Skills stereotyping hindering women

2004

When not hitting their head against glass ceilings or becoming bogged down in sticky floors, it appears as if many women looking for a way in to higher management are finding themselves wedged in male-shaped doorways.

Interim findings from a survey of managers across the UK by HRGateway and the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) suggest that stereotyping of ‘female’ and ‘male’ skills is the biggest hurdle to women’s career development.

Over half (52 per cent) of those surveyed – eight out of ten of whom were women – said that the stereotyping of women's roles & skills was the single biggest hurdle to their career advancement, pushing a ‘lack of support for family commitments’ into a distant second (at 22 per cent).

One in five pointed to a lack of role models or mentors as a barrier to advancement, while a lack of business or management skills was only seen as a hurdle by six per cent of the 150 survey respondents.

Dee Waite, director of personal development at the ILM believes that the findings reflect some of the problems women have in the workplace in getting their ideas heard:

“Occupations such as HR are as seen as the perfect role for women because of their people content. Outside of traditionally female roles they have twice as many hurdles to cross as men in terms of getting their ideas across.

“Firms should offer more partnerships for women at a high level including work shadowing and work sharing. There is nothing like seeing someone do a job to realise that they are capable of more than you assumed,” she said.

Recent research carried out for the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) suggested that stereotyping for both men and women starts in school. The effects of this shape many women’s entire career.

Just over half of women (54 per cent) and just under half of men (47 per cent) told the EOC survey that they thought the advice they received on leaving school, and thus the decisions they made about their future career, was influenced by their sex.

Dee Waite believes that images of superwomen in the media help sustain these stereotypes, leading to an unattainable image for women putting them off of trying to achieve or giving them an excuse for not striving:

"Many women have an entrepreneurial spirit but realising it can be hampered by stories of high achieving women, making reaching the top for ordinary women less obtainable.

"This works to further imbed stereotypes in women as they see what these high achieving women had to do to make it," she said.

The interim findings are part of a month long survey looking to gauge both men’s and women’s experiences of women and leadership. The researchers are looking for management level employees to get involved, and feedback is welcomed at: www.hrgateway.com/hrsurvey4.asp