More a labyrinth than a glass ceiling?

If you’re an ambitious young female high-flyer, don’t worry about smashing the glass ceiling any more; navigate yourself around the labyrinth instead.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Latest research into why there aren’t more female leaders in business was published in the Harvard Business Review today, providing a convincing explanation for the low number of women chief executives. Alice Eagly and Linda Carli argue that it’s not a matter of smoothly rising through the ranks only to be blocked suddenly by a wall of prejudice. Instead, it’s the various obstacles that women confront - and either overcome or bypass - throughout the course of their career that culminate in an inability to make it to the top in numbers. Though some do get there in the end, the route is a circuitous one.

The researchers call it the ‘Labyrinth of Leadership’. Typical obstacles that women face are pay prejudice, resistance by men to women being made a leader, issues of female leadership style, the demands of family life, and their lack of networking. All are very real problems. Take the first alone. Research published today by the Chartered Management Institute said that although women climb the career ladder faster than men, they are still being paid less and getting smaller bonuses than them. At the age of 37, a female manager is paid 12% less than a man in a similar role, which rises to a pay gap of 23% at director level.

These problems aren’t a huge revelation but the argument is a convincing one. So is the solution. Eagly and Carli recommend a number of sensible actions that management can take, like changing the long-hours norm, ensuring a critical mass of women in executive positions, and preparing women for leadership roles with appropriately demanding assignments. We’re in a for the long, steady haul – this is a problem without any quick fixes.

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