The second that a person is born, gender stereotypes are set into motion. A baby is either given a blue blanket, a ‘manly’ color, or a pink blanket, a girl’s supposed favorite color. While seemingly harmless, the differences in the way boys and girls are raised is the start of the problem. These stereotypes continue into adolescence and adulthood, determining what each person should do with their life based off what is considered ‘appropriate’ for their gender. These unwritten rules control how a person acts, what they say, what job they get, and what they are interested in or excel at. The stereotypes assigned by society to each gender holds back women by assigning characteristics that supposedly prevent them from being good leaders and from taking interest in any field deemed ‘manly.’ This prevents women from reaching the top of corporate ladders and lowers the number of women in certain occupations.
The saying “it’s a man’s world,” is inspired by the idea that to be a top business executive, or any higher-ranking position in a job, a person must be aggressive, persuasive, and emotionally tough. All these are considered to be characteristics given to men, while women are characterized as kind and sympathetic. These gender stereotypes are what Madeline Heilman, psychology professor and author of Description and Prescription: How Gender Stereotypes Prevent Women’s Ascent Up the Organizational Ladder, attributes to the creation of the ‘glass ceiling.’ The glass ceiling is an unseen, impenetrable barrier that at some point in a women’s career, prevents her from climbing higher up the organizational hierarchy despite her qualifications. Heilman insists that it is gender stereotypes and biased evaluations that are supporting the glass ceiling and stopping women from making their way to the top.
To begin, it should be understood that the traits for which are considered key and highly valued for one sex to have are traits that are considered unsuitable for the opposite sex. This assumption is a main problem for women trying to make it big, as all traits that are deemed great for those in higher level positions are considered masculine and ‘not good’ for a woman to have. This leads to the Lack of Fit model, which is “based on the idea that expectations about how successful […] a person will be in working a particular job are a driving force underlying personnel decisions,” (Heilman 660). The Lack of Fit model determines performance expectations by analyzing the ‘perceived fit’ between the job’s requirements and a person’s attributes. The results from determining a person’s fit have serious affects on the evaluation process and whether or not the person will get the job. Sadly, most women receive expectations of failure because the requirements of the traditionally male jobs do not jive with the stereotypical characteristics assigned to women (Heilman 660). Therefore, male applicants are usually hired and are predicted to succeed more than their female counterparts who have the same qualifications. Moreover, when a woman does beat the odds and manages to get a higher up position, it is usually met with negativity. The successful woman breaks the unwritten rules applied to today’s society that women do not have the traits to be a manager, or that they do not act anything like their male counterparts.
A study conducted by Marianne Bertrand and Kevin F. Hallock analyzed a set of data from Execucomp to provide a description of the position of top female executives and observe the gender pay gap. Execucomp is a dataset that contains information on the five highest paid executives in each of a large number of U.S firms between the years 1992-1997. After analyzing the data, it was found that among top level managers women made an average of 33 percent less annually then their male counterparts; among low level managers, women made 46 percent less (Bertrand 5). They also found that while there were women in top-level managerial positions, they were clustered into certain specialties. The team observed that women were more likely to manage companies that specialized in health and social services and trade, and it was not common for women to have managerial positions in agriculture, construction, mining, and heavy manufacturing industries (Bertrand 7). This study shows that even when women do manage to shatter the glass ceiling, they are still held back by certain stereotypes. The specialties that women manage listed above are all those still deemed acceptable by society, they involve emotion and compassion. However, the construction, mining, etc. are all considered ‘hard’ work and something unacceptable for a woman.
The article The Gender Earnings Gap: Learning from International Comparisons, compares the gender gaps of eight industrialized nations. What they found what that the United States had an above average gender pay gap compared to the other countries. The main reason for this, they found, was that the United States had a much less centralized wage-setting institution than the other countries. Centralized wage-setting institutions normally reduce wage variations and tend to make policies to raise the pay of low-wage workers and indirectly reduce the gender gap (Blau 533). The results of this decentralized wage-setting institution “is that higher level of wage inequality in the United States works to increase the gender differential in the United States relative to all the other countries,” (Blau 533). Basically, one of the main problems that cause the gender gap in general is the inequality of wages between women and men. This is one of the problems aforementioned above which leads to the glass ceiling. To help start closing the gender gap, countries should analyze their wage-setting institutions and how they can make them more equal.
Gender stereotypes do not just stop or discourage women from ascending the corporate ladder, it also affects young girls and teenagers. More specifically, it affects their interests in school or what they think they can like, which leads to what they do in the future. Equality of education has been solved for years, with every child no matter gender receiving equal opportunities. With each child receiving the same education, there should be an equal amount of each gender in each specific field throughout the workforce, specifically focusing on the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Yet, while the “number of women who have earned their bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in STEM fields has increased,” and even though “females perform as well or better than their male peers on STEM related tests or projects, females lose interest at higher rate and do not pursuer advance courses, majors, and careers,” (Reinking 148). This is a common phenomenon. In 2003, the Society of Women Engineers stated that roughly 20 percent of new engineers were women, the rest were men. Additionally, in 2008, the National Science Foundation’s Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering reported that only 30 percent of women planned to major in science and engineering compared to 41 percent of men. In the article, The Gender Gap in STEM Fields: Theories, Movements, and Ideas to Engage Girls in STEM, it is discussed that men are given more incentive to perform well in STEM subjects while women were encouraged to perform well in other subjects, which causes the gender gap. There are three main theories as to why this is standard societal practice and how it veers women away from a career in STEM.
The main theory is that the gender gap coincides with gender stereotypes and socialization practices that focus on male dominance. This theory starts in childhood, where boys are raised to conform to male gender roles and girls should conform to female gender roles (Reinking 149). Girls are taught to be interested in things like fashion and cooking, and that they should not yell, run, or all the things little boys do. Parents also play a key role in the socialization of their kids and whether or not they support, consciously or not, these stereotypes. This can be based off the toys they buy, like make-up and dolls for girls while getting trucks for boys, their opinions on matters, and the experiences they give. These experiences could be letting both their boy and girl children play sports, learn to cook, play with friends, or even go to events frowned upon for women like a wrestling match to prevent the idea that girls can only do certain things. Researchers Dasgupta and Stout have observed the loss of women through the STEM pipeline, which is those on track to be the next in line for a STEM profession, due to the fact that women are attacked with negative feedback, especially about their math skills (Reinking 149).
The second theory analyzes the links peer groups have on students’ academic choices. During middle school and high school years, the opinions or actions of the other students has an effect on the classes that a student will take. Reinking cites research which explains that “adolescents rely on peers and their judgements to know what to do, how to engage in their school/community, and to know what will be deemed ‘cool’ or ‘uncool’,” (Reinking 150). So, depending on whether students in school deem being ‘smart’ or taking science classes ‘cool,’ will determine whether or not someone will take a class. This is specifically true for girls who will shy away from classes if the in-group does not support those types of classes.
The third theory involves stereotypes given to STEM professionals. There are certain personality traits that society ties to STEM professionals, like social awkwardness, which are not those typically associated with female personality traits. One study explained the idea how “stereotypes about the culture of these fields— including the kind of people, the work involved, and the values of the field— steer girls away from choosing to enter them,” (Reinking 150). It specified more how social isolation is commonly associated with professionals in the STEM field and that this concerns women as they are raised to be very social.
When women finally do enter STEM fields, they are never at the top. Just like in the business world, there is a glass ceiling for women in STEM fields in the form of academic publications. In science fields, academic publications are how research is spread and is a main measure of research productivity and influences career prospects. Thus, a minimum of 61 studies have used the authors on academic publications to determine the gender ratio (Holman 2). In the world of academic writing, it is common for the authors near the end to be senior researchers while the beginning authors are normally earlier in their career. In the article The gender gap in science: How long until women are equally represented?, the researchers and authors used the PubMed database and arXiv server to assign gender to around 35.5 million authors of about 9.15 million articles. Their research found that “women were substantially underrepresented as the last-named authors,” and the physics category only had “13% women in the last author position, but this figure is only rising by .01% per year,” (Holman 5). Additionally, the type of journal the paper is submitted to also plays a role in its publication. There were less women authors in review-focused journals and more women in open-access journals. When their papers are submitted for review, “gender bias has been implicated in nonexperimental studies of peer review and experimentally demonstrated in other academic contexts,” (Holman 6). Essentially, before the reviewer even reads the paper, an opinion is formed on the paper based off the authors gender. While their research could be perfect, the paper could be denied due the gender of the author. It was also hypothesized that women receive less invitations to submit their papers for review (Holman 6). This gender bias prevents women from making it anywhere in the scientific field before they even get to start.
Despite all the difficulties women can face getting their paper published, there is still hope to bridge the gender gap, especially in STEM fields. The choice to pursue a STEM field is becoming more common, as “women were especially common in the first authorship position across most fields, implying that, worldwide, increasing numbers of women are starting careers in STEMM,” (Holman 9). So, while there are not a lot of women who are currently the last-name author, and therefore a senior researcher, in the near future there will be. Women are finally starting to get their names in journals; and their name will keep moving down the line until finally they are a last-name author.
To help ensure the number of women in STEM fields continues to climb, there are more initiatives being taken to encourage young girls to look into the STEM field. For example, Girls Inc. helps peak girls interest in science with hands on activities and problem-solving. Interacting with women and men in the STEM field, or working towards it, “girls comes to view these careers as exciting and realistic options for themselves. Furthermore, […] this mindset combats the current social message girls hear and see on a daily basis: science and math are not for girls,” (Reinking 151). Creating opportunities for young girls to see women, and even men, work in the STEM field helps them see for themselves how unrealistic the stereotypes they hear are. It shows them that one, women are good at math and science, and two, being in the STEM field does not automatically coincide with being anti-social.
In addition to these organizations, it is up to schools, especially teachers, to prevent girls form forming the mindset that only boys can go into science or math fields. This is possible by mentioning female role models along with males, having them solve hands on problems not just from a textbook, and stopping the mentality that ‘girls can’t’ or ‘girls shouldn’t’ in any way possible. By stopping the stereotypes at a young age, they won’t be able to affect girls later in life and will stop girls from holding themselves back.