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Beyond Leadership

119 EpisodesProduced by Mark KalinWebsite

Beyond Leadership is a podcast that connects the business world with academia and provides a platform for entrepreneurs, leaders, managers, students, and everyone willing to learn and share their best practices and life stories about leadership. Going Beyond.Founder and owner: Mark Kalin


Tip of the Week 06 - Challenges for Women in the Workplace

Challenges for Women in the Workplace

Scholars of gender inequality in the workplace are asked by companies to investigate why they are having trouble retaining women and promoting them to senior ranks. Ask people why women remain so dramatically underrepresented, and you will hear from the vast majority a lament—an unfortunate but inevitable “truth”: High-level jobs require extremely long hours, women’s devotion to family makes it impossible for them to put in those hours, and their careers suffer as a result. This explanation is called the work/family narrative.

In a 2012 survey of more than 6,500 Harvard Business School alumni from many different industries, 73% of men and 85% of women invoked it to explain women’s stalled advancement. Believing this explanation doesn’t mean it’s true, however, and researchers managed to put it seriously into question. Women were held back because, unlike men, they were encouraged to take accommodations, such as going part-time and shifting to internally facing roles, which derailed their careers. Taking this into account, there is an inevitable conclusion: for the firm to address its gender problem, it would have to address its long-hours problem.

The power of push factors:

Work/family accommodations: Going part-time or shifting to internally facing roles provides an enticing off-ramp from the path of overwork, but those moves stigmatize women and derail their careers.

The pressure to give up what they saw as their relational style in favour of the hard-charging “masculine” style: One female partner told researchers how an early mentor warned that relying on her well-honed relationship-building skills would communicate to prospective clients that “you don’t have a lot going on between your ears.”

Poor reputation of female partners with children, whose mothering was roundly condemned: It can happen that successful women are described as bad mothers—“horrible” women who were not “positive role models of working moms.” For junior women facing decisions about being good mothers and having successful careers, such condemnation implies that professional commitment exacts a terrible cost.

Conclusion: Findings align with a growing consensus among gender scholars: What holds women back at work is not some unique challenge of balancing the demands of work and family but rather a general problem of overwork that prevails in contemporary corporate culture. Women and men alike suffer as a result. But women pay higher professional costs.

What would you suggest for organizations to include more women in high / senior positions? Do you believe that a gender balance is important for the successful functioning of an organization?

Ely, R. J. & Padavic, I. (2020). What’s Really Holding Women Back? Harvard Business Review, 98(2), 58-67.

*Slovenian Research Agency, Program P5-0364 – The Impact of Corporate Governance, Organizational Learning, University of Ljubljana, School of Economics and Business, Slovenia.

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