Paradoxes Women in Leadership Face

Since the modern women’s liberation movement began in the early 20th century, women have made enormous strides when it comes to accessing career opportunities. 


Unfortunately, many barriers uniquely faced by women still exist in the workplace. These burdens can hinder women’s professional development and create adverse or even hostile work conditions. 


In particular, women in leadership roles are subject to gendered behavioral norms that can limit their effectiveness as leaders. 


The following are a few ways that unfair gender roles, even in the 21st century, impact women in leadership positions. 


The “Nurturing” Role Pigeonhole


Women were traditionally perceived as caregivers of society. As such, people expect them to be warm, friendly, and soft-spoken at all times. These subconscious gendered behavioral expectations are so ingrained that many of us are not even aware of them. 


Although good leaders do care for those under them in the organizational hierarchy, leadership also requires toughness and stern discipline from time to time. While we generally expect this disposition from men and welcome it as an important component of effective leadership, women who exhibit assertiveness are often described in unflattering terms. 


Demanding vs. Caring


Leaders should demonstrate an optimal balance of assigning responsibilities with firm expectations in place for outcomes and accommodating the needs of employees. 


Women in leadership roles who are seen as too “demanding” are often met with hostility or scorn because they implicitly violate traditional gender roles. 


Authoritative vs. Participative


Several theories of leadership compete for dominance. In the first iteration of authoritative, or “top-down” leadership, directions are dispensed to workers, and everyone is expected to comply. 


In participative, or “collaborative” leadership, the leader acts more as a facilitator of consensus. 


Each approach to leadership has its merits, and most leaders mix the two. However, women who act authoritatively risk a social backlash. 


Distance Maintenance vs. Approachability


Due to their conditions as caregivers, women are often trained to remain open to others to discuss their issues or problems. This can create a difficult terrain to navigate as a leader of a business. 


Because women in leadership roles are a relatively new phenomenon at some workplaces, we don’t yet have a comprehensive understanding of how women can best navigate sticky workplace social landscapes. After all, every workplace is different, and no single method can be applied to all. Until we evolve to achieve greater equality, women will continue to experience hardship in effective leadership.


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by EmberConley

Ember Conley is a trained education administrator, social-emotional expert, and child champion located in Salt Lake City, UT. She's passionate about a range of topics including women in leadership, being a working parent, and educating others on the opioid epidemic and the role schools and parents need to play in fighting it.

The education system isn't just a place to send children to school and hope that everything turns out for the best. Ember doesn't believe everything can be resolved at home, either. She's a passionate advocate for striking a balance between school, work, and home life, all while partnering with others involved in our lives.


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