Gender, Hierarchy and Leadership

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Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 57, No. 4, 2001, pp. 629–636

Gender, Hierarchy, and Leadership: An Introduction
Linda L. Carli*
Wellesley College

Alice H. Eagly
Northwestern University

Although women’s status has improved remarkably in the 20th century in many societies, women continue to lack access to power and leadership compared with men. This issue reviews research and theory concerning women’s leadership. The articles included in the issue provide evidence of bias in the evaluation of women, discuss effects of gender stereotypes on women’s influence and leadership behaviors, and evaluate strategies for change. This introductory article provides a brief summary of changes in women’s status and power in employment and education and the absence of change at the upper echelons of power in organizations. Also included is an outline of the contributions of the other articles in the issue. It is an exciting period for scholars who study how gender affects leadership: The presence of greater numbers of women in positions of power has produced new opportunities to observe female leaders along with male leaders. There has been an increase in the numbers of women in positions of public leadership, including highly visible positions. Of course, focusing on women who occupy such leadership positions should not cause us to forget that women have always exercised leadership, particularly in families and throughout communities. However, until recently, women were extremely rare in major positions of public leadership. Now women are in a small minority in such roles, but present. Political leadership illustrates this trend: In history only 42 women have ever served as presidents or prime ministers, and 25 of those have come to office in the 1990s (Adler, 1999). Almost all of the women who have attained top positions in corporations around the world have done so in the 1990s.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Linda Carli, Department of Psychology, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA 02481 [e-mail: lcarli@wellesley.edu]. 629
© 2001 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues

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Carli and Eagly

Public interest in women’s potential as leaders is fueled by high-profile women serving in powerful positions; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright are just three recent examples from the United States. Many of the newspaper and magazine articles written about these and other female leaders have a positive tone (e.g., Dobbs, 1999; “A Practical Judicial Eye,” 2000). The idea that women might hold such positions and the suspicion that they might exercise power somewhat differently than men no longer seems as alarming to people as in the past. Indeed, people are receptive to the idea that different might be better or at least not worse than what the nation experiences now. In response to the Gallup Poll’s question, “Do you think that this country would be governed better or worse if more women were in political office?” 57% of the respondents in the United States chose the response “better,” with greater endorsement by women (62%) than men (51%; Gallup, 1995). Only 17% of the respondents indicated that such a change would worsen government.

The excitement about the presence of just a few women in powerful positions raises the question of why, with women’s roles changing so dramatically in the last decade, the numbers of women in these positions are so small. Indeed, the concept of the glass ceiling was introduced by the Wall Street Journal to account for this disjunction (“The Corporate Woman,” 1986) and has since been acknowledged by journalists and the public as an invisible but powerful barrier that allows women to advance only to a certain level.

Evidence supports the glass ceiling metaphor. By some yardsticks, the United States and other advanced industrial societies appear to be...
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