Stumped along the way

International Women’s day was celebrated across the globe yesterday (I was completely unaware until Google pointed it out!) However, it got me thinking. I started thinking about how the perception of women in terms of roles and capabilities can have real consequences for women in the workplace. I have recently read Sheryl Sandberg’s book entitled “Lean In” and she discusses a number of issues related to such gender issues. Although not necessarily directly influence by media, the perceptions of women as the main care giver in the home are reinforced throughout media displays. Those irritating ads show women cleaning, hoovering, preparing the family meal or happily minding the children are rampant.

Women Cleaning

And even when we the woman does leave the house it seems that shopping is the next stop shop (pardon the pun)

The influences of such ads really help in reinforcing the notion that we are the main care takers in the home and this is a widespread perception. Sheryl argues that upon leaving universities, men and women are on the same playing field. There is an equal spread of success right and both are competing for the same positions when graduating. However, usually this is as far as it goes for the woman. Women begin to get the message that they can either have a career or a family. Even a recent article by the ICEDR conducted interviews with some of the world’s most successful women in business. However, one such comment really encapsulates such notions of gender inequality that still exist in our society. Adele Guflo, Regional President of Pfizer stated the following:

Capture 2

The first few sentences really sum it all up. Why is it that the woman cannot have a very successful long term career and a family? Why is it that she must choose? It is not just a notion, it is a reality. Sheryl argues that this happens time and time again. For example, a law associate may decide not to shoot for partner because someday she hopes to have a family. From a young age women get the message that they will have to choose between succeeding at work and being a good mother. We are stumped in our tracks of becoming very successful in our careers.

Another factor which influences women into not reaching for the CEO role or the manager role can be explained by the Heidi/Howard study. I learned about this from reading Lean In. This study was conducted by Fank Flynn and New York University Professor Cameron Anderson. Basically, students read a bibliography about an individual and their career success. The individual had become a successful venture capitalist and had an impressive professional network. 2 groups read the story. ½ of the class read the story where the individual was named Heidi and the other half read the exact same story but the name was changed to Howard. The result was the both Heidi and Howard were respected but Heidi (even though the story was the same as Howard), Heidi was disliked as an individual. She was seen as selfish and not the kind of person that you would like to work for. Howard on the other hand was simply commended on his work ethic and a willingness to take risks.  Liked him. Disliked her. It all comes down to the stereotypical role we play. Because Heidi was a woman it is automatically thought that she should be a caregiver, she should be sensitive and a team player whereas it’s perfectly acceptable for the man to be career driven. Our preconceived perceptions about masculinity and femininity influence how we evaluate colleagues in the workplace.

A 2012 study found that when two individuals applied for a job via a CV/resume application, even though both had the exact same qualifications and experience, the hiring managers held the male colleague in a higher esteem.

Even though we have come a long way, it seems that women still cannot shake off the caricature stereotypes inflicted on us. Because of this we are negatively evaluated when traits such as competitiveness are displayed. Reaching for the top position for women has a number of battles that a male colleague simply won’t have to encounter.


Sandberg, S. and Scovell, N. (n.d.). Lean in.