). Lever suggests that sexist ideas, among both women and men, come from "omnipresent cultural messages" (Hally Z.). These messages suggest that women are excellent caregivers, but that men are good leaders. As such, "any woman stepping out of her area of expertise, such as by taking on the job of manager, president, or CEO, is viewed with suspicion" (Hally Z.).
To overcome the perception that women are not good leaders, they must often take on, and even exaggerate, masculine traits like toughness and selfishness. For example, Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, was often seen as tougher than many of her male counterparts. Since masculine traits are seen as unnatural for women, women who are tough and assertive are often seen as "*****y" or emasculating. Unfortunately, women leaders who choose not to be tough or assertive are seen as weak or ineffective (Hally Z.) as a result, women leaders must combine both compassion and assertiveness, a combination not always required by male leaders (Lips, 2007).
Women in leadership positions are also often the focus of much attention on their sexuality. Hillary Rodham Clinton's leadership campaign has seen a large amount of attention paid to supposedly low cut necklines (Lips, 2007).
Women in leadership roles must often walk a tightrope for acceptable behavior. Notes Lips (2007) women leaders must be careful not to be "too pushy or too soft, too strident or too accommodating, too sexless or too sexual." The result is that "high-profile women leaders in the United States are relentlessly held to a higher standard than their male counterparts" (Lips, 2007).
The future of women in leadership roles
The United Nations notes that the participation of women in decision-making bodies worldwide has been growing slowly in the past several years. Women are assuming more senior-level positions in government, media, international affairs, and the private sector (United Nations).
This increase in women in leadership positions is encouraging, as the United Nations indicates that women's involvement in policy-making decisions improves the outcome for women and children. The United Nations notes, "women inside the government and within civil society organizations have played a critical role in passing laws and developing policies that address women's and children's rights in areas directly related to poverty reduction and violence against women.
Leadership positions that are linked to masculine properties, such as military command, high corporate office, and the presidency continue to provide a significant challenge to women leaders (Lips, 2007). Notes Lips (2007), "women face tough barriers stemming from the difficulty of simultaneously transcending and accommodating to gender stereotypes" in these positions.
Encouragingly, Lips (2007) argues that organizations and individuals can do much to support women who strive for leadership positions. This encouragement includes avoiding isolating women as tokens in male-dominated departments. Established leaders can work to legitimize women who seek roles as leaders. Individuals, importantly, can examine their own attitudes towards women in leaderships. Journalists can examine the gender biases evident in many critiques of male and female leaders. Ultimately, argues Lips (2007), the only way to break down many gender stereotypes, especially those concerning masculine traits required for leadership positions, is "for the first few clever, determined and thick-skinned women to dance, tip-toe, and kick their way through them."
As women continue to take on leadership positions traditionally associated with masculine qualities, the public perception of these positions will change. In time, men and women may live in a society where opportunities and challenges of all leadership positions are fairly shared (Lips, 2007).
Hally Z. Women Still Viewed as Unqualified for Leadership Roles. Accessed May 27, 2008.
Published Mar 07, 2007. www.associatedcontent.com/article/170695/women_still_viewed_as_unqualified_for.html?cat=3
Lips, Hilary M. Women and Leadership: The Delicate Balancing Act. (2007). Radford University. Accessed May 27, 2008. http://www.womensmedia.com/new/Lips-Hilary-Women-as-Leaders.shtml
Moneyzine.com. Women in Leadership Roles. Accessed May 27, 2008. http://www.money-zine.com/Career-Development/Leadership-Skill/Women-in-Leadership-Roles/
United Nations. (2007). Online discussions @ WomenWatch. Women in Leadership Roles, 19 November to 15 December 2007. WomenWatch. Accessed May 27, 2008. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/forums/leadership/
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Shaheen Sidi, Moderator. (2007). Women in Leadership Roles Online Discussion Moderator Message Summary Weeks 1- 4. Posted: 21 Dec 2007 04:13 PM. Accessed May 27, 2008. http://esaconf.un.org/WB/default.asp?action=9&boardid=59&read=3771&fid=661