Double Binds for Women Business LeadersI have been following research produced by Catalyst, a non-profit organization focused on the experience of women in the business world, and am struck by the evidence they have pulled together supporting the view that women in leadership roles face prejudice that hurts both their performance as individuals and the performance of their organizations.1
"The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't" (pdf), published this year, identifies three double binds that limit the ability of women leaders to achieve their full potential:
- Extreme perceptions "When women act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes, they are viewed as less competent leaders (too soft). When women act in ways that are inconsistent with such stereotypes, they're considered as unfeminine (too tough)."
- High competence threshold Higher standards and lower rewards for women relative to men. "On top of doing their job, women [h]ave to prove that they can lead, over and over again" and women "[h]ave to manage stereotypical expectations constantly (e.g., too toughtoo soft). Because of these higher standards, women tend to receive lower rewards for the same level of effort and competency."
- Competent but disliked Women leaders tend to be perceived as competent or likable, but not both. "[W]hen women behave in ways that are traditionally valued for leaders (e.g., assertively), they tend to be seen as competent, but also not as effective interpersonally as women who adopt a more stereotypically feminine style. ... Accordingly, even when women act more 'leader-like' or adopt behaviors considered typical of effective leaders, they still have difficulties influencing others on account of being viewed as less personable leaders. Not being liked can also negatively impact women's work relationships, access to social networks, day-to-day interactions and, ultimately, their advancement opportunities."
1 Catalyst has published two previous reports on stereotyping of leaders: "Women 'Take Care,' Men 'Take Charge:' Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed" (2005, pdf) and "Different Cultures, Similar Perceptions: Stereotyping of Western European Business Leaders" (2006, pdf).