Barriers and Biases Women Face in Leadership Roles in America Today

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The late 19th century to the 1930s was known as the era which gave birth to the “independent female worker.” During this time, women in the workforce were typically young and unmarried. They had little or no learning on the job and typically held clerical and teaching positions. American women have gone through a series of struggles, battles, and tests to prove their capability of being an active part of the American labor force. Before the Civil War, the role of women in society was different. Women were expected to stay home to take care of their children while performing household chores, men were the bread earners. However, post-civil war this ideology began to shift as women started to enter the workforce. This monumental moment significantly promoted a sense of freedom for these women (Shah, 2015).

Present-day, though that sense of freedom has been attained. However, it goes without saying that women still face a series of stigmas in the workforce. Issues such as non-inclusive workplaces, sexual harassment. Lastly, to highlight is equal pay, today women still make less than men. These are just a few the list goes on which will further be discussed within the paper.

As the title of the report states barriers and biases are some of the issues women presently face within leadership roles in America. Some of these issues include non-inclusivity, equal pay even sexual harassment. Intriguingly, Forbes, an American business magazine who publishes articles on finance, industry, investing, and marketing topics published the article titled “What’s Keeping So Many Smart Women from Climbing the Ladder?” where Journalist Margie Warrell states that at face value, the numbers [just] doesn’t add up. Women graduate from college at a rate of 3 to 2 over men, making up almost half of the workforce. According to two surveys conducted by a nonprofit research group known as Catalyst, findings realized women fill just % 16.6 of the Fortune 500’s board seats a figure which has remained relatively the same since 2004. These same companies employ an even smaller percentage of female executive officers – just 14.3% interestingly with no growth at all over the past 3 years. And 2011 and 2012 Catalyst surveys show that 10% of the Fortune 500 companies have NO women on their boards. Not one (Warrell, 2013)!

Evidently structural problems, institutional mind-sets, unconscious bias, and life-style choices are characteristics regarding some of the failure’s women must break through known as the “glass ceiling.” While the Pew Research Center listed seven causes why obstacles regarding female leadership is so difficult to achieve. The issues include things such as women being held to higher standards than men, many businesses aren’t ready to hire women of top executive positions, family responsibilities don’t leave time for running a major corporation, women do not have access to some of the connections men do, women are less likely to ask for promotions and raises, women are not tough enough for business, and women do not make good managers the way men do.

Naturally women are known to be more tolerable however learning how to say “no” is an essential utensil.

It is evident that women face added limitations which hinder their potential in reaching the potential of becoming a CEO. Women who want to be in a leadership role must dress, talk, and have their executive presence, fill a room, and their leadership style. Their focus efforts to get them to the top. Include investing in voice coaches, image consultants, public-speaking instructors, and branding experts. The premise is that women have not been socialized to compete successfully in the world of men, so they must be taught the skills and styles their male counterparts acquire.

It is a universal phenomenon but differs from country to country. While, it is quite evident that gender inequality in organizations is a complex phenomenon that is seen in organizational structures, processes, and practices and includes leadership, structure, strategy, culture, organizational climate, etc. In addition, organizational decision makers’ levels of sexism can affect their likelihood of making gender biased HR-related decisions and/or behaving in a sexist manner while enacting HR practices. Importantly, institutional discrimination in organizational structures, processes, and practices play a pre-eminent role because not only do they affect HR practices, they also provide a socializing context for organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism.

The workplace has sometimes been referred to as an inhospitable place for women due to the multiple forms of gender inequalities present. A solution to this is to create equality between males and females. Things such as maternity and paternity leave should be a looted the same amount of time off. The responsibility of raising a family must not lie predominantly on the woman. Thus, giving the women three months off while the man receives only two to three weeks is inconsistent for the belief that both sexes deserve to have the same amount of responsibility in the upbringing of a child. Additionally, women should be hired making the same thing her male coworker make. In turn managers also give women fewer challenging roles and fewer training opportunities, compared to men.

Thus, the recommendations or solutions for these kinds of issues lie in being proactive about providing opportunities. Today, companies that aren’t hiring women for senior roles should consider what barriers they’ve constructed that prevents women from filling them. That doesn’t mean diluting requirements but asking if 15 years of management experience, for example, is necessary when 10 would do. Employers should consider including other types of experience that broadens the pool of possible candidates. Another goal is a diverse workplace, the pool of job candidates needs to be diverse as well. That means reaching out to professional groups, such as women engineers, and contacting employees—men and women—that left the firm to raise families to ask if they’d be interested in returning (Stanley, 2016). Companies should also consider understanding the concept of unconscious bias, they just don’t believe it happens at their company. But since it can exist everywhere, hiring managers should circulate resumes with names removed, so women are not discriminated against. And don’t ask candidates to explain multi-year gaps in their resumes, which are almost always due to family or illness. An easy overlooked issue is the interview process. All candidates should be asked the same questions, so not just women are asked about what hours they can work. If possible, questions should be phrased the same way as well, as different wording can elicit different answers. Additionally, both sexes should be offered to spend time with senior executives, to work on important projects or meet the most valuable clients. That way they’ll be more impressive candidates for promotion.

Companies should have processes in place, so all employees meet the same standards as they progress through their careers, which helps ensure they all get the same exposure to training and opportunities. A major topic in and of itself, is that serious measures must be taken about paying men and women the same wages. Thus, candidates should not be asked what they were paid at their last job. Instead, every position should have a pay range, with the allowance for exceptions for special cases. Employers should also audit their payroll, and increase pay for women who have been short-changed. Another thing that is important to address is that employers must ensure employees aren’t leaving the workplace because of punishing hours or work rules, employers should give them more control over their schedules and not prioritize time in the office over delivering results. Companies should consider helping pay for child and elder care, and make sure they don’t oversell how family friendly they are to job candidates, which can result in more frustration and exits.

Companies should create mentoring programs Additionally they shouldn’t insist on same-sex matches. And firms with few senior women, they’re spread too thin and junior women get less attention. Mentoring should include discussing how to ask for a pay raise. Another important issue is that evaluations should measure substance, not style, and results, not methods. If employees are criticized as being too assertive, or not assertive enough, insist on examples. Employees should be judged on their behavior, not their personality; i.e., it’s one thing to say, “she’s acting too abrasive” and another to say, “she’s too abrasive.” It’s easier to fix behavior than personality. Evaluators also shouldn’t confuse commitments at home with a lack of dedication to work. A common yet not spoken issue is sexual harassment and one in four women say they are subject to sexual harassment at work. All managers have a responsibility to step in to prevent sexual harassment. Another issue is that too many managers resist criticizing female employees for fear of being accused of bias. But all employees need feedback to grow and improve, and not giving those opportunities to women because of their gender is a form of sexism. US employers very rarely can consider gender when hiring; the law doesn’t allow it to be a factor when filling jobs. That’s not the case when filling board seats, because board members are not classified as employees.

In conclusion gender inequality in organizations is a complex phenomenon that can be seen in HR practices things such as policies, decision-making, and their enactment which affect the hiring, training, pay, and promotion process for women. I recommend that gender discrimination in HR-related decision-making and the enactment of HR practices stems from gender inequalities in broader organizational structures, processes, and practices, including HR policy but also leadership, structure, strategy, culture, and organizational climate. Moreover, reciprocal effects should occur, such that discriminatory HR practices can perpetuate gender inequalities in organizational leadership, structure, strategy, culture, and climate. Organizational decision makers also play an important role in gender discrimination. We propose that personal discrimination in HR-related decisions and enactment arises from organizational decision makers’ levels of hostile and benevolent sexism. While hostile sexism can lead to discrimination against women because of a desire to keep them from positions of power, benevolent sexism can lead to discrimination against women because of a desire to protect them. Finally, we propose that gender inequalities in organizational structures, processes, and practices affect organizational decision makers’ sexism through attraction, selection, socialization, and attrition processes. Thus, a focus on organizational structure, processes, and practices is critical.


  1. Shah, D. (2015, April 23). The Evolution of Women in the Workforce. Retrieved from Working Women:
  2. Warrell, M. (2013, May 3). What’s Keeping So Many Smart Women From Climbing the Ladder? Retrieved from Forbes:
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Barriers and Biases Women Face in Leadership Roles in America Today. (2021, Mar 01). Retrieved from

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