I. Introduction More and more women in the United States have been entering the workforce, which leads to the growth of supply of capable potential women leaders who end up in arenas such as business and economics th



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I. Introduction

More and more women in the United States have been entering the workforce, which leads to the growth of supply of capable potential women leaders who end up in arenas such as business and economics that were formerly predominantly that of men. Although women have been reaching top positions of business leadership in recent decades, they form a distinct minority in such positions. Despite progress, women still face substantial barriers and hindrances that prevent them from further career development.

ářčáářThe model of the successful manager has traditionally been masculine and while this stereotype remains, it succeeds in maintaining the dominant place for men in management. Countless stories in the popular press also reinforce misperceptions of women leaders by speculating about how they are different from men. These dangerous stories are well accepted as they go hand in hand with popular beliefs about women and men. They reinforce perceptions that are wrong, perceptions that maintain the gender gap in leadership itself. What is more, stereotypes about women managers´ abilities, interests and behaviors may lead women to behave in ways that limit their effectiveness in the workplace. They may show less confidence and lower self-evaluation even when their performance is objectively similar to that of their male colleagues. Apart from gender stereotypes, which have remained deeply rooted in the US society, there are discriminatory practices in hiring, performance appraisals, training, promotion and pay. Gender-based wage inequality is painfully real and leads to substantial differences in opportunity compared to their equally educated male counterparts. Women in managerial career paths have difficulties attaining top executive positions, in part because they are often not given the same developmental opportunities as their male peers. And last but not least, job segregation, which provides the basis and justification for lower wages for women together with the problem of sexual harassment, have been the norm in the US work environment.

This thesis focuses on the area of middle and upper-middle management in the United States and deals with women who already possess these posts and aspire for top management positions. By definition middle managers are those who “implement strategies and policies, whereas upper level managers are those who develop them,” according to Van Fleet (qtd. in Wentling). Issues occurring in the workplace are predominantly discussed from organizational and societal perspectives. The work is mainly theoretical and draws from scholarly journals, periodicals and studies that have been carried out on the issue with some practical, real-life data in case studies, which I collected during my stay in the United States. One section is devoted solely to the situation of women managers in the South of the United States as it was in this region that I got acquainted with its socio-historical circumstances, which are distinct from those of the rest of the nation. The work is divided into four thematic blocks, each of them mentioning historical circumstances and each flowing from a general level concerning the situation of women in the professions in the United States to a more concrete level of women managers in the US South.

The first introductory part consists of a historical background of women and their representation within US society in general complemented with theoretical perspectives on gender, which is helpful when looking for answers in present job settings. The second part is devoted solely to women managers. Before discussing their present situation, historical perspectives on women and the professions and the main developmental stages are provided. I then go on to address some of the main barriers that women have to face in the contemporary workforce: gender discrimination, sexual harassment and gender stereotypes and attitudes, which have remained highly influential in US society. In the part where the main barriers are discussed, I use a distinct format, providing the reader with the outcomes of the obstacles first and then presenting consequent explanations of the phenomena. The third thematic block deals with women in managerial posts in the South in particular, paying attention to the historical circumstances in that region and looking more closely at the work environment with its concrete implications such as wage gap, glass ceiling and job segregation. The concluding part addresses suggestions to help women overcome the obstacles and barriers found in the contemporary US workforce and outlines some of the main recommendations such as mentoring, the issue of affirmative action and comparable worth.
A. A Historical Perspective on Women and Their Representation in US Society

The history of women in the workplace is a complex mix of factors rooted in social, political, historical, economic, and religious conditions and it differs for women in diverse demographic locations; for example, the conditions for upper-class European women in the seventeenth century who wished to pursue education or work were very different from those of African American women who worked as slaves on plantations in the nineteenth century United States. However, there is a common feature, which is visible throughout the centuries and that is the fact that women entering work environments have been dominated and controlled by men. In the history of the United States, there have been very few women in leadership roles in all areas of the workplace from the beginning of the nation until the twentieth century. It was at the end of the nineteenth century that women’s participation in the professions came after the boom of bureaucracies in organizations (Fassinger 1170-71). Therefore, it is useful to discuss the general history of women in US society and the circumstances that led to the acceptance of women in management before considering women’s entry into managerial positions.

Throughout the early history of the United States, that is in the colonial times, a view prevailed that God1 intended women and men to occupy separate spheres and women had no role in the public domain. Women were denied their property and even their identity as they were assumed to be under the guidance of men (Irby, Brown 86). Women could become managers of shops, businesses, plantations, or farms only through the early deaths of their husbands. Prior to the 1800s, the society was predominantly agrarian, with most work taking place in or around the home and women, although disenfranchised, played a considerable role in the economic system. Many people looked down on the few women who entered the workforce in nontraditional roles. Women workers, however, encountered little resistance, largely due to the shortage of men to perform many jobs – including but not limited to physicians, innkeepers, and shopkeepers. The public was hesitant to condemn women who provided these necessary services, especially since many businesses were family owned (McGlen et al. 179-80).

It was the slow rise of the market economy and later the industrial revolution that changed the relationship between men and women as Powell, the author of key work Women and Men in Management, argues. Better production and distribution methods made it possible to sell the goods of farm produce and the crafted items that were not needed by the family in the marketplace. Because of the types of activities that men and women performed, the products that men made were more likely to enter the marketplace than those produced by women. For example, milk, wheat, and wool, produced by men or both women and men, could be sold to townspeople. Butter, bread, and cloth, produced by women, could then be produced within most of those families. As a result, men, more often than women, received and thereby controlled the money coming into the family (Powell 14).

As industrialization proceeded, the division of gender roles became more definite. Increasingly, work that had been done at home was moved to the factory. Men went out to work, while women stayed at home. The ´wife of leisure´ became to be associated with the new middle class, although there was little real leisure associated with running the home in the mid-1800s. Most poor, African American, or immigrant families could simply not afford the luxury of an unemployed wife, yet the common practice even in these groups was for the wife not to look for paid employment if it was economically possible. While married women were discouraged from working, there is considerable evidence that women participated in family-run businesses, which were located at home. Moreover, among single women of both native-born and immigrant parents, census data suggest that they worked unless the family could afford otherwise. However, negative attitudes toward women’s employment seemed to increase with the economic recession and massive industrial unemployment of the 1870s and the 1890s, as some women appeared to be taking jobs from men (McGlen et al. 200).

Thus, the industrial revolution brought about significant changes concerning work roles of men and women. With surplus production, it became possible for better-off husbands to keep their wives at home rather than allow them outside work. Therefore, the stay-at-home wife became a status symbol for men in American society. This division of labor copied the earlier fashion of life among European nobility, allowed the noticeable demonstration of affluence, and reaffirmed the relationship between the husband and the wife. When general affluence started to spread, the notion became gradually institutionalized as an ideal, an ideal according to which other divisions of roles between men and women were judged. However, this standard was largely based on the experiences of white middle-class families, which differed greatly from the experiences of minority and lower-class families. African American men tended to hold agricultural, mining, or service jobs that were considered too low-paying, insecure, dangerous, or degrading by most white men and so their wives had to work (Powell 15).

While the majority of white working class men were primarily employed as overseers, machinists or in those occupations requiring a definite skill, women were occupied by roving or spinning frames and minded the looms in the mills. Men’s wages were typically set at the prevailing New England wage rate for the appropriate skill or trade. Women’s wages were set at a level high enough to make them leave the farms and stay away from other forms of employment such as domestic service, but low enough to offer an advantage for employing females rather than males in textile factories. Female factory workers, whose ranks gradually came to include widows and wives from poorer families as well as single women, did not conform to the female role that was being developed in rich white middle-class families. They had no choice about whether to work. Instead, their wages were necessary for them to survive and became the primary source of living in their families, especially when New England’s farming economy began to decline in the 1830s. As the life-style of courteous leisure became the ideal for all women, those in the growing female work force were looked down upon for having to work (Powell 16).

The shift from an agricultural to an industrial society in the late nineteenth century changed the ways men made use of their abilities and assessed their self-worth. The new market economy led to men dominating economic life even more. Wives were legally obligated to serve the wishes of their husbands, and husbands were legally raised to the position of almost total dominance and responsibility. Attitudes conformed to this new economic relationship and while wives made themselves more subordinate to their husbands’ desires, men on the other hand acquired a feeling more superior to their wives (McGlen et al. 200-1). Although social doctrine had already been declaring for some time that men were superior to women, it had still remained within the norms of American society rather than economic reality. Now, at least for the more affluent, reality had caught up with the norms.

Thus, the source of traditional gender roles in US society can be traced here, in this period of time. These roles, developed within white middle-class families that could afford to have the woman not earn wages outside the home, provided an ideal that was supposed to apply to all families. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the labor force was clearly differentiated according to gender. Census statistics showed that nineteen percent of all women and eighty percent of all men were in the labor force in 1900. In other words, four out of every five women were not engaged in paid employment, whereas four out of every five men were engaged in paid employment. Only four percent of non-farm executives, administrators, and managers were women. Men were firmly established as dominant in the workplace, both in absolute numbers and in positions of authority (Powell 18).

This was about to change with the arrival of the 1920s, when a particularly favorable time for young, white, working women seemed to be ahead. In this optimistic period of the “new woman”, the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 gave women the right to vote and influenced economic roles in the States. For instance, better-educated single women could be drawn into the workforce by the higher wages of the new clerical positions. Supporters of the amendment hoped that ending gender discrimination in the right to vote would also lessen discrimination in other areas of life. However, women’s suffrage brought about few changes in women’s economic status. By 1940, the labor force participation rate of women was only four percent higher, at twenty-five percent, than it had been in 1920 (McGlen et al. 180-81).

In the early years of the twentieth century attitudes toward women working were highly negative and a working wife was seen as an indication of the husband’s failure. This helps explain the relatively high participation rates of African American and immigrant women whose husbands faced severe discrimination and very low wages. The attitudes toward the employment of married women are mirrored in first public opinion polls taken in the 1930s. The national market situation had a lot to do with it and this also justifies why only fifteen percent of the public gave a favorable response to a question concerning the consent of married women working in 1936. The reasons given most frequently by those who objected were that women took men’s jobs (thirty-six percent), that a woman’s place was in the home (thirty-five percent), and one was guaranteed a happier home life or healthier children if women did not work (twenty-one percent) (McGlen et al. 180).

World War II, which closely followed the Depression, marked a turning point in the distribution of economic roles between women and men in the twentieth century. Similarly to World War I, World War II created what was expected to be a temporarily high demand for female labor. Women were attracted to war-related industries by an advertising campaign appealing to their patriotism as well as self-interest, and they were given access to the more skilled, higher-paying jobs that were usually held by men. Female labor force increased by more than fifty percent; a large proportion of these women were married, and a majority were mothers witch school-age children (McCorduck, Ramsey 180-81). However, after the war ended in 1945, the labor force did not quickly return to normal as it had after World War I. Instead, it has never been the same.

The changes in the relative economic roles played by men and women after Word War II took several forms. The labor force participation rate of women, already at a high number of thirty-four percent in 1950, rose steadily in the years to come. By 1980, over half of American women were in the labor force. The largest increase in labor force participation was among white, middle-class, well-educated women who formerly would have dropped out of the labor force because of childraising. Between 1950 and 1980, the overall participation rate for white women rose from twenty-nine percent to fifty-one percent, whereas the overall participation rate for nonwhite women rose from thirty-eight percent to fifty-two percent. The war made work possible for all women regardless of their class, as female employment became a sign of patriotism rather than unacceptable and questionable behavior. However, traditional attitudes concerning women’s proper place in society pertained. During the 1950s, the mass media promoted an image of family union that defined the mother’s role as central to all domestic activities. Betty Friedan called this attitude “the feminine mystique” (qtd. in Powell 24). It is briefly described in the following passage:
In the fifteen years after World War II, this mystique of feminine fulfillment became the cherished and self-perpetuating core of contemporary American culture. Millions of women lived their lives in the image of those pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife…their only ambition was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house; their only fight to get and keep their husbands. They had no thought for the unfeminine problems of the world outside the home; they wanted the men to make the major decisions. They gloried in their role as women, and wrote proudly on the census blank: “Occupation: housewife.” (Powell 24-25)
Women were supposed to enjoy this role and happily surrender the control of economic and public life to men. During this period, women workers were not perceived as battling to achieve economic equality with men. Instead, their increased economic activity could be interpreted as consistent with their primary role as helpmates to their husbands. Most women who worked were citing economic need as the reason for their employment, even when the family income was solidly in the middle-class range (Powell 25). If women had not been portrayed, or portrayed themselves, as working temporarily to help meet immediate needs, they may not have been allowed to enter the workplace as easily.

Employers were also among those who, next to lawmakers and statesmen, played a role in attitudinal change towards women´s participation in the workforce. Their expanding demand for women workers, which was the result of new openings in traditional women’s fields, made it possible to increasingly employ women. Moreover, because demand occurred when there were fewer single women to fill it, employers were willing to give up many of their own prejudices and biases against hiring married women (McGlen et al. 248). Thus, the changing practices of women and employers set the stage for the women’s movement and its message that women’s employment was not only acceptable but also desirable.

It was in the 1960’s that a whole generation of women became aware of the possibilities that could be open to them if their lives were not lived according to traditional norms. Before the message of the so called women’s movement reached many in the States, popular support for married women working outside the home had already climbed from its postwar low of eighteen percent to a record fifty-five percent (McGlen et al. 254). The women’s movement, which was represented by many clubs and organizations, among them NOW (The National Organization of Women), expressed concerns about discrimination in employment, education, and the legal system. NOW also called for a “true partnership between the sexes to be brought about by an equitable sharing of the responsibilities for home, children, and the economic burden of their support” (Powell 26). Such groups were successful in promoting change in some areas, having a great impact on women’s thinking.

In the years between 1970 and 1990, women’s job profiles changed dramatically. In 1970, about thirty-eight percent of adult women were in the labor force in the United States; the proportion of management positions held by women at that time was about sixteen percent. By 1990, the proportion of women employed was about fifty-seven percent; women held thirty-nine percent of management jobs. These percentages represent major changes over twenty years (Gutek 1195-96). And among younger workers, the proportion of women in formerly male-dominated fields was far higher than in the workforce generally, a proportion that kept increasing toward parity in most fields, especially those requiring higher education (Mc Corduck, Ramsey 101). As far as minority women are concerned, in 1958 the labor-force participation rate of African Americans was forty-eight percent, twelve percent higher than the participation rates of white women. African American women increased their labor-force participation rate to sixty-three percent by 1999, only marginally higher than white women2 (McGlen et al. 211).


B. A Theoretical Perspective on Gender

There are numerous theories explaining how gender-related behaviors emerge. I will outline three major models that prevail in gender-related literature, including biological, socialization, and structural-cultural models. Each perspective makes certain assumptions about the phenomena that cause different behaviors among men and women. I will draw exclusively from an influential sociological work of Jeanette Cleveland, Margaret Stockdale and Kevin R. Murphy Women and Men in Organizations: Sex and Gender Issues at Work, which skillfully presents theoretical concepts from social psychological point of view.

The focus of the biological model is that biological differences between men and women influence behavior at least to some degree. The differences are due to genetic and physical factors. The popular argument was that brain size was a direct indicator of intelligence; therefore, women, who on average have smaller brains, must be less intelligent than men. This hypothesis turned out to be based on unfounded assertions, though. The socialization model suggests that gender identity and the differences between women and men are acquired by how we pass through various developmental stages. It acknowledges observed differences between men and women that emerge as part of the social and cognitive development process and assumes that men and women behave differently as a result of learning. Whereas social learning and socialization theories have been popular among psychologists, the third perspective of the structural-cultural model is followed by sociologists and anthropologists. This approach focuses on the social structure, arrangements and environments that define and support gender differences and on the reasons why the society supports little boys and girls learning these messages. The features of social structure that have been examined often are power and status differences between men and women and the division of labor reflecting men’s work and women’s work. It assumes few innate differences between men and women. Observed differences are the result of social systems and they are changeable. According to this perspective, numerous institutions (educational, political, military, and religious, among others) have traditional ways of performing their functions (Cleveland, Stockdale, and Murphy 21-24). And it is the natural and smooth appearance of these institutions on the surface with its subtle and hidden sources of power beneath that helps to keep the powerful in power and the powerless compliant and submissive.

Kanter and others, for example, found in 1977 that the structure of jobs in organizations in general affects one’s ability to exercise power and influence. Women are more likely to occupy jobs that lack power and, therefore, find little opportunity to exercise it. There is evidence that women are also excluded from informal power and opportunity structures within organizations. The ways in which women are treated in organizations only support and strengthen this structural segregation. For example, although there is some little evidence of gender bias in performance appraisal based on past performance, there is prejudice in selection and promotion procedures, which always favor men. Furthermore, women find it difficult to gain power by either personal strategies, that is by being assertive or having valued organizational information. Personal power cannot overcome structural barriers. For example, although a woman personally can be assertive and have control over the distribution of rewards, she will remain less powerful if she occupies a position or occupation that is not vital to organizational survival or is situated within a department which is not central to the organization’s mission (qtd. in Cleveland, Stockdale, and Murphy 25).

Before getting deeper into the issue of gender in the workplace, I will now explain the terms of sex and gender that are sometimes used interchangeably. The term sex is defined by “biological differences in genetic composition and function.” The term gender reflects “individual, interpersonal, and societal notions of masculinity and femininity” (Cleveland, Stockdale, and Murphy 28). At the interpersonal level, gender informs us how to behave properly in interactions with others. Often when men and women behave identically, their behaviors are interpreted in very different ways. The same behavior by a woman and a man may evoke very different reactions by others, reactions that may either hinder or enhance later behaviors by the man or woman. Gender also serves as a system of power relations in that it reflects a system of social classification or status. As such, gender influences one’s access to power and resources. Thus, various work tasks have come to be known as “men’s work” or “women’s work” in the United States work setting (Cleveland, Stockdale, and Murphy 28). The value, prestige, and economic rewards associated with these gendered tasks vary dramatically with men’s work more often linked with greater power and financial rewards.

It is critical to note the dramatic individual differences that characterize men’s and women’s behaviors. Simply put, men are diverse and differ on a wide variety of physical, mental, and emotional characteristics; women are equally diverse. By using the above terms of sex and gender interchangeably, one can easily slip into believing that differences in traits between men and women are biologically determined while such traits may be due to the influence of society or culture. Biological approaches tend to describe observed differences as “sex differences,” implying genetic differences, whereas socialization and social structural-cultural models refer to such observations as “gender differences,” implying they are changeable and socially determined (Cleveland, Stockdale, and Murphy 27-28).

With the flow of women into the workforce in the United States during the last forty years, there has been increased attention paid to comparisons between men and women on a number of work-related behaviors. With this increased attention, there has also been some confusion about whether women and men differ to a significant degree, how much they differ, and whether these differences are really meaningful regarding behavior at work. In this work, I will focus my attention on the structural-cultural model, looking closely into which phenomena influence women’s progress at work or hinder their success.



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