Are female leaders still viewed differently to their male counterparts?

over 3 years ago Irina Nagy

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Does a woman need to work harder to get to the top? Does society see men and women as equally capable? The fact that we have to even ask any of these questions, suggests probably not. We are faced with stereotyping every day, the unfortunate part of this in the workplace is that it could potentially result in people not reaching their full potential – in particular women.

For the future generation’s talent, female role models are a luxury. As Irene Dorner – HSBC CEO for North America quite rightly observes, “I suspect that we were simply not very good role models … And there aren’t enough of us to be visible so that people can work out how to do what we did.” A role model can be the difference between knowing where you want to get and being able to see the path that is going to lead you there, possibly getting some advice along the way. In my role as Associate Director at Investigo I take a lot of pride and responsibility in ensuring I am approachable to the younger women within the organisation, someone they can look up to.

The term “Queen Bee Syndrome” emerged in the 1970’s to describe women who have fought hard to gain their place on the ladder and seem happy to snub younger female talent, as opposed to nurturing them. As a generation, we need to make sure we have a strong pipeline of female talent coming up through the ranks to enhance future equality.

The perception of male leaders is often worlds apart from that of a female leaders. Men are viewed as authoritative, calm, direct and clear in their communication. While woman in a similar context will be viewed as bossy and emotional. Surely every leader’s style is unique to them, so why do we instantly refer to their style based on inaccurate stereotypes?

That said, the business world has made some strong positive changes towards gender equality but there is still a long way to go with regards to gender stereotypes.

When women succeed they are viewed as less likeable, but when men succeed their likeability increases. A clear example of this is the ‘Heidi/Howard’ study that Sheryl Sandberg describes in her book Lean In. The same data was given to two groups of students with one difference – the gender of the candidate. The results showed how the students thought that ‘Howard’ came across as more appealing, whereas ‘Heidi’ came across as selfish. Anderson Cooper repeated the experiment in 2013 and the results were quite the opposite. The students rated the female entrepreneur as more likeable and desirable as a boss than the male alternative. Clearly, this is positive progress on breaking down the gender stereotype.

It is essential for men and women to identify female talent at all levels. We need to all take ownership over recognising exactly what a senior-level experienced women can bring to the table, but also nurturing young female talent to develop the future leaders of our future.

There is a serious amount of evidence to suggest that women are changing workplaces for the better and a major survey by Zenger/Folkman found that at all levels women were rated by peers, subordinates and bosses, as better leaders. If this is the case, then hopefully the gender stereotype is being broken down more quickly than we thought.