Gender stereotypes block women's advancement

Oct 20 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Senior executives' perceptions of men and women are more informed by gender-based stereotypes than facts, leading to misrepresentation of the true talents of women and contributing to the startling gender gap in business leadership.

Women "Take Care," Men "Take Charge", a new report by Catalyst, a U.S. research and advisory organisation dedicated to advancing women at work, argues that the effects of gender-based stereotyping can be devastating, potentially undermining women's capacity to lead, and posing serious challenges to women's career advancement.

Both men and women respondents cast women as better at stereotypically feminine "caretaking skills" such as supporting and rewarding. And both men and women asserted that men excel at more conventionally masculine "taking charge" skills such as influencing superiors and delegating responsibility.

Overall, the study found that men saw women as superior in only two out of 10 key leadership behaviours, supporting and rewarding subordinates.

"It is often these 'taking charge' skills - the stereotypically 'masculine' behaviours - that are seen as prerequisites for top - level positions," said Jeanine Prime, author of the study and Director of Research at Catalyst.

But while men and women leaders' responses conformed largely to gender stereotypes, they differed widely in their judgments of problem-solving ability

Women saw women as better problem-solvers. Men saw men as better problem-solvers

Women saw women as better problem-solvers. Men saw men as better problem-solvers. In fact, problem-solving - one of the qualities most commonly associated with effective leadership and a hallmark behaviour of a CEO - was the area in which men judged themselves most superior to women.

Since men far outnumber women in top management positions, this male-held stereotype dominates current corporate thinking, the report argues, and may contribute to the fact that although women hold more than half of all management and professional positions, they make up less than two per cent of U.S. Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 CEOs.

Indeed, the number of women CEOs in the Fortune 500 has actually decreased from eight in 2003 to seven today.

For women in business, this is a real catch-22, the study argues. Problem-solving, influencing superiors, delegating responsibility, and other "taking charge" skills are key components of what Catalyst's study terms "interpersonal power."

The study suggests that women, robbed of this interpersonal power, must therefore rely more on "positional power", their place in the hierarchy of their organisations. Yet as women comprise only 16 per cent of Fortune 500 corporate officers, their positional power is markedly limited.

Compounding this, it also appears that exposure to women leaders does not necessarily lessen stereotyping. Indeed it often reinforces it, creating "extreme perceptions" of women leaders.

But despite the fact that companies have shown an increased commitment to diversity, inclusion and the advancement of women in the workplace, the representation of women in leadership remains stagnant.

The study argues that unless organisations take steps to eradicate this bias, women leaders will always be undermined and misjudged, regardless of their talents or aptitudes.

Companies need to take active steps to combat stereotyping by instituting more rigorous and transparent evaluation processes, Catalyst says, as well as educating managers and executives about stereotyping. The achievements of women leaders also need to be showcased, particularly those in traditionally male-dominated fields.

"By shining a spotlight on this often unspoken and insidious barrier to women's advancement, it demonstrates empirically how gender - based stereotyping often operates as shorthand for fact and shortchanges women in the workplace," said Ilene Lang, President of Catalyst

"Ultimately, it's the companies that suffer. Developing and retaining the best talent is key to remaining competitive in the global business world."

Breaking down stereotypes around women and gender was a question of undoing long-held but misguided perceptions, and recognising their potential damage. "Until we break the spell of stereotyping, companies will continue to sub-optimise women and lose a vital talent pool one they, frankly, cannot afford to ignore," Lang added.

Older Comments

I found out only too well, that women black Males Development as well in companies, i worked for a female manager for years, while underqualified, new to the job women progressed, i was kept at the bottom, with more experience and more qualifications. It isnt just women who get victimised, men get victimised more so, and we have even less organisations backing us up! So even if we are qualified, experienced, keen, and driven to succeed, we will get held back because of a) We are men and b) Because of what happened in the past. If we are to have a so called 'Equality' then it takes two genders to tango!

Gender StereoTyped Male

I believe that every person in every work environment should be equally opinionated by employers, not based on gender stereotypes! This is crazy! A male co-worker gets a higher salary than I do and we work the same hours and we have the same position!

andrea classified

What happened to the days when a woman knew her place which was in the kitchen with the kids? Polictical correctness has equality has gone far enough. Stop campaigning to make more women adavance in the major companies. Enough women have now adavanced now, lets cut back before our evolution gets damaged.

Steven Oliphant

Stephen, you're the reason hookers stay in business! Stop taking your hate out on intelligent women who have the sense not to date you, because theyre too good for you so you have to pay for someone to touch you. highschool is over get over it. You're only proving the point further that women are just as equal and deserve the same opportunities as men.

Chris Stewart

I agree with the article's message. We should stop stereotyping against females when it comes to top level jobs. It is not right not to place a women in a position if she qualifies for the just because of her gender. And for all the men who disagree with the article, you gals need to get more educated.


the message provided by this article is very true and depicts the exact picture of the working of the organizations. In my opinion, women are equally capable than men and can take even better decisions than the males. So there should be equal opportunity provided to both the sexes, and no discrimination on the basis of gender.


thank you chris!


I do agree with this arctile and I as a male do see women as an equal. In my own opinion i see people by deeds not by skin color or sex. Also some women,intelligent or not, find dominate men attractive. P.S Please dont talk about hookers cause it has nothing to do with the article and it sounds very Foolish.

cant be

I think that 'can't be' is a closet racist and sexist who is hiding behind self-righteous claims like that he rises above stereotypes. Stereotypes exist for a reason, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are bad. I'm not so sure why people argue that women should equalize themselves to men. Men and women are not equal. And no one is better than the other, because I assure you I could never single-handly undertake the most important job in the world today, and that is raising the children of the future. And I see so many women in the world do that very thing every day with absolutely zero job-training. And one last thing, I find it ironic that in order for a woman to be a 'feminist,' it seems to mean that they have to go against their nature and be as masculine as possible. Women should embrace woman-hood, it's a beautiful thing.


i have to agree with chris and meg. they know what they are talking about. what makes men better than women. anything we can do, they can do just as well. Thank You.

Austin Ells

people should be equal in everything that they do doesnt matter the strength or speed that it needs to get done on, there's enough time for anything to be done if you know what your doing, but I think that people should do the job if they can not because they think they can though. Although it never seems like its been that way or ever will be, ther's always going to be hope for it and maybe that might be enough to make a differece to somebody.

Melody Wabash