7 Myths that keep Women from Climbing the Corporate Ladder

corporate ladder

Too often, women are confronted with career roadblocks that limit their progress up the corporate ladder. Many of those are based on cultural and social “truths” that are in reality myths. Here are seven myths that commonly keep women from achieving the career goals for which they strive and deserve.

Myth: Women aren’t good at negotiations.

I decided to test out this theory by asking my daughter what she wanted for breakfast the other day.

“Chocolate cake,” she said without hesitation.

“If you have chocolate cake for breakfast, won’t you be hungry later?” I asked. She paused for a moment before responding, “OK…bacon.”

That’s right—she would rather have bacon than cake for breakfast. But when I tried to negotiate with her father about what time the family could go to the pool that afternoon, he quickly shut me down. He didn’t even try bargaining; he gave me two options and told me which one we were doing (the one that got us home 20 minutes after I was hoping).

While it’s certainly true that women are less likely to ask for better compensation packages, negotiate pay raises, and push back against the status quo, this doesn’t mean they’re incapable. They just need their colleagues to be more flexible and understanding so that they can even think of negotiating. But nevertheless, the skills required to negotiate effectively are learnable by taking private negotiation training classes and workshops—and once you get started, you may never want to stop!

Myth – Women are too emotional

In my experience, most of the women I have met in high-powered positions are extremely levelheaded. They know how to keep their emotions under control and make rational decisions. That being said, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a heart or compassion for those around them. In my opinion, women just use a different kind of vernacular to express their emotions.

“What is wrong with being emotional? What’s wrong with being human?”

This is an excellent question, and one that I am sure will spark some debate. Again, my personal view on this is that it has nothing to do with capability or strength of character; it comes down to the different ways men and women have been socialized. Getting emotional is a sign of weakness in the masculine socialization. But being able to show compassion and emotion can be a sign of strength as a female. As men have been internalized to suppress emotion, they might see it as a threat or hindrance in building character. In my opinion, a little emotion never hurt anybody.

Myth: Women can’t handle the pressure of corporate life.

While women face some unique obstacles in the workplace, heavy workloads aren’t one of them. Research shows that both men and women are equally prone to burnout. Stephanie Losee, author of six books on work-life balance, says that while she’s seen research that suggests female managers tend to get stressed more easily than male managers, the difference is “small to negligible.”

The American Psychological Association says that women and men are both at risk of feeling overwhelmed by work demands. Stress, like burnout, doesn’t discriminate on the mere basis of gender.

glass ceiling

Myth: Women can’t be in top management because they lack the desire to lead.

Enough women in leadership positions and young girls will have role models to look up to, which is a key factor in their choosing a career path or not, according to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and a vocal proponent of women’s rights in the workforce.

“A survey by the Girl Scouts found that girls’ number one career choice is ‘business leader,’ ahead of doctor, teacher, and lawyer,” she writes. “But their number one roadblock to success is not being able to see themselves in those roles.” 

Dare to address the roadblock? In my opinion, women face too many obstacles in their pathway to becoming a great leader – misogyny, for one – that their aspirations are left behind.

Myth: Women care more about their personal lives than their careers

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told the story of a male executive who advised her to take two weeks of vacation after having a baby. “He said to me, ‘If you want to have a life that works for you and your family, you really have to set aside some time on the mommy track.’ I had been at Facebook maybe six months by then.”

If a female executive were to say she wanted time off for anything but a medical emergency or obligatory caring duties, she would be seen as putting her personal needs first. She’d be labeled as someone who is carelessly neglecting her responsibilities. Which is exactly what happened when Marissa Mayer took less maternity leave than Yahoo! employees with less tenure.

The truth is, women want careers as much as men do. And they’re willing to make sacrifices, too. “We have to stop telling women to Lean In and start telling men to Lean Back. Men should be encouraged to spend more time with their families,” says Sharon Meers, author of Getting to 50/50.

job interviews questions

Myth: Women who are successful at their jobs are “bossy” or “shrill.”

This is the other argument that opponents of women in leadership roles use to derail female candidates’ campaigns. If a woman doesn’t smile when she speaks, she could be perceived as being too harsh or aggressive. And if she does speak up, then everyone seems to think that she’s being bossy or shrill. Unfortunately, this means women have fewer opportunities to excel in the workplace. Even if they’re well qualified for a role, their voices can drown out any positive contributions they could make.

Myth: Men and women are equally represented in leadership roles because of equality laws .

Fact: Women are still held back by traditional gender stereotypes.

For the first time in history, women now hold higher degrees than men, yet they’re still underrepresented in leadership roles. And while the number of women leaders is growing every year, there are still five times as many male CEOs compared to female ones.

The most common argument for this imbalance is that it’s due to a pipeline problem—not enough qualified women are available to fill open leadership positions. But recent research suggests otherwise.”While progress toward equality has been significant, it hasn’t come close to achieving parity. When you set aside the reasons given for why companies lack senior-level female talent—pipeline issues and lack of focus on recruitment and development—it’s hard not to conclude that discrimination remains a major factor,” wrote Kate Hammer of Harvard Business Review.

Perception vs. Reality

So what is the problem? Researchers from INSEAD and The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania found that managers anecdotally perceived women as less competent than men. But they offered no evidence to support their assertions. 

In two studies, researchers found that participants strongly believed “women are more communal and men are more agentic”— meaning women were seen as better fitting into roles with caring, social responsibilities while men were viewed as having natural talents in areas like confidence, independence and dominance. And managers also believed they needed to possess these traditionally masculine traits (sometimes called “hegemonic masculinity”) in order for their performance reviews

For women to have more opportunities, we need to shift our thinking about gender roles. Employers should not just look for assertive or ambitious employees—they should hire women who are talented and qualified, regardless of their ability to fit into traditional gender stereotypes.

As this article concludes, “So while it’s true that it’s hard to be a perfect worker, employer expectations will never change if we continue to perpetuate these outdated stereotypes.”

Looking back to what we initially intended to, it is time to unshackle women from gender stereotypes and give them a chance to pursue the careers or lives they wish to. Elevate gives women (and men alike) a chance to better their resumes and gain experience by working for like-minded employers who are amenable to such propositions.

This guest post was authored by Shahrukh

Shahrukh is a communications manager at Elevate. He has vast experience in content marketing and advertising, with an emphasis on digital media. Shahrukh enjoys working in the creative field because he loves to be both creative and analytical simultaneously.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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