2012. Vol.2, No.1, 80-86
Published Online January 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/sm) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/sm.2012.21011
0 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Deconstructing the Glass Ceiling
Carol A. Isaa c1, Anna Kaatz1, Molly Carnes1-5
1Center for Women’s Health Research, University of W isc on sin -Madison, Madison, USA
2Departments of Medicine , Psychiatry, Unive rsity of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, US A
3Industrial & Systems Engineering, Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mad ison, USA
4Women in Science and En gineering Leadership Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, USA
5William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, USA
Received August 9th, 2011; r evised September 20th, 2011; accepted N ovember 1st, 2011
Aims: There is a large body of evidence-based research illustrating the challenges faced by women who
strive in male-typed careers. The purpose of this paper is to outline and integrate a review of the relevant
social psychology research into a model of women’s leadership. Proposed Conceptual Argument: As
leadership is stereotypically a masculine dimension, women who emulate agentic characteristics will rise
into leadership. However, empirical evidence overwhelmingly illustrates the consequences to agentic
women whose competence is simultaneously expected and minimized. Findings/Conclusion: This model
raises awareness of complex issues in research for women including: the “promotion of ‘male’ females”,
“success does not equal competence”, “agentic women sustain reactive opposition”, “the process of
self-selection”, “stereotypic threat”, and “equality equals greed”. Because of the ubiquity of these cogni-
tive distortions, awareness may mitigate antagonism and conflict to propel women into leadership roles.
Keywords: Glass Ceiling; Leadership; Gender; Model; Women; Deconstruction
Leadership is a performance of power that signifies male-
type or agentic character traits such as “independence” and
“action”. One identified contributor to women’s slower than
expected assent into leadership in academic Science, Technol-
ogy, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) is the
persistence of assumptions and stereotypes that women are
intrinsically “communal” or “dependent” and “passive”, and ther e-
fore, lack the capacity to succeed as leaders (National Academy
of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of
Medicine of the National Academies, 2006). Stereotype- based
cognitive biases about gender contribute to women’s underrep-
resentation in professions traditionally occupied by men, such
as academic STEMM in multiple ways: they influence women’s
self-beliefs, causing them to self-select out of highly agentic
roles such as leadership; they also disadvantage women in re-
view processes critical for advancement—women are under-
rated in evaluation processes for leadership roles even by indi-
viduals who consciously hold egalitarian beliefs (Hill, Corbett,
& St. Rose, 2010; Valian, 1998). Despite policy changes such as
Title IX of the Civil Rights Act (1972) in the US and interna-
tionally, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) and the Bei-
jing Platform for Action (1995), women and men still do not
enjoy equal opportunities for education, employment, success,
advancement, and satisfaction.
Because most people are unaware of implicit biases and how
they work to disadvantage women in leadership, their effect has
been attributed to “a glass ceiling”, a metaphor describing in-
visible barriers to women’s career advancement (Loden, 1996).
In this sense the reason why women do not advance beyond a
certain level in organizations is not readily apparent; upon
closer inspection a ceiling is revealed—made up of biased
judgments women collectively experience as they work to ad-
vance. Significant empirical research has mapped the “glass
ceiling” and its landscape of implicit socio-cultural and psy-
cho-social barriers to women’s full participation in academic
STEMM and other male-typed occupations; however, a femi-
nist theoreti cal lens has not yet been applied to deconstruct this
body of work. What remains unaddressed, in particular, is the
extent to which the empirical research used to map causal rea-
sons for women’s under-representation may function to inad-
vertently reinforce the very power structures that recreate belief
in gender difference and the assumption that leadership is a
male trait. This paper problematizes [applies a critical lens to]
that body of literature and proposes a unique, feminist model of
Social Role Theory: A Framework for
Empiricism about Gender Bias
Based upon empirical studies from the fields of social and
cognitive psychology Figure 1 represents six major barriers
women face (i.e., six panels of the glass ceiling) as they work to
advance to leadership in male-typed jobs. Throughout this body
of research social role theory is used to explain the contempo-
rary causes of belief in gender difference. According to social
role theory individuals learn to associate specific traits and
characteristics with men and women based upon the types of
work they have traditionally performed, differentiating these
beliefs about gender roles into “communal” versus “agentic”
attributes (Eagly, 1987; Eagly & Karau, 2002; Eagly, Mitchell,
& Paludi, 2004).
The vertical arrow in the model represents the hierarchical
nature of power and characteristics defining leadership. The
C. A. ISAAC ET AL.
Map of the glass ceiling.
Bem Sex Role Inventory, an instrument developed by both men
and women participants and validated over several decades,
characterizes “leadership abilities” as a masculine trait (Bem,
1974; Holt & Ellis, 1998). These studies identify the tenacious
stereotypic merging of the male gender with leadership traits:
confident, tough, dominant, assertive, instrumental, controlling,
self-sufficient, ambitious, aggressive, forceful, independent,
competitive and “prone to act like a leader”; while communal
characteristics, ascribed primarily to women, describe concern
for other’s welfare including being “affectionate, helpful, kind,
sympathetic, interpersonally sensitive, nurturant, and gentle”
(Bem, 1974; Eagly & Karau, 2002). These feminine traits have
little overlap with those ascribed to the stereotypical leader. An
early study by Broverman and colleagues found that male-
gendered traits were highly valued and constituted a compe-
tency cluster which was assumed to be antithetical to and in-
compatible with femininity (Bro verman, 1972).
Though it has been highly debated, there is no definitive sci-
entific evidence that men and women differ in their ability to
learn or perform agentic (e.g., logic, leadership) or communal
(e.g., mentoring, caretaking) tasks (Hyde, 2005; Plant, Hyde,
Keltner, & Devine, 2000). Despite this information, cultural
attitudes, assumption and stereotypes about gender difference
persist and operate to prescribe and instruct both individuals’
self-beliefs as well as social norms and ideas about the ‘natures’
of men and women and how they should behave. As women
work toward leadership in agentic or male-typed jobs, in par-
ticular, social role theory predicts that they will face disadvan-
tage due to a “lack of fit” between the communal traits they are
both assumed and expected to have, and the agentic traits asso-
ciated with success and competence in those jobs. This hy-
pothesis has been tested repeatedly through empirical studies
and Figure 1 provides an outline of constructs from research
findings that illustrates the specific barriers—or glass ceiling—
women encounter as they work toward leadership in male-type
In much of the literature, the discrimination faced by women
is not differentiated between explicit and implicit bias. In a
systematic review of experimental evidence for interventions
that affect implicit gender bias in employment, in 24 of 27 arti-
cles, mal e and female part icipants did not differ in their evalua-
tions of women. The fact that empirical studies show that both
genders propagate implicit bias circumvents the “us” versus
“them” polarities that permeate the literature. Placing the em-
phasis on “we” rather than “them”, mitigates the oppositional
counterculture deconstructs the binary of gender (Kristeva,
1995; Snyder, 2008). Deconstruction “unmasks the supposed
‘truth’ or meaning of text by undoing, reversing, and displacing
taken-for-granted binary oppositions that structure texts (e.g.,
right over wrong, subject over object, reason over nature, men
over women, speech over writing, and reality over appearance)”
(Schwandt, 2001). Feminism provides a “necessary moment of
reversal”, to purge the system of its present masculinist he-
gemony, yet adding the perspective that both sexes are equally
guilty of implicit bias helps deconstruct the “masculine/feminine
schema” (Caputo, 1997). This paper seeks to uncover a “re-rever-
sal” of women under the glass ceiling, looking at their own re-
Piecing Together Empirical Research
The center of the model (Figure 1) represents women’s iden-
tity with the intersection of the unconscious barriers of implicit
gender bias. The barrier in frame 1 titled, Agentic Equals Suc-
cess, represents the way that stereotypical male-gendered agen-
tic traits are more highly valued in our society than stereotypi-
cal female-gendered communal traits (O’Heron & Orlofsky,
1990; Rudman & Glick, 1999). Though women are socialized
and expected to behave in communal ways, both men and
women who display agentic instead of communal behaviors are
viewed as more competent in male sex-typed jobs (Carli, 2001;
Cuddy, Fiske, & Glick, 2004; Heilman, Wallen, Fuchs, &
Tamkins, 2004; Rudman & Glick, 1999). In addition, women
who display more stereotypical male, or at least androgynous
leadership characteristics, are more likely to gain access to
leadership especially in male sex-typed positions (Francesco &
Hakel, 1981; McConnell & Fazio, 1996; Rudman & Glick,
1999, 2001). An immediate issue women face as they embark
upon male-typed jobs, therefore, is the need to be highly agen-
tic; this may contradict with their own self-beliefs as well as the
expectations of the cultures in which they live. As a result
women may self-select out of these jobs, or feel less inclined to
seek promotions, or high ranking and leadership positions.
The second barrier, Success ≠ Competence, represents the
way that when gender stereotyping is activated, raters are less
likely to attribute a woman’s success to ability than a man’s
success. This attributional rationalization results from the as-
sumption that men are more competent than women (Deaux &
Emswiller, 1974; Heilman & Haynes, 2005; Swim & Sanna,
1996). Stereotyping effects are usually contextually assimila-
tive as a group member stereotyped as having some attribute
(i.e. men have leadership skills) is judged to have more of that
attribute than a member of some comparison group (Biernat,
2003). Biernat found that gender stereotypes regarding task
competence led decision makers to set different standards for
judging competence in women versus men. More specifically,
stereotyping may create lower minimum standards for initial
hiring screens for women but higher confirmatory standards for
women than men, so women would be more likely to make a
short list, but would be less likely to be hired (Biernat &
Because of the attributional rationalization related to gender
and competence, when there is ambiguity in performance crite-
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C. A. ISAAC ET AL.
ria, evaluations of women’s competence in male sex-typed jobs
may be negatively affected (and men’s positively affected). In
summarizing a wide range of research on gender and career
advancement, Valian (1998) notes that as a woman rises into
the top tiers of leadership, the mere fact that she is successful
leads people to see her as succeeding against expectations, at-
tributing her success to luck, the task being easy, or to working
hard rather than competence. Women as managers gain status
attribution which creates connotations of instrumental compe-
tence; however, a woman will still be seen as less competent
than a male manager with similar characteristics (Ridgeway,
2001). Heilman & Haynes (2005) found that women working
as part of a mixed-sex dyad received less credit than men even
for identical work for stereotypically male tasks unless their
contribution was made explicit to the raters.
Stereotype-based expectations are tenacious and are resistant
to disconfirming information. Competent women may interpret
receiving less credit on a task as failure or may get angry at
feeling ignored. Brescoll and Uhlmann (2008) found that the
expression of anger by an applicant improved men’s evalua-
tions and lowered women’s, particularly women in a high status
position. Having a specific external cause (such as losing an
account) for anger mitigated but did not eliminate the negative
bias toward women (Brescoll & Uhlmann, 2008). Even though
external attribution for anger improved status and salary ratings
for women who expressed anger, it had no impact on their
lower competence rating. Women who are competent in male
sex-typed roles may produce negative reactions (Glick, Larsen,
Johnson, & Bransititer, 2005) and lower ratings simply because
their competence violates the prescriptive norms for female
behavior (Heilman & Okimoto, 2007). This appears to be par-
ticularly true for women who exhibit anger, considered a male
emotion (Plant et al., 2000). Unfortunately, anger compounds
women’s problems if they react to the stereo-typical assump-
tions of men’s superior competence.
The third barrier, Agentic → Reactive Opposition, illustrates
that women who display agentic traits (not including anger) and
are clearly competent in masculine sex-typed positions will be
deemed as competent as men, but are viewed as less likeable
and hostile than successful men. Independent of competence,
likeability predicts advantage in career-affecting outcomes in
evaluation and reward allocation (Heilman et al., 2004). As
highly agentic women assert authority outside of traditionally
female sex-typed jobs, they are likely to encounter reactive
opposition to their authority (Ridgeway, 2001). Women appear
to be able to reduce this opposition by “softening” assertive,
competent behaviors to increase their influence and negotiate
beyond the predicted gender constraints on their social power
(Carli, 2001). Heilman and Okimoto (2007) found that provid-
ing clear evidence of communality in the workplace (e.g. sensi-
tive to the needs of his/her staff) had no effect on the ratings of
fictional male leaders but improved women’s ratings of likabil-
ity above those of equivalently competent men and equalized
assessments of boss interpersonal hostility for men and women.
Negativity toward competent women can also be mitigated for
those who show evidence of being homemakers, mothers, or
volunteers in areas of social need-representations of female-
gendered behavior in the male context of leadership (Drogosz
& Levy, 1996). Correll et al. (2007) experimentally manipu-
lated parenthood in employment-related ratings and found that
motherhood penalized women applicants on perceived compe-
tence and starting salary whereas fatherhood benefited men
(Correll, Benard, & In, 2007). Moreover, while successful
women in male-sex typed roles (such as being a leader) appear
to face negative consequences for violating gender-stereotypic
prescriptions, women leaders can also be penalized if they do
not show clear evidence of work-related communality or if they
show too much non-work related communality by being a
mother. This balancing act between agentic and communal
behaviors continually requires adaptability and adjustment-
negotiating behaviors not traditionally required of men.
The fourth barrier, Parenthood & Self-Selection, illustrates
that the issues for women are not research or teaching, but par-
enting and mobility as a cause for self-selection away from
academia (van Anders, 2004). A recent critical review of the
literature representing women’s underrepresentation in mathe-
matically intensive scientific fields concluded that the evidence
supporting a biological difference in mathematical ability be-
tween men and women is contradictory (Ceci, Williams, &
Barnett, 2009). The conclusion of this review is further sup-
ported by Mason and Goulden (2004) in a nationally represen-
tative sample of PhDs (Mason & Goulden, 2004). They found
that women who successfully pursue academic careers are less
likely to marry and have children and more likely to divorce,
than men who succeed in academic careers or women who drop
out of the pipeline to tenure. This study revealed that factors
affecting women’s success “spill over into the family, or the
reverse, the family spills over into the job” (Ceci, Williams, &
As poignant and compelling as parenthood responsibilities
are to women, there are other implicit sociocultural reasons
why women do not advance or remain in leadership. When
women deviate outside the cultural norm, they may self-select
and avoid managerial positions that seem threatening to a sense
of what a women’s identity in society should be. For example,
Brunner found that women superintendents were uncomfortable
using power over other people (Collard & Reynolds, 2005), and
so it may not be success per se that many women fear, but
rather the behaviors that lead to success may not meet with the
approval of others (Austin, 2000).
Chusmir and Koberg (1991) examined the self-confidence
and sex-role identities of male and female managers, and found
that sex-role identity (but not gender) was a major factor in the
level of self-confidence. Their results showed that women and
men in jobs that produced cross-sex role identities had lower
levels of self-confidence; gender was not a factor in level of
self-confidence, but those with masculine or androgynous ori-
entations had higher self-confidence (Chusmir & Koberg, 1991).
Depending on the culture of the organization and the woman
leader’s identity-orientation, there is evidence that women may
experience discomfort when crossing into masculine sex-typed
Although Morley (2006) reported that attributing difficulties
to women’s psychic narratives (such as lack of confidence)
contributes to a theory of deficit rather than a theory of power,
it is important to recognize that the implicit nature of bias
strikes the internal mechanisms of women. This kind of aware-
ness and consciousness-raising is the first stage in the applica-
tion of behavioral change (Prochaska, Prochaska, & Levesque,
2001; Prochaska & Velicer, 1997).
The fifth barrier, Stereotypic Threat & Identity Safety, il-
lustrate that stigmatized individuals are aware of accusations
that devalue their group’s social identity as women are typically
stereotyped as being emotional and lacking leadership aptitude
2 Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
C. A. ISAAC ET AL.
(Crocker et al., 1998). This leads to what Claude Steele’s group
has termed “stereotypic threat”. The stereotype that women are
not as good leaders as men can produce a threat that can poten-
tially undermine performance and aspirations among women
(Davies, Spencer, & Steele, 2005; Steele, 1997). Women are
vulnerable to stereotypic threat in traditionally masculine do-
mains that allege a sex-based inability (Crandall, Eshleman, &
O’Brien, 2002; Davies, Spencer, Gallagher, & Kaufman, 2005;
O’Brien & Crandall, 2003; Spencer, Steele, Quinn, Hunter, &
In a study specific to leadership, participants were exposed to
gender-stereotypic TV commercials and then given a choice
between being a leader or supporter. Women participants be-
came vulnerable to stereotypic threat that led women to avoid
leadership roles in favor of supportive roles (Davies, Spencer,
& Steele, 2005). However, the researchers created “an identity-
safe” environment as an intervention by including a sentence
confirming that research indicates no gender difference in abil-
ity to perform as a leader or problem solver (the more subordi-
nate role). The inclusion of such a statement eliminated the
vulnerability to stereotypic threat despite exposure to threaten-
ing situational cues that primed stigmatized social identities.
Although here are many studies that document stereotypic
threat, this study’s hallmark is that it provided an intervention
that successfully restored women’s leadership aspirations.
Stereotypes can be combated or changed by using the same
tools that propagated these cognitive distortions of reality.
The sixth barrier, Equality Equals Greed, illustrates the
power of social norms. There have been several studies con-
ducted where results showed that men as compared to women:
evaluate their performance more favorably, despite comparable
scores; claim greater ability following performance on tasks;
and are less prone to explain successful performance as due to
luck although both sexes did not differ in attributions to luck,
effort, or task (Cherry & Deaux, 1978; Correll, 2004; Deaux,
1979, 1995; Deaux & Emswiller, 1974; Deaux & Farris, 1977).
These gender differences on performance evaluations are high-
est in response to failure on masculine tasks. Women medical
students rated themselves lower than their male counterparts on
all measures of academic ability as well as future performance
as a physician; men were likely to persist until there was no
possibility of success while women persisted only until there
was some possibility of failure (Fiorentine, 1988). This research
offers explanations that the transgression of gender norms pro-
vides women incentives to change or lower their high-status
career goals when encountering hardship, self-doubt, and the
possibility of failure (Fiorentine & Cole, 1992). In a more re-
cent study, researchers found that female physicians’ self-effi-
cacy for 34 out of 35 competencies required to succeed as an
independent clinical investigator were lower than male physi-
cians following a 3-day workshop on clinical research in which
all the faculty presenters were men (Bakken, Sheridan, &
Carnes, 2003). As there are gender-differentiated double stan-
dards how men and women attribute performance to ability,
men and women will also form different aspirations for career
paths because of their own competence beliefs (Correll, 2004).
In a study of discrepancies in pay expectations of male and
female management students, females had significantly lower
career-entry and career peak pay expectations. Gender differ-
ences in career paths, comparison standards, and position im-
portance were identified as potentially important explanations
as women undervalue the financial worth of their work (Major
& Konar, 1984). In studies of perceived pay entitlement,
women allocate themselves less pay than do men especially
when their experience is not made specifically relevant to the
decision (Desmarais & Curtis, 1997; Major, Shaver, & H en dric k,
1987). There are strong social mores against self-promoting
women as women suffer social reprisals for violating the
gender prescription of modesty (Rudman, 1998). Although
Blackmore (2007) found that self-promotion was central to
the managerial performative culture, women in her study
found it difficult to violate the social norm of modesty. Mod-
esty may create self-sabotage at critical career junctures. Re-
peatedly, women demonstrate that their perception of entitle-
ment interprets “equality as greed” as men take more for
themselves that women do (Valian, 1998). An affirmative
action study conf irmed that while wome n believe men receive
unfair benefit, men believe women are responsible for their
own disadvantage (Boeckmann & Feather, 2007). While
women may not be responsible for conscious and unconscious
discriminatory practices, women are responsible for becoming
aware of self-abnegating behavior and seeking constructive
Discussion: “It’s Not about You or Them”
This review illustrates the complexities that affect the identi-
ties of women leaders. Stereotypical male-gendered agentic
traits are more highly valued in our society than stereotypical
female-gendered communal traits (O’Heron & Orlofsky, 1990;
Rudman & Glick, 1999), and women who display agentic vs
communal behaviors are viewed as more competent in male
sex-typed jobs (Carli, 2001; Cuddy et al., 2004; Heilman et al.,
2004; Rudman & Glick, 1999). However, as highly agentic
women assert authority outside of traditionally female sex-
typed jobs, they are likely to encounter reactive opposition to
their authority as they are less liked (Ridgeway, 2001). Provid-
ing clear evidence of communality in the workplace improved
women’s ratings of likability (Heilman & Okimoto, 2007), but
women applicants who are mothers were penalized on per-
ceived competence and recommended starting salary. As wo-
men are perceived as competent, others will label their success
as those who just do “easy tasks” or such hard workers that they
are “over-achievers” (Swim & Sanna, 1996; Valian, 1998).
Women and men in jobs that produced cross-sex role identities
had lower levels of self-confidence. Stereotype threat may un-
dermine performance and aspirations among women in the
absence of identity-safety. There are strong social mores against
self-promotion which is also evident for women at the highest
leadership levels (Bligh & Kohles, 2008). This model repre-
sents the cognitive distortions illustrated from empirical evi-
dence derived primarily from social psychology that influence
women’s identities in leadership.
The proposed model for women’s leadership attempts to ex-
plain the interplay of tensions effecting women’s identities
(although these constructs may also affect men whom imple-
ment non-linear leadership styles). Julia Kristeva, a French
psychoanalyst with a focus on women’s identity, suggests that
the danger of binary opposition is the creation of a countercul-
ture, because “by fighting against evil, we reproduce it, this
time at the core of the social bond—the bond between men and
women” (Kristeva, 1995: p. 214). This sociopsychic splitting of
identity must arise when women operate within this hierarchical,
masculine model (Blackmore & Sachs, 2007). In addition,
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C. A. ISAAC ET AL.
leadership has been associated with an assumed capacity to
change oneself into a leader (Blackmore & Sachs, 2007), while
others have suggested that women are deficit and lacking lead-
ership qualities (Morley, 2006). Both concepts may be a rendi-
tion of “fix the women” (Carnes, Morrissey, & Geller, 2008) as
women “assimilate” into the male-dominated, hierarchical role
of leadership (Isaac, 2007).
Women in leadership positions assimilate into a masculine
world. If women self-select from leadership opportunities, the
call for policies to address social concerns of women will di-
minish. “Family-friendly” workplace policies such as job shar-
ing do exist, but pose long-term risk to careers and are consid-
ered dangerous as women who admit to care-giving responsi-
bilities are penalized more than men (Drago et al., 2005; Jacobs
& Gerson, 2004). The catch-22 is that leadership roles may
require assimilation and yet, if women avoid leadership oppor-
tunities, the less likely that women will ascend into leadership
and promote women’s accessibility (Bagilhole, 1993; Rudman
& Glick, 2001).
It is important to raise awareness of the implicit nature of
bias that strikes the internal mechanisms of women as these
have become habitual in individuals’ responses directed toward
women. In much of the literature, the focus is on the discrimi-
nation faced by women with little differentiation between ex-
plicit and implicit bias. Knowledge that both genders propagate
discrimination circumvents the “us” versus “them” polarities.
Placing the emphasis on “we” rather than “them”, mitigates the
binary of opposition which collapses the category of “women”.
Knowing also of the reaction against “angry women”, women
who have awareness of the ubiquity of bias from both men and
women (including themselves) may also be given the gift of
perspective and empathy-deconstructing gendered polarities.
Research has shown that perspective taking inspires empathy
arousal and this leads to improved intergroup attitudes and that
encouraging a perceiver to adopt a perspective of another
eliminates perceived difference (Batson et al., 1997; Galinsky
& Moskowitz, 2000; Vescio, Sechrist, & Paolucci, 2003).
While this research primarily focuses on “other’s” attitudes,
another possibility derived from this research is that women’s
experiences of discrimination becomes not all about “them-
selves” but also not all about the “other”. If “resilience has been
defined as the capacity of dynamic systems to withstand sig-
nificant disturbances” (Masten, 2007); then mitigating per-
ceived opposition promotes positive outcomes for women in
The goal of this paper is to integrate the empirical evidence
and bring into high relief the variety of challenges women face
in seeking or taking on leadership roles in organizations. Bas-
ing conclusions on evidence is highly relevant to women scien-
tists. This model attempts to make this research readable to the
STEMM community, as feminist text too can exclude other
meanings and stabilize “meaning within a system of power
relations-a system of inclusion and exclusion” (Calás & Smir-
cich, 1999: p. 654).
Limitations include the inability to take into account changes
in historical, cultural, class, ethnic, contextual and political
factors and creating a “homogenous” essentialist view of wo-
men. Many of the experimental studies used did not differenti-
ate between these other factors and so these were not included
in the model. Also homogeneity is one of the characteristics of
implicit bias which was the focus of this paper. And while
some men may experience some of these constructs, these arti-
cles focus on women. There are inherent difficulties when
blending the essentialism of experimental evidence with post-
modern research, yet there are valuable perspectives gained in
examining conflicting discourses and expanding the conversa-
tion (Martin, 1985).
Finally, this problem has remained persistent within higher
education institutions that have long been credited with im-
proving social and cultural problems. Clearly, policies and pro-
cedures attempt to address explicit forms of discrimination;
however, there has been concern that policies to combat gender
marginalization has been reduced to technology toolkits and
“how-to” checklists (Morley, 2007). Moreover, equity policies
can sometimes create reactive backlash (Isaac, Lee, & Carnes,
2009; Morley, 2006). There are change models from social
psychology that help to illustrate the psychological and behav-
ioral changes women experience as they enter leadership roles
(Devine, 1989, 2001; Overton, McCalister, Kelly, & Macvicar,
2009; Plant & Devine, 2009; Prochaska et al., 2001; Prochaska
& Velicer, 1997). Prochaska, in a study to advance women
scientists, called for interventional strategies to increase women’s
self-efficacy and self-confidence (Prochaska et al., 2006). Di-
rections for future research may include interventional strate-
gies at the organizational and individual levels to address these
issues. Providing evidence of the ubiquity of implicit bias to
women neutralizes polarities that stress the social bond between
men and women. This review of the extant experimental re-
search suggests that work needs to be done at the individual
As leadership is stereoty pically a masculine dimension, wo me n
who emulate those characteristics of assertiveness will rise into
leadership. As women leaders negotiate career demands, they
also struggle with assimilating into a masculine context that is
riddled with contradictions. Instead of reproducing a counter-
culture, the authors hope to give the gift of perspective regard-
ing the contradictions affecting women’s identities in leader-
ship. The empirical evidence overwhelmingly illustrates the
consequences to agentic women whose competence is simulta-
neously expected and minimized, actualizing a “failed assimila-
tion” (Isaac, 2007). As leaders reach the pinnacles of their ca-
reers, there is need for reflection, and this is especially true for
women negotiating the masculine discourse of leadership.
While the research can be disillusio n ing, we be lie ve t hat awar eness
may segue into resilience.
We thank Barbara Lee, PhD for her input and editorial assis-
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