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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Womens role in society


            In 1851, an English social critic John Ruskin declared that in order for people to be happy in their work, three things were deemed necessary namely, “they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it” (Johnson et al, 1999). In the 21st Century, despite the large number of women in the workforce, women still start at lower salary and cadre levels as compared to men and face slower promotions (Wiggins, 1991; Cortis & Cassar, 2005). Though there appears to be a modicum of success for women in the workplace, the researchers suggest it is not enough to fit Ruskin’s definition of happiness in their work.
            Studies appear to suggest there is under-representation of women in leadership and decision/or policy-making positions. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fact-finding agency concerning labor issues for the U.S. Federal Government, indicate that women account for only 38% of managers and professionals in the workplace (2006). Furthermore, in the healthcare industry, 96% of hospital CEO’s are male (Wiggins, 1991).
            Myths and attitudes about women’s ability and capability have been the subject of numerous studies. The barriers that appear to hamper women’s upwardly managerial movement include, but not limited to, attitudes, personnel practices, and beliefs about women in leadership positions (Wiggins, 1991). In the context of the research paper, the researchers will focus on the ‘glass ceiling’ effect, social values, and gender traits that studies indicate affect women seeking leadership positions. The researchers will also present a cultural dimension of the dominant western culture that is focused upon as well as recommendations to augment existing workplace studies on gender disparities.
Today, though women hold numerous positions in the workforce, research indicates that women are underrepresented in upper echelons of America’s corporate system: women hold only 14.7% of Fortune 500 board seats (Catalyst, 2006). The underrepresentation of females and minorities to leadership roles exist because of the presence of formal and informal barriers that place a limit, or ceiling on achievement (Catalyst, 2006). According to Linda Skrla (2000), this is not a new phenomenon and much has not changed over the last 40 years and these invisible barriers preventing women from ascending into elite leadership positions is commonly referred to as the ‘glass ceiling’ effect.
Women’s under representation in high-level leadership positions is stated to revolve around three types of explanations: human capitol differences, gender differences, and prejudice (Northouse, 2007). First, for human capitol differences, women occupy more than half of all the management and professional positions (Catalyst, 2005), but have fewer opportunities for development and fewer responsibilities in the same jobs than men do. Secondly, they are less likely to receive encouragement, be included in key networks, and receive formal job training than their male counterparts (Catalyst, 2005). Lastly, these disparities appear to exist across all levels within the organization, industry section, as well as in access, advancement, and earnings (Northouse, 2007).
Gender differences are often seen as related to effective leadership with men tending to show more assertiveness than women (Franke, Crowne, & Spake, 1997). Additionally, gender bias, stemming from stereotyped expectations, plays a significant role in selection process – ‘women take care and men take charge’ (Goree-Burns, 1998). Therefore, prejudice and bias appears to help explain why there is greater difficulty for women to be appointed into leadership roles (Eagly & Karau, 2002).


According to studies, society responds several ways to women and men who are leaders. These differences appear to affect women’s capabilities to be leaders. The recent United States of America elections are a case in point. Numerous and conflicting thoughts emerged about electing the first woman president. Similarly, there is male dominance even in the United States of America military.
In this society, according to Hilary Lips, chair of the Psychology Department and director of the Center for Gender Studies at Radford University, power for women and men leaders “operates differently as a social structure which is totally based on a cultural system of dominance” (2009). Basically, the practices which encompasses “power system includes patterns of discourage, shared understanding and participation in a set of values, expectations, norms and roles” (Lips, 2009). Additionally, “responses given to women and men in leadership role are also based on social structure dominated by men” (Lips, 2009). There are almost similar leadership traits and behaviors posed by men and women leaders, however, “women leaders are shown a different reaction than male leaders because of learned expectations, shaped and supported by the surrounding social structure that invalidate and undercut women’s ability to be effective, influential and powerful leaders” (Lips, 2009). The following quotation attests to society’s perception of women as leaders:
People think ‘male’ when they think leaders. Because of this perceived incompatibility between the requirement of femininity and those of leadership, women are often required to soften their leadership style to gain the approval of their task. Women who lead with an autocratic style are the targets of more disapproval than those who enact a more democratic style. In the same condition men may choose autocratic style. Thoughts and opinion of women are not listened and often discouraged; their comment and suggestions are ignored, even if they are very useful and that the same comments or suggestions from men have more impact (Lips, 2009).
            There several roles that can only be performed by women in a family set-up such giving birth to baby or as a primary care giver. These unavoidable role-playing creates difficulties for women to be effective leaders because women cannot contribute their utmost effort on work and hence, decreased performance and reduced capabilities as effective leaders. Moreover, a leadership position requires working at least full time and flexibility in terms of workload but women cannot be very flexible because of their primary role in a family.


            Due to cultural differences and social influences, men and women are different physically and psychologically leading to significant differences between gender traits such as thought, behavior, and way of communication. The diversity in gender traits means that men and women deal with relationships and decision-making differently. According to Banducci (2009), most men are much more individualistic and women are relational. Further studies by Venkatesh and Morris (2000) indicate, “women were more people-oriented while men tend to be somewhat more independent and self-confident” (p 120).
            In the workplace, men and women appear to have different decision-making processes. Women tend to ask people’s opinion before they make decisions; this may be because they can also learn something from others, and they weigh the value of the opinion before making a decision (Venkatesh & Morris, 2000). On the other hand, men rely more on logic, and prefer solving problems by themselves (Banducci, 2009).
            In a group setting, the relationships between genders are distinct. Women tend to create friendly environments in the groups and please other co-workers ((Banducci, 2009; Venkatesh & Morris, 2000). In addition, women tend to pay much more attention on social connections than men (Fels, 2009). However, men have a tendency to focus on the event (Banducci, 2009). Nowadays, both men and women play an active role in managing a family while holding full time jobs however; disparities in the workplace make it difficult for women to overcome gender trait barriers.


            Social values and family roles have prevailed in society for many decades with resulting differences or dominances between men and women. The differences, or dominances, may not be totally eliminated but can be reduced. Therefore, the solution for this problem is that in every business organization, even in the government, there should be some quota system to allow greater opportunities for women as leaders in every position (Thornton, 1998). A given specific number of leadership positions should be saved for women. Also known as affirmative action, a set target of about 40% women managers implemented over a period of two years will help ensure that more women are appointed, and staying, in leadership positions.
            Gender traits can be reduced by introducing diversity training programs that focus on understanding the advantages and disadvantages of gender characteristics. This will create a more equitable balance of thought in the workplace. The Mars and Venus workplace diversity training program is specifically geared towards sensitizing employees by reducing confusion about gender disparities (Mars and Venus, 2009).         According to a survey on global executives [both men and women], three key action steps to combat the ‘glass ceiling’ effect were identified: improved career development and performance management systems; creating an inclusive work environment; and addressing work-life/family needs.
            First, the global executives reported that opportunities for leadership positions (83% of respondents), and challenging assignments (80% of respondents), were key to their career success. Furthermore, 60% of college and graduate students responded that mentoring was a factor they would consider in selecting a job after graduation (Murrell & Jones, 2000). In this regard, job rotations and transfers, on-the-job coaching, mentoring, training workshops, and underway assignments are some career development approaches that can reduce the ‘glass ceiling’ effect (Sims, 2002, p 236).
            Secondly, training about acceptable leadership styles should be expanded. These may include: educating the workforce about diversity/inclusion; strengthening workplace policies and sanctions for gender discrimination; addressing needs of women in the pipeline; and measuring diversity as part of core leadership competence (Murrell & Jones, 2000). Within the changing demographic of the market today, it is important to employ a diverse workforce. It is apparent that creating an inclusive workplace environment is one of the keys to optimizing performance of all individuals.
Thirdly, maintaining a “dual focus” that does not detract from career success. In the issue of work/family dynamics, studies indicate that executives, both male and female who are “dual-centric,” feel more successful at work, are less stressed and have an easier time balancing demands of work and non-work/family issues(Carter et al., 2008). Addressing work-life/family needs or a adopting a ‘family–friendly’ pattern can have a significant positive effect on women’s careers thus; help them break through the ‘glass-ceiling’ effect.


            As a basis for our cultural dimension, the researchers will focus on Hong Kong, an eastern culture. Currently, Hong Kong is a major international market exposed to all kinds of different management skills, which offers an equitable and competitive working environment similar to the western culture. According to “Women and Men in Hong Kong Main Statistics” which is published by Hong Kong Statistics Department, studies indicate that women having high education increased from 47,000 in 1986 to 80,000 in 2009, and UGC-funded university courses for women students increased from 33% to 55% since 1986 (Xinhua News Agency, 2002). The salaries for women have also increased correspondingly with the level of education and a larger number of male-dominated occupations are opening to women. But women still face discrimination at the workplace in selection, promotion, and salary even though both have the same competence and outstanding performances (Chow 2005).  
            The United States culture lays emphasis on autocratic, individualistic, and self-centered characteristics, whereas leadership characteristics among Hong Kong managers are competence including inspiring, performance orientation, decisiveness, visionary, integrity, administrative competent, diplomatic, collaborative, and modesty (Chow, 2005). However, the Hong Kong culture also has a high patriarchal society and the concept of saving ‘face’ is prevalent (Luke, n.d.). Due to the differences in characteristics, the recommendations given for the US culture would need some modification for the Hong Kong culture. The three main issues should be executed and implemented by the Hong Kong government, Hong Kong organizations, and Hong Kong women themselves.
            To reduce the institutional barriers towards women, Hong Kong organizations should first, provide more local promotion and training opportunities for those women who prefer to work at Hong Kong, which can help women contribute their full potential skills in management. Second, they should focus on women career development, programs that teach from an eastern culture focus.
            The Chinese Cultural Hong Kong has long defined gender roles and behaviors rigidly and placed Chinese women in subordinate positions to men. Social values dictate that women have to pay attention to their families therefore; women face difficulties when they have opportunities for development assignments needed for advancement, such as working overseas. Since there is no specific due process of law to preserve women as leaders in Hong Kong, Hong Kong government should take an affirmative action to redress gender discrimination. Furthermore, television programs focusing on a competition among women leaders can be held to arouse Hong Kong communities to pay more attention to women leaders.
          Last but not least, Hong Kong women should make the most of their own competences and management skills showing decisiveness, integrity, administrative competent, diplomatic, favorable factors to be chosen as leaders. Women should take the initiative to implement programs on gender equity. These include focusing on women career development and training with a focus on saving ‘face’ while dealing with men managers. Even though Hong Kong ranked top in gender egalitarianism among 61 countries surveyed (Chow, 2005), there is room for improvement. Modifying the recommendations to fit the Hong Kong culture will enable organizations provide more opportunities for women that can help them contribute their potential skills in management and reduce the institutional barriers towards them.


            Based on studies and research, the challenges women are facing can be explained from three aspects: glass ceiling, social values, and gender traits. First, the glass ceiling problems can be solved by three key action steps: improve career development and performance management systems; create an inclusive work environment and address work-life/family needs. Second, social value and family roles are chief factors that form diversities at different levels, areas, and race. The effective solution provided was the use of the quota or affirmative action system. Third, gender traits indicate male and female have different characteristics in cooperation, and decision-making. Compared to men, women tend to gain more opinions and operate/have better relationships with co-workers. To solve this problem, organizations should reinforce understanding gender traits by introducing gender training programs that focus on sensitizing employees by reducing confusion about gender disparities. Additionally, recommendations given for the US culture needed some modification for the Hong Kong culture. These included taking actions such as women career development and training and providing more opportunities to women can be effective in redressing the problem.
            To conclude, the recent situation in women’s leadership is affected by complex factors, and all of them are connected to each others. Researching a way to balance the contradictions among every aspect can help to solve more problems.


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