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Discrimination: women in business.


Although great strides have been made in the last 20 years in overcoming discrimination against women, there is still a very long way to go and a lot of perceptions to change along the way.

Discrimination in the business world toward women takes on many different forms and although they are all very destructive, some may be more visible than others. The glass ceiling is still an ever present obstacle in today's business environment. In only four sectors of the business world women seem to transcend this barrier. They are in consumer advertising and marketing, the beauty industry, local small businesses, and education (Peiss, 1998). Though this is a good start, it only represents a very small percentage of all business. Speculations exist as to why there are not more women in upper level management of companies, but when this question is looked at in a historical perspective, it is observed that 10 years ago women were having a difficult time just breaking into middle management (MacRae, 2005).

The purpose of this paper is to look at some areas of discrimination toward women in business, some areas of opportunity for women to overcome discrimination, and some ways for women to overcome discrimination and move forward.


In a recent study it was found that a whopping 66% of the United States workforce was made up of women, with only 21% at the middle management level and a dismal 15% at the senior management level (Veale & Gold, 1998). The women in today's workforce seem to still be going the way of their female predecessors, that is to say, they are concentrated most heavily within the caring or humanities industries (Veale & Gold, 1998). This could be because of the almost inborn caring nature of women or because that is what society at large has deemed to be the most acceptable positions for women in America.

Although the gap between men and women in management careers is closing, the glass ceiling is still very evident in today's business environment. The fact remains that there are still significantly more men in management positions than women (Wentling, 2003). The one exception to this can be seen in the educational arena where elementary school principals tend to be mostly women (Cai & Kleiner, 1999). In fact, the number of women in leadership roles within their career is less than 30%. Some people believe that this issue is linked to the fact that management in and of itself has been traditionally thought of as a male occupation and, thus, is not suitable for a woman as a choice of profession (Cai & Kleiner, 1999).


Gender based stereotyping is solely based on opinions and perceptions and not on facts. One of the most common stereotypes men put on women is that they are not as good at problem solving as their male counterparts. This is especially unfortunate when the fact is considered that this is one of the main objectives of successful managers (Catalyst, 2005).

A study reveals that stereotypically the difference between women and men is that women take care and men take charge (Catalyst, 2005). However, research shows that when people have preconceived notions about someone, they are more likely to find and remember those fallacies about those people. This is to say that if you believe that everyone from culture Y is a follower and not as decisive as you and your fellow culture Xers, then when you see someone from culture Y demonstrating one of these characteristics, that is what tends to be remembered. Women see this phenomenon more specifically in traditionally male professions such as construction. Although a man will make the same mistake as a woman, the men that she works with will hold her at a higher standard and remember that one instance of a shortcoming (Catalyst, 2005). In fact people will many times consciously reject any new information that goes against their preconceived notions of that group. It creates a system where women are almost expected to fail because the very people that they have been hired to lead will not follow them on the job.

When we look at the fact that of all Fortune 500 businesses in the United States today, only 15.7% of corporate officers are female, it is easy to see that women are just not making it to the top (Catalyst, 2005). In fact the number of female CEO's has actually decreased since 2003 (Catalyst, 2005). The hope would be that even if women are not reaching the ranks of CEO, they are at minimum reaching high level management, but the disappointing fact is that the numbers have stagnated in the last few years (Catalyst, 2005).


Over the past thirty years there has been numerous law suits filed against corporate America on the basis of gender discrimination. For these suits to stand up in court, the Supreme Court has decreed that an aggrieved employee must have some personal loss or have suffered harm with respect to a term, condition, or privilege of employment (Cai & Kleiner, 1999). The plaintiff must also prove that they are a part of a protected group as stipulated under Title VII and prove that they have been treated differently from employees outside of their group. This is important to remember because not only must a plaintiff prove that they have been treated unfairly, but they must also prove that the percentages of women hired into management positions is not proportionate to that of the men (Cai & Kleiner, 1999). When the lack of women in an organization's management is brought up to its male managers, the usual response is lack of interest or feigned interest.

This, however, is a "futility doctrine" according to Cai and Kleiner (1999) because they say that the choices that humans make are formed by the job opportunities that have historically been available to them. The best way to see this is by speaking to a class of Kindergartners and asking them what they would like to be when they grow up. You will find that many times the children will lean more toward the traditional roles with the boys wanting to be doctors and firemen and the girls wanting to be teachers and nurses.

Lawsuits are not the only thing that change the way the world sees women in business but also the actions of other top managers. Neil French was recently quoted answering the question as to why there were not more female top level managers. He said, "they're crap ... don't deserve to make it to the top" (Hymowitz, 2005). After his comments were brought to light, Mr. French promptly resigned from his post high atop the food chain at WWP Group (Hymowitz, 2005).


According to Cai and Kleiner (1999) there are five major factors that affect women's ability to excel in their careers and get past the glass ceiling. They are:

* Stereotypes and perceptions

* Mentoring and networking availability

* Discrimination in the workplace

* Family issues

* Funding availability

Many changes are being implemented across the United States to fix these five problems and help working women transcend the glass ceiling that has plagued so many.

Stereotypes and perceptions

Changing the way that women are viewed by society as a whole is not an easy task to undertake. In the business world it is more the organizational culture that is preventing women from reaching the senior management positions. These cultures tend to be gender biased if for no other reason than women were simply not in the work force when many of them came into existence (Still, 1994). Most of the time in business, you will see the men making the decisions and the women helping them carrying them out (Still, 1994).

This phenomenon is one of the reasons that it is so hard for the men at the top positions to allow women into their elite echelon of the "guys" to become a member of senior management. For women who wish to climb the corporate ladder, they must adhere to the masculine model or standard of behavior to stand a chance in the consideration for the upper level jobs (Still, 1994). Len Boselovic states it best, "the persistence of outdated stereotypes and prejudices continues to make the playing field uneven for women in business" (Boselovic, 2006).

Mentoring and networking availability

The mentoring network for women is less than desirable at this time. Research shows that people who have received in-depth mentoring programs are more likely to receive more promotions and have higher incomes (Akande, 1994). This is just another example of why women are having a hard time breaking into top management. Mentoring for women has not been as relevant because of the lack of women who actually seek out mentors as well as a lack of skilled mentors who are willing to take women on as proteges (Akande, 1994).

Discrimination in the workplace

Within the workplace there is still a lot of discrimination that takes place despite Equal Employment Opportunity laws that have been in place for many years in the United States. In the business environment women are not seen as having the traditionally male traits that are "necessary" for being successful (Yin Yim & Bond, 2002). In fact, some female business students actually see themselves as being less qualified for management positions than their male classmates (Yin Yim & Bond, 2002). One of the ways that women at the University level have been trying to overcome their false sense of management deficiency is through education programs that help to dispel this myth (Yin Yim & Bond, 2002). Positive action training, which is training that teaches positive reinforcement and recognition methods to business persons, is most frequently women-only workshops which are very effective but only in the instance where they are implemented in conjunction with an overall program of positive reinforcement (Anderson, 2004). That is to say that to change the way the organization as a whole operated, everyone must be in on the change not just the women in the organization. Although the discrimination that women face may not be overt, it is none the less apparent in all facets of the business environment today.

Family issues

While both women and men in the workplace can and do have families, it usually falls on the woman to be the one to bear the burden of the family responsibilities. This is the reason why many times women must choose between having a family and having a high powered career. One of the best examples of this is displayed by female war correspondents. These women are part of a field that is dominated by men and still find a way to balance their family and professional lives (Matloff, 2004). All of these women understand that there are huge risks each time they leave their children for assignment, but they do so with the knowledge that they will return, and by doing their work, they are making a better place for their children to live now and in the future (Matloff, 2004).

Another reason that is cited for women's family holding them back from promotions is coincidence that the prime child bearing years for a woman directly coincide with the prime career building years (Hymowitz, 2005). These years occur in the ages between eighteen years and thirty five years.

Funding availability

The last of the major hurdles that women face as they try to break through the glass ceiling is the lack of funding that is available when attempting to start up their own businesses. Women are seen as having unequal access to the necessary resources of obtaining financing for new ventures (Marlow & Patton, 2005). Most women turn to self employment to be able to work around their domestic issues. Sometimes it is harder to find willing investors for their businesses (Marlow & Patton, 2005). Regardless of this, women owned businesses are the fastest growing business segment in the United States today (Mates, 4004). Regardless of this, female owned start up businesses are only receiving 2% of all available venture capital funds. This is in direct opposition to men who list many investors and loans (Mattis, 2004). In a recent study, prospective investors were given the chance to invest in one of two companies. Each of these companies was of similar caliber and promised similar results. The only difference that came to light was the fact the one of the CEO's was a man and the other a women. This seemingly insignificant detail spurred a huge discrepancy in the funding that was offered to one company over the other (Boselovic, 2006).


Although women are slowly beginning to become a bigger presence in the management ranks in the United States, the fact remains that their global presence is less than par. Women represent a dismal 13% of all managers that are sent abroad even though they represent a much higher proportion of all managers domestically (Misconceptions, 2000). One reason for this disparity is that women are not as internationally mobile as their male counterparts. However, 80% of women working abroad said that they have never turned down a relocation opportunity compared to 71% of their male counterparts that have turned the opportunity down (Misconceptions, 2000).

Another reason given for the lack of women that are sent abroad is that they have a harder time than men balancing the work-home life issue, but it has been found that this is just as big of a problem for men as it is for women (Misconceptions, 2000). The last and biggest reason that is given for women's absence globally is that international clients are not as comfortable doing business with a woman as they are a man. Although this may have been more of a truth 30 years ago, that is simply not the case in today's global economy. Women who are stationed globally report a 77% success rate in establishing successful business relationships with men of other cultures (Misconceptions, 2000).


For the women who are in the management areas of their companies, many of them feel that it is hard, if not impossible, to break through to the next level through a promotion. One of the biggest reasons that they feel this way is although many companies in the United States have an equal employment policy, they do not have any procedures in place to implement this policy (Veale & Gold, 1998). For example, although the company will equally hire a man or a woman, they will not go out of their way to provide the training necessary for the women in the organization to be able to move up to the higher position. There is also evidence that women are not entering the workforce with a clear vision of their careers because of the lack of career planning advice they are receiving at their educational institutions (Veale & Gold, 1998).

Although women do represent a significant proportion of the overall workforce, they are often too concentrated in the humanities areas which lack the ties to the movers and shakers. This is to say that if you want to be up for the promotion, you must put yourself in front of the person that can make it happen and make a strong positive impression (Hymowitz, 2005). In her work, Hymowitz found that men felt that they were "superior to women at problem solving, inspiring, delegating, and influencing superiors...four critical leadership skills." This is an especially disturbing finding because these are the things that women have been trying so very hard to overcome. Women must be able to lead as well as influence those people who are superior to them in rank to be able to climb the ranks to the management levels (Hymowitz, 2005).

Some people argue that employment opportunities should be given out on an equal basis to both women and men. That is to say that the management teams of all businesses should be made up of half women and half men. However, the Glass Ceiling Commission has stated that the management team should accurately reflect the population as a whole (Jackson, 2001). So, if your population is 60% female then your management should also be at least 60% female (Cai & Kleiner, 1999).


Over the years companies have gotten to be experts in marketing to women- in the home environment, that is. One of the places that discrimination against women can still be seen is in the marketing campaigns of some of the biggest companies in America in the business or b to b environment. Companies fail to realize the sheer number of women business decision makers there are in the United States (Maddox, 2006). In fact, women own about half of all the small businesses in the United States, and this does not even include the decision makers at the many businesses that they do not own. What many marketers fail to realize is that women do not purchase things in the same way that men do (Maddox, 2006). Men will hear about something that they want/need and then go out and buy it. Conversely, women will hear about something that they want/need and begin doing research on it and any other alternatives that may be available.

When it comes to reaching these female decision makers, the traditional marketing system fails to recognize the fact that women in these positions simply do not have the time to take in the traditional forms of media, such as television and magazines (Maddox, 2006). However, there are companies that are trying to overcome this shortcoming and take advantage of the "world's largest market." One company that can be seen in the media currently making a conscious effort to reach female decision makers is American Express. In fact American Express started a new campaign in 2005 called OPEN which specifically targets female business owners (Maddox, 2006). This particular opportunity also has been aiding in increasing the levels of funding and credit that is available to women, which is very empowering.


Research has found that leadership skills tend to cluster themselves into skill groups. These specific leadership skills are what US businesses are seeking in their management personnel (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). Having said this, it is understood that women should thoroughly understand and embrace these skills before they begin their ascent to the top of the corporate ladder. The four skill sets that are looked for by employers are:

* Vision and Inspiration

* Entrepreneurial Skills

* People Skills

* Implementation Skills

The ability to visualize and inspire others is an absolutely essential skill for female managers because as a manager a woman must be able to see the future of the company and know how to get everyone there. Within this skill cluster, self confidence is a large portion of the skill set (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). When walking into a room having confidence can take you far. When people see how well a woman feels about herself, they are more likely to follow her just because she is confident.

Another skill within this cluster is the ability to conceptualize which allows managers to see the patterns of outcomes that are happening at the company. When problem solving this is especially important because the only data available are the actual events and not the order in which they can be changed to obtain a positive outcome (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). Logical thought is seen when managers make presentations to their coworkers. When a female manager walks into a presentation, she is already operating with a deficiency of respect from her peers. So, it is even more important to be able to clearly and decisively communicate her point in the presentation (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994).

When looking at the entrepreneurialship cluster of leadership skills, she must be willing to take risks. Common to entrepreneurs and successful managers are their achievement and proactive drives. The achievement drive ensures that the manager pushes to be the best at everything that is undertaken, while the proactive drive actually pushes him/her forward to solve the problems that are plaguing the company (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). Although women do possess these characteristics, they suppress them many times because of the cultural norms that are embedded in their heads.

The entrepreneurial cluster also identifies the diagnostic use of concepts which is like the conceptualization that occurs within the vision and inspiring cluster because the manager is expected to come up with a pattern given a set of occurrences within the company (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). The concern with impact is the final skill in this cluster. Managers with this skill are very concerned with how they appear to others, as well as how their choices impact the people around them (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). This skill should be looked on as particularly important to women in business because it will allow them to impress the people that have the ability to promote them.

The people skills cluster gives women a place to truly shine because of their natural nurturing qualities. For most women the use of socialized power goes all the way back to the school yard when they had to build teams and alliances with their peers. School age girls use this skill more specifically to influence the other members of their peer group through behavior modeling (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994).

Two of the skills in the people skills cluster really seem to go together well, and they are positive regard and leading group processes (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). With the positive regard managers must demonstrate a strong belief in others, more specifically the people that they lead. Extreme care must be taken to ensure that all cues, verbal and nonverbal, exude this belief in others. When leading a group, not only is it important to believe in the team members, but also to be able to establish a team that works well with one another.

Not only must a manager have belief in the team, but that belief must also extend to them (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). With this managers must be able to be very honest with themselves about their abilities and weaknesses. One way to do this is to elicit evaluations from superiors as well as inferiors and act on the findings.

The final cluster is the implementing skills cluster. It has been said that, "the two most direct methods a leader can use in guiding or controlling the activities of team members is to provide performance feedback and interpret the feedback and its consequences" (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). In the developing others skill set which helps the manager to not only provide feedback but also offer to have an open discussion about possible improvement opportunities. This is especially important in ensuring that workers are empowered to make the improvements that will help them improve their job skills in the long run (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994).

The use of unilateral power is what gives managers the power to get their subordinates to follow their instructions. The failure to do this will have detrimental effects on the management of a team (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). Real life examples of this can be seen by looking at female CEO's who enter the job without the backing of those under her. This action creates a lack of unilateral power with her team members and, thus, begins the downfall of her rein as CEO.

The final skill set within the implementing skills cluster is spontaneity. It is imperative that all managers, especially female managers, exude this skill because they will be able to act quickly and freely on any opportunities that may arise (Baack, Carr-Ruffino & Pelletier, 1994). When co workers see this, a certain amount of respect is usually bestowed.


Discrimination against women will still be in our workplaces for many years to come. However, there are steps that women can take for themselves to aid in the deflection of this discrimination. There are four main strategies that can be employed:

* Do Your Homework

* Negotiate at Every Opportunity

* Ask for Clarification

* Let it Go

Doing your homework means that as a prospective employee, it is your job to research the company and your specific boss to ensure that you receive the best possible outcome. Being informed will definitely increase the chances of getting the promotion. Studies have found that most women research a job or promotion before the initial interview so they know what the job should pay someone with similar skills. Regardless of this fact, most women still ask for less than they know they should be getting paid because of their internal fears of not being good enough (Aissatou, 2006).

When in the initial interview process, it is imperative that a woman learns the personality of the interviewer. This allows her to present the material to her prospective employer in the most meaningful and useful format possible (Aissatou, 2006). Men have the upper hand because of the way they network. Many times this happens on the golf course, where, just like top management, women are often nonexistent.

The golf course is the prime location for negotiations. For women to be successful, they must be ready and able to negotiate on their behalf at any time. Other than the golf course, a great way to get credentials in front of the people who can make the promotions happen is to provide them with actual testimonials from happy customers. Although your word is great, the actual experiences of the customers are much more powerful (Aissatou, 2006). If customer testimonials are not available, an alternative way to get your name in front of an employer is to have a mutual business associate make a call on your behalf (Aissatou, 2006).

Never be afraid to ask for clarification. Women tend to not want to rock the boat or cause waves, so when it comes to making a follow up call in reference to an earlier interview, women must tame these fears. The one thing to remember is that an interview never would have taken place had the employer not been interested. (Aissatou, 2006). Furthermore, when in an interview it is imperative that the interviewee ask plenty of questions to ensure that all aspects of the job and its requirements are understood.

Because women are naturally nurturing, they tend to get their emotions involved in everything that they do (Aissatou, 2006). Although this is the characteristic that allows women to excel at so many different activities and professions, it is also the characteristic that makes women hold on to losing battles longer than their male counterparts. What must be done to continue disarming the discrimination against women is that women must know when to call it quits.


A study done by the University of Exeter has found that although women are now slowly breaking through the glass ceiling, they are only doing so after a company has a poor performance. This means that when these women are reaching top management positions, they are in a very risky place and are there to try to fix many preexisting problems, which is being referred to as the glass cliff (Nutley & Mudd, 2005). This is a stark contrast to the way that most men reach the top. The women that are put into these positions are then held accountable for any negative outcomes that the company may experience even though these outcomes are only the consequences of poor management choices made by their male predecessors (Nutley & Mudd, 2005). It is therefore unfair to make the assumption that women in high level positions such as Chief Executive Officer are not good performers when they are being set up for a fall on the way in. Cornell University did a study of 500 companies that went public and found that the IPO's of the companies that did not have women in their upper echelon of management were infinitely more successful than their female counterparts (Boselovic, 2006).


Once women finally do reach the top management positions that they so greatly have fought for, their next step is to become part of a Board of Advisors. This takes decidedly longer than just obtaining a top management position. The number of women on boards varies by the type, location, and size of the company with larger more northern companies having more female board members than their smaller southern counterparts (Flynn & Adams, 2004). This is best illustrated by looking at Fortune 1000 companies; in Chicago 50% of all companies in this category have women on the board; whereas, only 10% of Atlanta companies actually have a woman on their board (Flynn & Adams, 2004). So the goal appears to be to not only have women at the top levels of management, but also to have an equal presence on boards.

To conclude women in business still have a long way to go before they reach true equality. Regardless, if it is the glass ceiling or a glass cliff that is making it difficult for women to transcend and join the ranks, there may never be an end to the discrimination that is present in today's workplace. Most discrimination that is toward women is done in such a covert manner that it actually exists below the radar and thus is not recognized by many in the business world.

Not until the attitudes of men toward women and women about themselves can be changed will there ever been any kind of sustainable changes in American society. Many companies feel that by hiring more women into their workforce, the problem will eventually fix itself, but the evidence is against this theory. What must be done will take many years and the participation of many different individuals through education programs and sensitivity training seminars. This must be followed through for all levels of employees as well as both men and women in the company. Ultimately, within the next ten to twenty years, the hope is that today's children will not have to face these issues when they enter the workforce but only time will tell.


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Dana Bible, Sam Houston State University

Kathy L. Hill, Sam Houston State University
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Author:Bible, Dana; Hill, Kathy L.
Publication:Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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