The difference in aspirations emerges around college age, according to our research. This is a time when many people gain their first taste of working life, through an internship or summer job, for example. We also found that industry matters. The gender aspiration gap can certainly be seen in female-dominated fields such as nursing and education, but it is much larger in more mixed and male-dominated fields, such as politics and business.
Even as the number of diversity initiatives has increased, especially in the last decade, our meta-analysis shows the gender difference in leadership aspirations has remained the same over the past 60 years. This could suggest that, either current diversity initiatives do not address women’s concerns around these roles, or that the initiatives are too general and need to be more tailored to women’s specific needs.
Making it work
Our research indicates that company diversity initiatives are not working. So, business leaders and managers must do a better job of factoring women’s actual aspirations into the development of these initiatives. A good start would be to try to understand the specific reasons behind female employees’ lower aspirations, especially in male-dominated environments.
Although we were not able to test an explanation for the aspiration gap, we believe that it may have to do with the process of “self-stereotyping”. This is when individuals internalise gender stereotypes, voluntarily conforming to gender norms. For women, this can mean internalising a more communal stereotype, which leads them to view themselves as less similar to a leader. Unsurprisingly, such women do not tend to aspire to leadership positions. Men, on the other hand, may internalise the masculine “agentic” stereotype, which makes them think they can have greater control over themselves and others – this also aligns with the stereotypical idea people often have of leaders.
Of course, other explanations are possible. This could include women having more negative experiences in the workplace such as bias and discrimination, which puts them off aspiring to leadership roles. It is also possible that women are concerned that accepting a leadership position and the responsibility that comes might negatively affect their family lives. For example, women often hold more power when it comes to decision making at home – so much so, that they have less interest in gaining workplace power.
Any attempt to bolster women should start with specific and targeted interventions such as developing mentorship schemes or highlighting role models. Organisations should also focus on women who exhibit leadership potential early in their careers and provide them with useful resources and support to progress upwards through the organisation. Our results suggest that interventions aimed at increasing women’s leadership aspirations should ideally occur before or during college. Women at this stage in their careers might especially benefit from having the opportunity to see and interact with women that already occupy leadership roles.
It is possible to create gender diversity initiatives that will do more to increase the number of women reaching the upper echelons of business. And making space for more women to move into leadership positions is not only fair, it could also have a positive impact on company performance.
Credit: Source link