Department of English

Spring 2007 Edition

Women: Do You Know What's Holding You Back?

Katie Heckenbach
Argumentative 1010 1st place
Professor: Dr. Kurt Harris

The "Glass Ceiling" pushes down upon me, stopping me in my tracks. I can only move so far, and then SMACK! My head is slammed into the invisible barrier above me. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the "Glass Ceiling" refers to "those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions" ("Glass"). Throughout history, women have been trapped by the “Glass Ceiling” in a variety of work fields; although they have tried to break through the barrier, only a few have succeeded. Even the women that have succeeded face more obstacles once in their leadership positions. When it comes down to it, the main barrier that holds women stagnant in their work fields is traditional gender stereotyping. However, many little barriers exist inside this monumental hindrance.

One barrier is the fact that women are not encouraged to strive for leadership positions by society as a whole. "Society has determined that only males make good leaders; therefore it continues to deny easy access for women seeking leadership roles because they do not fit the norm. Women who seek leadership positions face barriers and many times give up..." (Growe and Montgomery). Rarely do you see a female CEO of a company. Women don’t commonly hold a high position in the clergy of a church. The President of the United States has never been a woman, and only "33 women have served in the Senate. Of these, 8 were chosen to fill vacancies caused by their husbands' deaths" ("Facts About"). These are just a few examples. Unfortunately, there are many other jobs that women are not encouraged to strive for.

This problem is especially common in higher education presidency positions. Women are rarely seen as principals of high schools let alone as university presidents. In fact, they are most frequently observed as elementary school principals due to the "female attributes of nurturing, being sensitive, empathetic, intuitive, compromising, caring, cooperative, and accommodative" (Growe and Montgomery). These traits are not commonly expressed by men and therefore women use them to help the younger children in a motherly sense. However, who says that these attributes can't be used to benefit children at the high school level or even for college students? As a college student, I believe that these attributes would make a great university president, one that would enhance campus morale and student-faculty interactions. However, this will not happen because women are seen by many in society as unassertive and unwilling to take the power. I think that females are willing to take a position of power, but they are hindered by a lack of support, traditional stereotypes, and a difference in leadership style between men and women.

Men and women see leadership tasks very differently, causing disequilibrium between the two sexes. Especially in the area of business, one should recognize that one managerial style is not proven better than another even if some people would argue otherwise. For example, some believe that "'female' behaviors –particularly collaborativeness and nurturance– had become more appropriate for managers than the stereotypical male predilections for power and control" (Lipman-Blumen and Robinson). On the other hand, others believe that the original tendency of males to use power and control is better suited for the managerial position because they won't be "soft" in decision-making situations. According to a study of current male and female managers performed by Jean Lipman-Blumen and Jill L. Robinson, men and women tend to use the same behaviors in leadership. In fact, 6 out of the 9 behaviors that were studied were used equally between men and women. Of the three unequal behaviors, men tended to use the competitive and mentoring skills more often, whereas women tended to master and improve their skills more often. This verifies that there really isn't a difference in men's and women's actual performances as leaders. Nevertheless, a barrier is still created for women due to the traditional ideal of leadership being male.

Women are hampered in society because men were, historically, the first to be leaders; this "manly" leader is still seen as the ideal for the management or administrative world even when women are just as capable as their male counterparts. Many women who are in high leadership positions feel forced to "lead in the manner that is considered the norm; that is, the way that men lead" (Growe and Montgomery). This means they are forced to be more competitive prior to mastering their skills, the opposite of what women tend to prefer, according to the Lipman-Blumen and Robinson study. This is yet another barrier that stops women from moving up the leadership ladder in any field. If the woman is forced by society to act, teach, administrate, and in a sense be male, then females are not as willing to get into these leadership positions. Many will not give up themselves in such a way for a higher position in their line of work, and it is unfair to ask any woman to do so. Everyone should have the chance to be themselves in their work fields, especially women. There truly is no reason for them to convert to "manly" procedures just to receive a higher position; they should be leaders in their work solely because they want to.

In terms of leadership, the President of the United States has the most important role of all; however, this position appears to be most difficult for women to get into due to traditional gender stereotyping. It's hard to believe that in 1870, fifty years before women received the right to vote, Victoria Claflin Woodhull announced herself as a candidate for the 1872 U.S. Presidential election ("After 135"). Since then there have been nine other women who have tried their hands at the Presidential race. That leads us to question why there hasn’t been a woman candidate actually on the voting ballot. The answer is simple: in the past, society was not ready for a woman president.

Times appear to have changed: "Ninety-two percent of adults now say they would vote for a woman for president from their political party if she were qualified for the job" ("Ready for"). However, I don't believe people would actually vote for a woman when the time came along. There have been many female candidates in the past, including Carol Moseley Braun, who ran for President in the 2004 election; none of these women were well supported by the nation's voters. Is it that those females weren't "qualified" or "intelligent" enough for voters? Perhaps, but in my past experience, I have seen many people express the fear that a female president would not be respected by other world leaders. This is mainly because many religions and cultures do not believe that women should hold such authority. It is sad to think that our nation has a lack of faith in just the female gender when it comes to positions of power.

One woman has recently gained quite a bit of power in the clergy, and a lot of controversy has occurred since. In June of 2006, for the first time ever, a woman was elected as presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Out of seven candidates, Katharine Jefferts Schori was chosen by the Consecration of Bishops Committee to be in this leadership position for the next nine years. However, not everyone is viewing her rise to power as an improvement for the Church as a whole. In fact, her appointment threatens to tear the Church followers apart, and a possible schism has been discussed. Nevertheless, this division has only been considered by a small section of the Episcopal Church. The most controversy has surrounded the "Seven U.S. conservative dioceses (that) have already rejected her authority and have asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, to assign them another national leader" ("A First"). Many of these dioceses disagree with allowing women to even be ordained as bishops and therefore don't support a woman head bishop. Even Jefferts Schori feels that her gender has a lot to do with the controversy: "I think there's a piece of it that has to do with that. I think if a man had been elected to this position at this time things would be not quite so hot" (qtd. in Conlon). Unfortunately, as Jefferts Schori stated, gender is the major barrier that keeps women from succeeding in leadership positions. Although society is trying to fix the gender stereotyping that exists, this kind of oppression is still present, and it stops many women from even trying to gain a position of power.

Women are held down by many barriers as they try to climb the leadership ladder. The one main barrier, however, is the fact that they are women and have had traditional stereotypes held against them for a long time. It is sad that these particular obstacles don't allow women to be equal with men in the work field. Although steps are being made to overcome this huge barrier that exists inside the gender gap, there is still work to be done. Is it fair to have this stereotyping stopping woman’s every move as we try to gain power in the work field? I think not. Now is the time for action, not just for women but men as well. The people who can make the biggest difference in changing this traditionally held belief are also our future leaders: male and female college students.

Female college students can easily make a difference in the gender stereotyping, especially since they will be in the work field very soon. They can do this by working hard to force through the small barriers inside it without changing themselves in the process. There is no reason for anyone to modify their nature just to get a better job, particularly when this change will cause them to be unhappy. Nonetheless, it takes hard work, determination, strength, and self-discipline to get into the ranks of any leadership position. It also calls for some sense of a competitive spirit but, as women, we do not have to let that change us. We can be optimistic and tenacious with our own personality without making ourselves into the "manly" leader that tradition seems to hold as ideal. As students, we know what stereotypes have oppressed women in the past; as the future, we can help work against the tradition that has held women back to achieve our goals. If we work aside men, not against them, we can overcome the gender stereotyping.

Male college students can also make a huge impact on closing the gender stereotyping that exists today. Since they will be the next employees alongside females, they can be a substantial influence in the advocacy for female leaders. Men can support women who want to get into the upper-level management positions by being mentors and not pushing the barriers upon them. By being stable mentors, men can help women feel in control of their futures, and by working together they can break apart all of the traditional gender roles that hold women stationary. Men can even ensure that females use their best assets to their advantage in all areas of the working spectrum. Also, if a male is in a high position of leadership and a female is vying for any leadership position below him, he can make sure that gender is not a factor in deciding who is offered the job.

One should recognize that a woman should not be seen as a better choice for a position simply because of her gender either. If this situation occurs, reverse discrimination becomes a problem, where men are suddenly forced into the barriers that currently trap women. The goal is to have males and females equal in all areas of the work field. This can happen mainly by these two groups working mutually as one. If men and women forget the division of gender, they can easily overcome all of the obstacles before them together. As Henry Ford once said: "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success."


Works Cited:

"After 135 Years, It's Time to Elect a Woman President." American Women Presidents: Our Mission is to Elect Women to the Presidency. 2006. American Women Presidents. 12 Nov. 2006 <http://www.americanwomenpresidents.org/the_campaign.htm>.

Conlon, Michael. “Chicago: New Episcopal Church Head Says Dissent Limited.” VirtureOnline.org. 3 Nov. 2006. VirtueOnline. 12 Nov. 2006. <http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=4947>

“Facts About Women In the House and the Senate.” Fact Monster-People. 2005. Information Please. 6 Dec. 2006. <http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0768502.html>

"A First: Woman Becomes Head Bishop of Episcopal Church." CNN.com. 4 Nov. 2006. CNN. 12 Nov. 2006 <http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/11/04/woman.bishop.ap/index.html?eref=rss_topstories>.

Ford, Henry. “Team work Quotes.” Thinkexist.com. 3 Dec. 2006. <http://en.thinkexist.com/quotations/team_work/>

“Glass Ceiling Commission.” Cornell University: ILR School. 1995. Cornell University. 14 Nov. 2006. < http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/glassceiling/>

Growe, Roslin and Paula Montgomery. "Women and the Leadership Paradigm: Bridging the Gender Gap." National Forum Journal 2000:1-10. 11 Nov. 2006 .

Lipman-Blumen, Jean and Jill L. Robinson. “Leadership Behavior of Male and Female Managers, 1984-2002.” Journal of Education for Business Sept./Oct. 2003:28-33. 12 Nov 2006.

"Ready for a Woman President?." CBS News. 5 Feb. 2006. CBS. 14 Nov. 2006 <http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/02/03/opinion/polls/main1281319.shtml>.