points out that we need to see more women in leadership roles to expand our unconscious assumptions about who can be an effective leader—and instead the numbers are declining. In fact, depressingly, every female executive who stepped down during the past year was replaced by a man. Miller notes that the obstacles for female executives are rooted in biases against women in power. In fact, Miller cites two studies to make her case:

  • Both women and men have families, but caregiving is considered to be a woman’s problem and, therefore, limits the opportunities made available to women.
  • Leadership ability does not appear to be affected by gender differences. A study of 2,600 executives found no difference in multiple areas assessed, including interpersonal skills, analytical and managerial skills, and general ability. Yet women were much less likely to become chief executives.
This problem is clearly a vicious cycle. Because we don’t see women in executive roles, women don’t get the opportunity to be hired or promoted into executive roles. We have to keep challenging both women and men to examine their unconscious biases about who can be an effective leader. We must also continue to push for more women on corporate boards who will hopefully push for more women to be considered for CEO roles, and we need to elect women to office where they can raise these issues legislatively. Let’s keep asking, “Where are the women?”   Photo courtesy of Vector Open Stock (CC BY 2.0)]]>

Male CEOs with Daughters Are More Socially Responsible Leaders

I just came across an interesting new study, reported in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), showing that companies run by male executives with female children rated higher on measures of corporate social responsibility (CSR), defined as “measures of diversity, employee relations, and environmental stewardship,” than is true for comparable companies led by men with no daughters.  This means that male CEOs with daughters spend significantly more net income on CSR priorities than is true for other companies (unless the CEO is a woman, but more on this later). Alison Beard, writing for HBR, reports on this research by Henrik Cronqvist of the University of Miami and Frank Yu of China Europe International Business School, who examined the CSR ratings of S&P 500 companies tracked between 1992 and 2012 and compared the CSR ratings for male executives with male and female offspring.  Beard notes that other researchers have found similar results on voting records for US congressmen who have daughters and for the decisions of US Court of Appeals judges with daughters.  Here are some of the findings:

  • Male CEOs with daughters spend significantly more net income on CSR than the median. Cronqvist and Yu explain that the literature in economics, psychology, and sociology support the notion that “women tend to care more about the well-being of other people and of society than men do, and that female children can increase those sympathies in their parents.” They hypothesize that because the median age of S&P 500 CEOs in the research sample was fifty-seven, these male CEOs may have seen their daughters discriminated against in the workplace and become sensitized to issues of inequality.
  • Male CEOs with only sons did not spend more on CSR.
  • Male CEOs with female spouses and no daughters did not spend more on CSR.
  • Research from Yale University by Eboyna Washington shows that US congressmen with daughters tend to vote more liberally, especially for legislation involving reproductive rights.
  • Beard reports on research by Adam Glynn of Emory and Maya Sen of Harvard that found similar patters among US Court of Appeals judges in cases involving gender issues.
As for female CEOs, Cronqvist and Yu had only a small sample of them available in their study, so they could not draw firm conclusions.  They did make these interesting observations that are worth noting:
  • The companies in their sample with female CEOs had much stronger CSR ratings in every category—diversity, employee relations, environment, product, human rights, and community—than did those of the male-led companies.
  • The researchers calculate that a male CEO with a daughter produces “slightly less than a third of the effect of having a female CEO. Comparisons of the data on congressmen and judges yield similar numbers.”  They conclude that “any man behaves one-third more ‘female’ when he parents a girl.”
These findings add to the growing body of research showing that gender does influence the decisions of leaders, legislators, judges, and other decision makers, in one way or another.  Doesn’t it make sense to have more gender-balanced representation in all decision-making arenas? Photo courtesy of Ruben Diaz, Jr.. CC by-nd 2.0]]>

Why Celebrate Women’s Friendships?

We need a way to celebrate the important role that friendships with women play in most of our lives. I remember feeling quite satisfied with my life as a single woman well into my forties because of the richness of my network of women friends. I had good friends at work with whom I went to concerts and on vacations. I had other women friends with whom I shared problems and companionable activities such as movie going, and I had women friends I had known since high school and college with whom I had shared significant life passages over many years and miles. I remember saying at that time that while I would like to have a long-term intimate relationship someday, if that never happened, that was okay, too. My relationship needs felt largely fulfilled by my friendships with women. When I did meet my soul mate at the age of forty-five, and began sharing daily life with him, he and I both understood that my women friends would continue to play an important role in my life. Yet it feels to me like we are missing a way to celebrate the importance of women’s friendships for meeting needs beyond those fulfilled by both same-sex and heterosexual marriage (or their equivalent). In an interesting new book entitled The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship, the author, Marilyn Yalom, traces the history of female friendships and notes that “almost all documents on friendship during the first two thousand years of Western history—from 600 BCE to 1600 CE—pertain to men.” She notes that ancient Greek philosophers “did not consider women worthy of attention since they were noncitizens, nonsoldiers, and nonparticipants in the public realm.” As late as the mid-nineteenth century, British journalists published articles suggesting that women were too unstable to be suited for, or capable of, friendships “within their own sex.” Could it be that women’s friendships are still largely uncelebrated because of undercurrents from ancient stereotypes about women? Rebecca Traister, writing in the New York Times about the importance of female friendships, contradicts the ancient stereotypes and states that “female friendships have been the bedrock of women’s lives for as long as there have been women.” She notes that a network of women friends can provide support and understanding about shared life experiences as women that a male partner cannot provide. In fact, because no one person can ever meet all of our needs, women married to women also need to maintain their network of women friends to keep themselves and their relationships balanced and healthy. In my book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together, I report findings from my research on women’s relationships in the workplace. My research participants describe the importance of having supportive relationships with other women at work in order to keep their balance and grounding in the face of unconscious bias, subtle gender discrimination, and the challenges of balancing work and family life. I agree with Traister when she says that we don’t have ceremonies or rituals to acknowledge the importance of the role women friends play in our lives —and we need them.  Do you have any suggestions? Please share your thoughts and experiences about celebrating women’s friendships in the comments section, and let’s see if there’s an idea that might be ready to take flight for the rest of us!     The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Jacquelynne Kosmicki.]]>

Hillary Clinton and the Goldilocks Syndrome

Why is it that when Hillary Clinton stepped down from being secretary of state in 2013, after four years in office, she was the most popular politician in the country? Her approval rating then stood at 69 percent. Yet while campaigning for president in 2016, two-thirds of the voting population said they did not trust her, though according to Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times, this distrust is not deserved. Sady Doyle, writing for Quartz, suggests that “public opinion of Clinton has followed a fixed pattern throughout her career. Her public approval plummets whenever she applies for a new position. Then it soars when she gets the job.” This pattern played out for Clinton when she ran for Senate and got that job, and the pattern is not specific to Clinton. Elizabeth Warren experienced the same dynamic when she ran for Senate in Massachusetts—women reported being “turned off by Warren’s know-it-all style,” but she became extremely popular once she made it to the Senate. Let’s be clear—this is a pattern that many women experience when they campaign for powerful positions, not only in politics but in organizations when women apply for promotions. Doyle states that what we are seeing is misogyny— a continual prejudice against women caught in the act of asking for power. She cites a Harvard study that found that “power-seeking men are seen as strong and competent. Power-seeking women are greeted by both sexes with ‘moral outrage.’” Clinton and other successful women are caught in double binds that are challenging and costly for them when they seek promotions.  

Double Binds for Successful Women

What are double binds? They are catch-22 situations that women often face in public and organizational life. In her book Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett cites Carolyn Buck Lee as describing double binds as the Goldilocks syndrome: “You’re too this, you’re too that, and you always will be because what’s behind it is hidden bias.” My women clients and other women in the news have been told they smile too much or too little to be leaders or they talk too little or too much to make partner. Hillary Clinton, and other women leaders face a number of pernicious double binds when they apply for a promotion, which according to Hewlett include the following:
  • Walking a tightrope between being effective and being likable. Hewlett notes that successful women, unlike successful men, suffer social rejection and personal derogation when they are successful or dare to put themselves forward as being qualified for a promotion.
  • Walking a tightrope between being too feminine and not feminine enough. Women seeking promotions are often told they are either too female to be taken seriously or too aggressive to be appropriately feminine.
What’s to be done? We can work at recognizing our unconscious negative biases about women and power. What else do you think we can do to ensure that talented women are encouraged to pursue leadership positions? Let me know in the comments section.   The image in this post is courtesy of Tim Gouw (CC0 license)]]>

Five Things Leaders Can Do to Help Women Get Their Voices Heard

I recently facilitated a leadership development workshop with a mixed-gender, mixed-race group and noticed a familiar pattern—the men, regardless of race, took up much more airtime than the women, and the women, especially the women of color, hardly said anything at all. I felt a familiar sense of annoyance rise up in me as one man after another seemed to go on and on whenever he had the floor, and I had to call on individual women and draw them out to get their voices and ideas into the room. Yes, I know that not all men have the “on and on” disease, and that some women speak a lot in groups, but this difference in gendered communication patterns has been well documented in social science research. Julia Baird recently wrote about this dynamic, which she calls “manologues,” in the New York Times and put words to my experience in the following statement: “Men take, and are allocated, more time to talk in almost every professional setting. Women self-censor, edit (and) apologize for speaking. Men expound.” In her article, Baird summarized the findings from a number of studies that support her statements as follows:

  • A study from Harvard found that the larger the group, the more likely men are to speak.
  • A Brigham Young and Princeton University study found that when women are outnumbered, they speak for between a quarter and a third less time than men.
  • Men talk more directly; women hedge and turn statements into questions.
  • Women are interrupted more by both men and women.
  • The more powerful men become, the more they speak; the same is not true for women. For good reason, women worry about a backlash that can occur when women speak more. A study from Yale found that both male and female listeners were quick to think that women who speak more are talking too much or too aggressively. Men are rewarded for speaking more, and women are punished.
  • A New Zealand study found that in formal contexts, men talk more often and for longer than women. Women use words to explore; men, to explain.
  • A Harvard study found that female students speak more when a female instructor is in the classroom.
Baird concludes that “including women is not the same as hearing women.”  

What Leaders Can Do to Ensure That Women Are Heard

Leaders can take concrete steps to ensure that women’s voices are heard in professional and workplace settings:
  1. Form gender-balanced panels in professional conference settings and encourage moderators to equalize the airtime allotted to women and men.
  2. Institute “no interruptions” rules in meetings.
  3. Ensure equal participation in meetings. Keep track of who is and is not speaking and call on people who are speaking less.
  4. Increase the number of women in leadership and on teams.
  5. Be an ally—draw attention to women’s contributions, and make space for them.
What has worked for you?   The image in this post is in the public domain, courtesy of Hans.  ]]>

More Women Are Leaders in Family Businesses Globally: A Magic Formula for Creating Gender Parity

I grew up in a family business started by my grandparents and continued by my father, his six siblings, and their spouses. The business was a chain of clothing stores in small towns in the Midwest. While each sibling owned their own store or two, a number were jointly owned by all the family members, and these were run by my father as the corporate CEO. I began working in the business, as did most of my siblings and cousins, around the age of eight. Because I was the oldest of my three siblings and showed interest and business acumen, I understood from an early age that I was being groomed to take over for my father some day to run both our individual store and the jointly owned businesses. I was exposed to and mentored in every aspect of the business, and the fact that I was female never came up as an issue with anyone in the extended family. It was a great disappointment to all when I discovered during college that my path in life lay elsewhere and I declared that I would not be joining the business after college—but that is a story for another day. It was with both pride and recognition that I read about recent research, conducted in 2014 by Ernst & Young (EY) and Kennesaw State University, which found significantly higher rates of women in senior leadership roles in family businesses globally. When I thought about my own experience, this finding made sense, and the implications suggested by the authors seem exciting and important. Why are these findings important? This research gathered data from 525 of the world’s largest family businesses. The responses are from twenty-five of the largest family businesses in each of twenty-one countries with global markets. The authors note that family businesses are not insignificant players in the global marketplace. In fact, they are anchors of the world economy, and as a whole they create 70–90 percent of the global GDP and 50–80 percent of jobs in the majority of countries worldwide. The research found that the 525 participating family businesses average about five women in the C suite, 55 percent have at least one woman on their board, and 70 percent are considering a woman for their next CEO. These statistics are considerably higher than overall global business statistics, even though a great deal of research exists that shows having women in leadership roles makes economic sense for businesses:

  • Companies with more women in leadership increase focus on corporate governance, corporate responsibility, talent dynamics, and market acuity.
  • Publicly listed companies with women on the board tend to outperform those without in key metrics such as share price, return on equity, net income growth, and price-to-book value.
  • A gender-balanced board is also associated with better corporate social performance in community, customers, environment, and supply chain. These activities improve business outcomes in areas such as risk management, corporate and brand reputation, and recruitment and retention.
The authors suggest that “family business may offer a path forward for all businesses seeking to achieve gender parity.”

A Magic Formula for Creating Gender Parity

The study authors summarize the family business formula for success for bringing women into leadership roles as the following: Role Models + Long-Term Thinking + Inclusive Environment = Women in Leadership
  • Role models: Women are inspired to be leaders when they see women in positions of power. When I was growing up, I was surrounded by capable women business leaders who were my mother, aunts, and cousins. Consequently, I never doubted that I could be a leader in our business if I wanted to.
  • Long-term versus short-term thinking: Family businesses are focused on long-term sustainability because they are focused on the business as a legacy to be preserved for future generations. Other types of business entities tend to be focused on delivering short-term results to respond to investor expectations. Also, the average tenure of a family business CEO is twenty years compared to six years for the CEO of a public company.
  • Inclusive environment: Family businesses are built on relationships and on balancing a focus on both family and the business. The relationship focus includes activities that keep both family members and employees more cohesive and engaged with each other and the business. The authors also note that “diversity in leadership, including gender diversity, is positively correlated to employee engagement and satisfaction—factors that drive retention and increase cohesion.”
In other words, family businesses have shown that having more women in leadership is good for business, and they have found a formula for how to make that happen!   Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Why Ruth Bader Ginsburg Is My Role Model

We all need role models—people who inspire us and provide us with examples of how to live and be. These can be invisible mentors whom we never meet and only read about. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, is this kind of role model for me. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) is eighty-two years old and, as Gail Collins of the New York Times reports, she loves her work and, in spite of tremendous public pressure to retire, has no intention of “going anywhere any time soon.” I am not the only one who admires her for a determination to live her life on her own terms rather than succumb to social pressure to conform (and retire). She has developed a huge fan base, particularly among young women, complete with a blog and upcoming book about her entitled The Notorious RBG (a play on the name of the rapper Notorious B.I.G.). Let me count the ways that RBG inspires me:

  1. She is a pioneer and the first woman to do many of the things she did in her life.
  2. She lives her life on her own terms.
  3. She is physically fierce and works out at the gym with a trainer two times a week, along with daily stretches.
  4. She writes ferocious dissents against conservative decisions and is the leader of the Supreme Court’s dissident liberals.
  5. She is a survivor of colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and heart disease.
  6. She has an overall energy level that is inspiring. For example, she explained to MSNBC’s Irin Carmon in an interview that the reason she dozed off during President Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2015 was that she had been up all night the night before writing an opinion. “My pen was hot,” she said by way of explanation.
I hope I will have the courage to live my life on my own terms when I am eighty-two and the energy to realize my goals at that stage of my life. She inspires me to keep going to the gym and exercising my mind as well as my body so that I can keep living fully. I am so pleased to have RBG as my role model. Who is your role model?   Photo Credit: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States]]>

Do You Work Too Many Hours?

Several of my coaching clients are trying to find a solution to the same challenge—they work so many hours a week that they have no time for relationships, friends, exercise, relaxation, or children. These clients are men and women in large corporations, academia, small businesses, and large and small nonprofits. Their stress levels are high, their sleep quality is poor, or their hours of sleep too few. They often love their work—but they are not happy with their lives. Does this sound familiar? Robin Ely of Harvard University and her colleagues Irene Padavic and Erin Reid of Florida State University and Boston University recently reported the results of a new study they conducted for a large consulting company. The company asked them to conduct the study to determine what they needed to do to retain, and increase promotions of, women. The researchers concluded that the problem is not a lack of family-friendly policies—it is a surge in the number of hours worked by both women and men. Ely explained, “The culture of overwork affects everybody.” Here are some startling facts about the current situation when it comes to work hours:

  • The number of hours worked has increased by 5 percent for high-wage earners over the last four decades.
  • The typical professional employee works 60–65 hours per week, although in some sectors, like finance, employees are expected to work 80–100 hours per week.
  • Long hours have become a status symbol in high-wage sectors.
  • A combination of globalization and technology has created the expectation of 24/7 availability for work.
  • In addition to creating an expectation of 24/7 availability, the use of technology can become an addiction that does not allow for a balanced life.
  • The number of hours worked by low-wage workers has increased by 20 percent over the past four decades
  • Low wages that have not increased as the cost of living has gone up (and, consequently, are not living wages) combined with unpredictable work schedules mean high stress for workers who have to juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Study Findings

In their study, Ely, Padavic, and Reid found that men and women at the large consulting firm were equally unhappy about long work hours. But, interestingly, the women and men dealt with the pressure of long hours differently, with different consequences:
  • Women took advantage of flex-time or part-time policies, and stalled their careers.
  • Men suffered silently and complied with the expectations of long work hours, or they worked the schedule they wanted, without asking permission, with no career consequences. (This same strategy did not work for the women who tried it, however.)
The authors found two cultural assumptions behind these different outcomes:
  • Men are expected to be devoted to work, and it is assumed they are working even when they are not in the office.
  • Women are expected to be devoted to family, and it is assumed they are not working when they are not in the office—even when they are.

What You Can Do

Here are some steps you can take to fight the trend toward long work hours:
  • If you are a team leader, you may be able to create a team culture where people agree to rotate coverage for nights and weekends to give each other dedicated family or relaxation time when there is a need for someone to be on call.
  • You may be able to change the expectation that you are available 24/7 by announcing that you are not available outside the office, at least on some nights and weekends—or during vacations. If you are the boss, you can be a role model by not sending e-mails during off-hours.
  • You may be able to get your boss to prioritize your work and eliminate low-priority projects or reassign them to create a more manageable workload.
  • If a lot of your work requires travel for meetings, you may be able to use technology for meetings instead.
  • Working for a smaller organization may allow you more control over your work life. Some small law firms, medical practices, and nonprofits are committed to real work-life balance. The pay may be less, but the tradeoff may be worth it.
  • Join with others to put pressure on organizations, and governments, to pay a living wage for low-wage workers.
We can all be part of the solution to bring about reasonable work hours and schedules for everyone, but it can be hard to make changes on your own. It’s unlikely that organizations really need us to work all these hours, or that hard-working people can’t be paid a living wage. Start talking with your coworkers and see what you can figure out together.   Photo credit: Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>

Women in Science: Myths and Facts

Why are there still so few women in the top levels of academic science despite equal numbers of women and men at the undergraduate and graduate levels? Let’s examine some myths and biases about women in the sciences and consider some facts that help explain the current situation. Then I’ll close with some good news!

Myths and Biases about Women in Science

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Joan C. Williams and Jessi L. Smith note that there are distinct patterns of gender bias that affect female scientists:
  1. The first pattern, which is also a myth, is the belief that women are less competent at science. The impact of this bias is that two-thirds of female scientists in a recent study reported a double standard when going for promotions. They had to provide more evidence of their skills than their male colleagues did to be seen as equally competent.
  2. Another pattern is a familiar double bind for women leaders in many sectors—walking the “tightrope” of being seen as too feminine to be competent or too masculine to be likable with very little room to maneuver between the two extremes. The authors quoted one of the women scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology as explaining, “To get ahead here, you have to be so aggressive. But if women are too aggressive, they’re ostracized, and if they’re not aggressive enough, they have to do twice the work [to prove themselves].” Three-fourths of the women in one study reported experiencing this double bind.
  3. A third pattern and myth is that if you are a mother, you cannot also be a high-achieving scientist. Williams and Smith explain that the operating bias is that to be a high-achieving scientist, you must be “tirelessly and single-mindedly focused on research” without the distractions of a family. In a recent survey, two-thirds of the female scientists reported experiencing this bias, and female scientists are more than twice as likely to be childless than American women in general. Can it be that talented women are opting out of academic leadership positions in the sciences and choosing other careers because the price to stay in science is too high?

Training as a Scientist—Structural Barriers for Women

Molecular biologist Sara Clatterbuck Soper offers some insights into the ways that gender bias impacts training opportunities for women scientists. In an article in the New York Times, she explains that training in the sciences resembles the medieval apprentice system—scientists must spend a lengthy period of time training in the lab of an established principle investigator who has near-absolute authority in hiring. This apprenticeship is the pathway to a senior position, and eventually to having your own lab. The problem is the leader’s near-absolute hiring authority. Clatterbuck Soper cites a 2014 study that found that male scientists more often hire other men for coveted training positions. This study reported that the more prominent the men, such as Nobel Prize winners, the larger the gender gap in hiring. The elite male professors in the study employed 24 percent female postdoctoral researchers compared with 46 percent in labs run by women, and 36 percent female graduate students compared to 53 percent in labs run by women. Because training in the sciences requires high-quality apprenticeship and mentoring and so few women are lab leaders, there is a shortage of training opportunities for aspiring women scientists. Clatterbuck Soper explains that women represent half of the graduate students in biosciences but only 21 percent of full professors.

Good News

What is the good news in all of this? Did you notice that half of all undergraduate and graduate students in science are women? That is good news, and it debunks the myth that women are not interested in the sciences. What is needed now is a change in the biases, attitudes, and practices that limit opportunities for talented women in the sciences.   Photo credit: Image courtesy of Photokanok at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>