Life at Work

Office Stereotyping and How It Stifles

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 30, 2005

A few weeks ago, Neil French, a well-known advertising executive, told 300 people that women "don't make it to the top because they don't deserve to." He elaborated, saying that women are apt to "wimp out and go suckle something."

Just about the same time, a new survey announced that gender stereotypes still exist in the workplace.

Well, duh.

Of course they do. But when comments such as French's become public, it's easy to still be surprised and to think: "Is this really 2005?"

It is, and gender stereotypers is who we are. Men and women both.

According to a study released this month by the women's research and advocacy organization Catalyst, men consider women to be less adept at problem-solving. That sort of skill is, of course, pretty necessary to be an effective leader. And since men continue to sit in most chief executive spots throughout the country, any "male-held" stereotype will only continue to be in place, the study points out.

Stereotyping is a major reason "behind the gender gap in leadership," said Ilene H. Lang, president of Catalyst. The data, she said, "points a finger directly at problem-solving, which is a key leadership behavior. Senior men perceive that women are not as good problem-solvers as men."

Which is, for women and those men who care to see women in top positions, a problem.

Catalyst's study asked senior-level executives to rate the effectiveness of women and then men leaders on 10 key leadership behaviors.

The study found that both men and women viewed women as better at stereotypically feminine caretaking skills, such as supporting and rewarding. And both genders said men excel at more conventionally masculine taking-charge skills, such as influencing superiors and delegating responsibility.

In other words, men run the organization and women support them. That's just the way most of us still think, right?

But why, after all this time, and after all these years of listening to the facts and figures about the lack of women in top positions, are we still putting women in their stereotypical places?

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company