Leadership – Women Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

Leadership – Women Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

Women Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

Research shows a distinction between the leadership styles of the small number of women who have broken the glass ceiling and moved on to success at the senior management levels, and the more numerous women who are leaders in organizations characterized by Hughes, Ginnett and Curphy, as medium-sized, nontraditional organizations. Women in the former group were found to have identical management styles and attributes to their male counterparts when comparing personality types, thinking styles, and interpersonal skills. Males and females were equal in commonly identified masculine attributes like aggressiveness, analytical thinking, competitiveness, and decisiveness. Conversely, their male counterparts were found to be equal with the females in what would be characterized as feminine managerial attributes like empathy, listening skills, and people-orientation (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, pp.30-31). The indication is that those who achieve success at higher levels, whether male or female, have basically the same managerial attributes. What we do not know is why. Is it the result of similar experiences on the way up the corporate ladder? Or have they successfully met some unspoken criteria in their pursuit of success?

Answers to these questions would certainly be of interest to those who aspire to follow in their footsteps, especially in light of the fact that just the opposite appears to be true for women in the latter group, who portray a totally different picture. These are women, who did not follow what Hughes Ginnett and Curphy call the traditional “rules of conduct,” but opted for an interactive leadership style that is characterized by subordinate empowerment, team-orientation, and a sharing of power and information. Expert Judith Rosener explains that these are women who are effectively using socialization skills they have developed as a result of being placed in managerial roles without the formal positional authority. Absent that formal authority, they have been forced to become skilled at accomplishing goals through relational and interactive leadership. In a 1990, Harvard Business Review article, Rosener describes how this new interactive management has proven in some organizational situations to be more effective than the typical command-and-control management style, most particularly in organizations that struggle with significant uncertainty and rapid change (Rosener, 1990). The inference is that such organizations by necessity become more results oriented, and as such, become more dependent upon flexibility and decentralization. Environmental ambiguity is forcing them to be receptive to more innovative management styles.

While organizational and cultural changes are in fact resulting in more managerial opportunities for women, gender stereotyping continues to be a limiting factor for women. In a cross-cultural research project conducted by Virginia Schein of Gettysburg College and Ruediger Mueller of the University of Wisconsin, the results showed a “Strong and similar pattern of sex typing of the managerial position among male management students within Germany, Great Britain, and the U.S.” The outcome demonstrated that males in all three countries overwhelmingly believed that successful middle managers possess characteristics, attitudes, and temperaments more commonly ascribed to men than to women (Schein, Ruediger, 1992). It was only the female participants from the United States who believed that women had the ability to succeed in management like men. It is an older study, but significant because of today’s globalization. This means that American women must overcome not only the stereotypes here in the United States, but also those in foreign countries as well.

Gender stereotyping is not the only issue that limits women in the managerial success today. Many are single head-of-household mothers raising children and caring for families, and may be forced to choose between family and promotion. Others may feel obliged to accept riskier assignments for fear they may not be given another opportunity. Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy identify the challenge of the glass cliff, where women are more likely than their male counterparts to be hired in management positions for an organization that is on the decline. And there is always the added pressure from all eyes on you because you are the novelty in the organization (Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy, 2012, p.30).

Women face many obstacles in their quest for managerial equality. But some are successfully breaking through. Others are learning to use their skills in new innovative ways, pulling away from the traditional management rules, and finding success in the process. And while gender stereotyping does continue to exist, the ambiguity and complexity in today’s business environment may well be encouraging decision-makers to reconsider their options as they choose between tradition and survival.


Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C., Curphy, G.J. 2012. Leadership enhancing the lessons of experience seventh edition. McGraw-Hill. New York, NY.

Rosener, J.B. (Nov. 1990). Ways women lead. Harvard Business Review.

Schein, V.E., Mueller, R. (Sept. 1992.) Sex role stereotyping and requisite management characteristics: a cross cultural look. Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol 13, No. 5 439-447.

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