Gender and Stereotypes in Management

Celia de Anca

17 January 2003

“You women are so...”. Regardless of the adjective that follows, a large number of women find this type of comments extremely annoying.

"We are annoyed because we like to be considered as unique individuals. While we have no wish to deny that gender forms an important part of our being, it is annoying that it can form the basis for a stereotyped opinion of our character or our professional capacity", explains Celia de Anca, Director of the Center for Diversity in Global Management of Instituto de Empresa.

Nevertheless, women – generically speaking- come up against barriers in the course of their career that make it difficult to gain promotion. The figures confirm this fact. In Spain we find that although women comprise 46% of the active population, only 3% form part of the boards of directors of the top 100 firms. This phenomenon is by no means limited to Spain, given that in the firms that comprise the FTSE 100 in the UK, where women make up 44% of the active population, only 5% of members of their management boards are women. Even in the US, which heads the tables with regard to women in management positions, a mere 12% of the boards of directors of the Fortune 500 companies are women.

The question is whether women themselves are rejecting senior management positions, or if positions of this kind require a certain profile that many women simply do not have. This profile tends to be that of a person who is direct, outgoing, sure of themselves, somewhat aggressive and, of course, not liable to fall pregnant. It would appear that the feminine prototype does not fit the paradigm of the ideal senior director. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in a recent survey carried out by Catalysis on women and leadership in Europe, 66% of the 500 women interviewed believed that stereotypes and preconceptions of the role and ability of women in management are the main barriers faced by women in their careers, more so than commitment to the family (62%). Interestingly enough, only 34% of the men interviewed considered that stereotyping was an obstacle to a woman’s career advancement.

Thus we have the difficult task of speaking about gender problems without mentioning stereotypes.

We are all different because although we belong to a determinate culture and gender, which means that we share certain characteristics, both sets of features are shaped by our personality. The resulting whole gives us a singular understanding of our environment, of time and space and, therefore, a unique perception of our relations with others, our way of ordering and obeying, or how we plan our time. This kind of diversity can offer the company a comparative advantage, a different strategic vision, or a specific approach to a determinate market. It is not only a question of social responsibility, based on the idea that women play a pivotal role in the firm as workers, clients and shareholders and therefore it is only fair that they have the same opportunities.

If existing diversity is worked to the firm’s advantage, it can bring significant benefits. In order to achieve this, diversity has to be properly managed, and in order to handle it well it is essential to understand the differences. It is not a question of eradicating archetypes, which exist for a reason, but rather to include them in order to understand that different ways of acting and being have their place at every level.

The feminine paradigm of management – that is not necessarily representative of all women and may apply to many men – presupposes a series of qualities that include intuition and sensitivity, qualities that can bring a great deal to general management of a firm, together with other type of qualities that may be in direct contrast but no less valid. The companies that enjoy success in the 21st century will be those that instead of asking if we are this or that, look at if what we are is valid if managed as a complementary element, and channelled toward the achievement of a common objective.

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