Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana’s, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, has a chapter called: “Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges”, written by Robin Ely from Harvard Business School and Deborah Rhode from Stanford Law School. So, as you would expect based on my area of study, I am going to write my blog post focusing on this chapter. Although many of the stats quoted are from 2006, it is an excellent resource outlining the challenges facing women leaders in our country and around the world. The authors also effectively point to initiatives and further research that are needed to make a positive impact on the lack of gender diversity issue.
Due to the fact that most of the statistics in this chapter were about 10 years old, let’s start with some more current ones: “As of March 2017, women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population. They earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees. They earn 47 percent of all law degrees and 48 percent of all medical degrees. They earn more than 38 percent of MBAs and 48 percent of specialized master’s degrees. They account for 47 percent of the U.S. labor force and 49 percent of the college-educated workforce. Although they hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions:
- While they are 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force and 36 percent of first- or mid-level officials and managers in those companies, they are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, hold only 20 percent of board seats, and are only 6 percent of CEOs.
- At S&P 500 companies in the financial services industry, they make up 54 percent of the labor force but are only 29 percent of executive- and senior-level managers and 2 percent of CEOs.
- In the legal field, they are 45 percent of associates but only 22 percent of partners and 18 percent of equity partners.
- In medicine, they comprise 37 percent of all physicians and surgeons but only 16 percent of permanent medical school deans.
- In academia, they are only 31 percent of full professors and 27 percent of college presidents.
- They were only 6 percent of partners in venture capital firms in 2013—down from 10 percent in 1999.
- In 2014, women were just 20 percent of executives, senior officers, and management in U.S. high-tech industries. As recently as 2016, 43 percent of the 150 highest- earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.”
These statistics are baffling to me because women are doing everything they can to close the gender leadership gap by gaining higher education, joining the professional workforce and putting themselves in the position to succeed, yet the huge gap still remains. This chapter highlights the barriers women face in this discouraging uphill battle. The authors affirm this by saying, “A fundamental challenge to women’s leadership arises from the mismatch between the qualities traditionally associated with leaders and those traditionally associated with women.” Women tend to be locked into stereotypes and expectations that create this “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” double bind. They find themselves trying to act more masculine in order to be accepted by the good ol’ boys, only to be punished and ridiculed for being too aggressive and not feminine enough. Men also tend to reward women for behaving in a traditional manner as a way to keep them in their place. The authors name these two dynamics at play as hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.
“Benevolent sexism is “a subjectively favorable, chivalrous ideology that offers protection and affection to women who embrace conventional roles” and is used to reward women who conform to traditional gender role expectations. Hostile sexism is “antipathy thy toward women who are viewed as usurping men’s power” and is used to punish women who challenge the status quo. Women who appear feminine are at risk for benevolent sexism, which disqualifies them for leadership. Women who demonstrate the masculine traits associated with leadership may evoke hostile sexism, which leads to ostracism and rejection.” The emotional and psychological effect this has on women is devastating and often keeps them from realizing their dreams. They end of giving up the fight and further perpetuate the lack of gender balance in leadership because women just aren’t willing to put themselves through the pain, let alone the other risks they regularly face at work.
Women are also constantly faced with the fear of sexually aggressive behavior or sexual harassment by the men they work with. In their difficult quest to be equal to their male counterparts, they not only have to worry about the leadership qualities they are displaying to their boss but also who they might be alone with in the office or parking garage. The current news has been flooded with reports of allegations of all kinds of sexual misconduct by men in powerful positions…Henry Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Ben Affleck, and Matt Lauer to name a few. Sadly, this is probably a small representation of the rampant sexual harassment taking place all across America. In fact, Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, spoke out “warning of a potential backlash against women and urging companies to put into place clear policies on how allegations of sexual harassment are handled.”
More is being written about the need for women to have more male advocates and mentors instead of male harassers. In fact, “although virtually all experts agree about the value of mentors, less than a quarter of surveyed female managers have expressed satisfaction with the availability of mentoring at their workplaces.” Women are working hard to put themselves in an equal position to lead side by side with men amidst the immense barriers still in place, which is why the subtitle of this chapter is “Defining the Challenges”. As Christian men, I believe it is our divine responsibility to advocate and mentor women to be able to help advance them in leadership positions and help complete the beautiful display of God’s image, male and female “having dominion over His creation” together!
 Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: an Hbs Centennial Colloquium On Advancing Leadership, ed. Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana (Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Review Press, 2010), Kindle Locations 4692-4693.
 Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, eds., Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: an Hbs Centennial Colloquium On Advancing Leadership, ed. Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana (Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Review Press, 2010), Kindle Locations 4989-4990.