Group: Gender Bias Keeps Women from C-Suite

July 17, 2007 ( - A new study by a women's advocacy group found that gender stereotyping leaves women with limited, conflicting and often unfavorable options no matter how they choose to lead.

A news release said that the report by Catalyst, a non-profit organization working to advance opportunities for women and business, also suggests organizational solutions to counter the persistent effects of gender stereotyping.

The group said its findings “strongly suggest” that gender stereotypes lead organizations to routinely underestimate and underutilize women’s leadership talent. For example, the 2006 Catalyst Census shows that, even though women make up over 50% of the management, professional, and related occupations, only 15.6% of Fortune 500 corporate officers and 14.6% of Fortune 500 board directors are women.

“When companies fail to acknowledge and address the impact of gender stereotypic bias, they lose out on top female talent,” said Catalyst President Ilene H. Lang, in the news release. “Ultimately, it’s not women’s leadership styles that need to change. Only when organizations take action to address the impact of gender stereotyping will they be able to capitalize on the ‘full deck’ of talent.”

According to the study, which interviewed senior business executives from the US and Europe, men are still viewed as “default leaders” and women as “atypical leaders,” with the perception that they violate accepted norms of leadership, no matter what their leadership behavior.

The study claimed the masculine leadership norm creates three connected, but distinct, “double-bind dilemmas” facing women leaders:

  • Female leaders are perceived as “never just right.” If women business leaders act consistent with gender stereotypes, they are considered too soft. If they go against gender stereotypes, they are considered too tough.
  • Female leaders face higher standards than male leaders and are rewarded with less. Often they must work doubly hard to achieve the same level of recognition as male leaders for the same level of work and “prove” they can lead.
  • When women exhibit traditionally valued leadership behaviors such as assertiveness, they tend to be seen as competent but not personable or well-liked. Yet those who do adopt a more stereotypically feminine style are liked but not seen as having valued leadership skills.

The study examined senior executives’ perceptions of men and women leaders in the US and Europe. There were 1,231 participants (296 US senior managers and corporate leaders – 168 women and 128 men, and 935 European managers and senior managers – 282 women and 653 men).

The second part of the study describes the results of qualitative analysis of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 13 women leaders in a large US corporation .

More information is at .