Research Proposal: Women in Leadership

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Women in Leadership

The struggle for women's rights have come a long way from gaining the right to suffrage to having more women participate in the labor market, which is viewed as directly contributing to nation building. As women go up the social, political, or professional ladder, there arises the recognition for the need for change in attitudes and perceptions, whether of men or other women, with regard to women in leadership positions. While inroads have been made and small victories have been claimed in putting women in the same contributory role to national development -- whether in the corporate, political, or social arena -- as men, advocates contend that there is still much that need to be done before full victory can be claimed in terms of equal opportunities and treatment for women as leaders in the corporate or political world. Toussaint (1993) claimed that power and influence remain to be the domain of men, and women remain to be "second-class citizens with restricted physical and intellectual freedom (Toussaint, 1993). Does this still hold true a decade and a half after? Are women still lacking in representation in key policy-making posts? Is the glass ceiling still existent in this day and age when women have made significant inroads in critical sections of society? Several studies point to the hard fact that the dichotomy between a man and woman both physiologically, biologically, and psychologically are still used as a determinant his or her effectiveness as a leader. While the contention continues to exist, attention has been drawn to women in leadership positions withdrawing from the rat race and choosing to focus on their domestic lives (Kellerman & Rhode, 2004). This paper intends to explore the possible reasons these women made this choice, which presents a novel position for women who have almost (if not have already) broken past the glass ceiling.

Context of the Problem

The International Labour Organization's (ILO) Global Employment Trends report in 2003 indicate that participation rate of women in the labor market are still low while registering with higher unemployment rates and substantial gap in wage earnings compared to men (quoted from International Labour Organization, 2004). According to a 2006 study conducted by Catalyst, a U.S.-based consulting firm committed to developing mechanisms to aid the continued upward mobility of women, women hold half of all management and professional positions in 2005. In 2006, women comprised a measly 1.8% of Fortune 500 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and an increase of 0.7% in representation of women in Fortune 500 companies in the period of 2002 and 2005 (Catalyst, 2006). In the political arena, female Senators occupy fourteen seats in the 108th U.S. Congress and there has been a significant increase (10%) in the number of women in the U.S. Congress (Kellerman & Rhode, 2004). Despite these advances, several studies point to cultural and societal attitudes as the main contributory factors that hinder the full realization of the benefits of having women in leadership posts (International Labour Organization, 2004; Jamieson, 1995; Kellerman & Rhode, 2004). The ILO report points to both "horizontal" and "vertical occupational segregations" but also notes that the cases differ from one country to another, reflecting the difficulty of the terrain through which advocates would navigate (International Labour Organization, 2004). A more widely accepted explanation to make sense of what hinders women from advancing in the leadership ladder is the glass-ceiling phenomenon, which is that invisible barrier that gives the illusion that women can push further and yet the highest point they may reach in the ladder has already been predetermined by attitudes shaped by social and cultural parameters (Toussaint, 1993). Compounding this pre-set limitation on a woman's potential in the world outside the home is the double bind (Jamieson, 1995; Catalyst, 2007) she is confronted with.

Statement of the Problem

As women are confronted with having to contend with societal and cultural forces for her to advance professionally, there is an underlying competition that is created by this struggle for recognition as a leader in her own right. And as the woman straddles the realm of the professional and that of the home, she confronted with the difficult choice of either choosing one over the other or having the best of both worlds and striking a difficult balance between the two worlds. Where does this leave a woman's social and psychological well-being?

Significance of the Research

Much of the literature on women and leadership dwell on how women (and men) can overcome the barrier (both tangible and invisible) that hinder women from reaching the full potential as leaders. A lot has also been written on perception about male or female leadership. However, there is an apparent paucity in literature that deals primarily on the impact of the struggle for upward mobility on the social and psychological well-being of the woman. Literature seems to be silent on how a woman processes the ramblings about her as a leader. This is an area of study, which may be a fertile ground for further investigation, although the task may seem daunting at the moment.

Literature Review

Leadership is a topic that has been written about extensively. In her article entitled, "Women Leadership and Community Development," Hassan and Silong (2008) provide an extensive review of significant writings on leadership, developing a typology of literature on the topic relating to leadership traits, roles, styles and approaches, and even the continuum developed by R. Tannebaum and WH Schmidt. Relevant to this paper, however, are materials on gender and leadership, a key discussion of which is provided by Ruth Axelrod (2008) where she elaborates on the woman's psychosocial development, which underpins her future attitudes and leadership learning. She also brings out demands that she may face as a woman as she learns to take on leadership roles that are viewed as outside her realm (Axelrod 2008). This relates to an earlier article written by Sharon Nelton, which provides the characterization of male and female leadership, which highlights that while the leadership styles of her respondents may significantly vary, they actually complement each other. The male's "command-and-control… [h]ierarchical, action-oriented, and quasi-military" style and the female's "consensus-building, open, and inclusive" style actually benefit not only the well-being of both man and woman but also the organization within which both operates (Nelton, 1991). While Nelton (1991) presents a more promising picture in the power-sharing arrangements in small and medium firms, Catalyst's "The Double-Bind Dilemma for Women in Leadership: Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don't" identifies three Predicament which women leaders have to contend with the workplace. These include: "1) Polarized perceptions; 2) High standards, low rewards; 3) Competent but not liked" (Catalyst, 2007). The research likewise developed the Stereotypes Diagnostic Instrument, which is useful in identifying and measuring the degree of stereotyping in a certain firm or organization. The study contends that "[g]ender stereotypes can become a powerful yet invisible threat to women leaders and the organizations in which they work and lead." The study further contends that gender stereotyping leads to underestimation of women's leadership potential as a result of creating a "false dichotomy" and a bias in objectively ascertaining the leadership potential of men and women's characteristics (Catalyst, 2007). The study builds on in-depth interviews with 13 women who are in the top echelons of the corporate ladder, analyses of responses to open-ended survey questions administered to 1,200 respondents.

As Catalyst researches point to the relative shortage of women leaders in the top posts in public service and in the private sector, Kelleman and Rhode (2004) confronts the more difficult question of whether this dearth in women leaders is actually a result of discriminatory attitudes and practices or a result of a conscious choice of women who are very much capable to reaching the top. The authors contend that there is a need to recast the discourse "to account for both gender biases, which can be addressed through greater equity in the workplace and in society more generally, as well as gender differences, which must be addressed through greater diversity in the workplace and society" (Kellerman & Rhode, 2004). They point to social and cultural expectations on women as shaping the way women actually view themselves, which accounts for their underachievement (Kellerman & Rhode, 2004).

Conclusion

Modern history, whether we like it or not is still tainted with the protracted struggle for women to gain equal opportunities in occupying leadership positions in the different arenas of society. And much still needs to be done in the policy arena and more painstakingly in changing men and women's attitudes and perceptions that have been shaped by long-standing social and cultural traditions. And as women fight to advance the cause, there emerges a seeming aberration to the struggle which several articles and studies unwittingly frown upon. What these studies reveal is that women have the choice whether to have a go in their quest for leadership positions or to "withdraw" from their profession to focus on their domestic responsibilities. The sad fact is that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Women in Leadership.  (2009, May 17).  Retrieved June 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-leadership/35082

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"Women in Leadership."  Essaytown.com.  May 17, 2009.  Accessed June 20, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-leadership/35082.