Aspiring Women Leaders: To be In and Out of the Gender Trap

Women Leaders

Women LeadersHow to be effective and efficient women leaders in a patriarchy-entrenched organizational setting is more than a billion-dollar question. Through a series of events and a long tedious process, women are now the ‘inevitable’ part of organizations and they are also attaining executive leadership on many occasions. However, it is common knowledge that compared to men donning the mantle of top leadership, especially the top positions, women remain far behind. This is true even in the cases of the world’s most developed countries. In discussions and debates, numerous points come up and close observation reveals that at the base of many such points the crucial factor which seems to persist is the G-trap, that is, the gender trap.

For some time, it was being argued that women executives can be successful if they act the way men executives do. The assumption was that there is a set line to achieving success as executives and that line has been constructed by male executives through their functions over decades. “Be like men and be on the path to success” was the motivational advice provided to women aspiring for higher executive positions in organizations. Under such perception, if a woman executive would reach the top and perform remarkably well it would be ascribed to her ‘individual’ potential only and it will even be interpreted as an ‘exceptional’ case. Such ‘logic’ comes out of a steeply negative perception of women in senior management positions. But the growing presence of women in the workforce has resulted in stimulating research studies with new findings. Such research findings suggest a much different path for women’s leadership.

In recent times a number of researchers claim that such advice may be well-meaning but also misleading. They refer to the gender trap to explain the problem from their perspective. The core argument here is that when women are perceived as organizational leaders it is not just the issues relating to the making of an executive that matter. It as much, if not more, involves certain kinds of role expectations from women. So, research reveals that however hard women try to be assertive, task-oriented, and competitive their main perception in the eyes of others remains steeped in gender considerations— the fact they are first and foremost, women. Under such circumstances, it has also been found that women are compelled to suppress their aggressive instincts in order to adjust to the mainstream/malestream perceptions which often act as the motive force in the organizational world.

All this in turn requires a great balancing act on the part of women with leadership ambition, an act by which they are to use their prudence to decide what to include and what to exclude in order to achieve success as female executives. Then again, how to bring in this kind of delicate balance is a major question. Research indicates that it requires an effective degree of self-assessment on the part of women and to relate such self-assessment to their leadership aspirations. Rather than mechanically acting like men women need to combine forthrightness and empathy, transactional orientation (generally associated with men) with nurturing orientation (generally associated with females). Self-assessment based on “Yes, I can” like confidence must debunk myths about the incapacity of women and do away with their stereotypical images.

There is no doubt that the very idea of leadership is highly subjective. It also is deeply rooted in the process of socialization, the process of gaining societal experiences. Our modes of socialization also spill into organizational life. But with the changing times, and with women rising up the hierarchy in the organizational hierarchy, it is high time to demolish the gender trap— the glass ceiling— which takes women’s leadership prospects under its ambit. It is needed not just in the interest of women but also for the good of society as a whole. The sign for such change is already on the horizon with the steady weakening of the hitherto dominant idea that gender is a major determinant of leadership efficiency and effectiveness.


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