Celebrating International Women’s Day

Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change

Catherine Cassell is Deputy Dean of Leeds University Business School and also Dean of the Fellows College of the British Academy of Management, a Trustee of the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies, and an Academic Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Her research interests include the areas of change, learning and diversity at work.

International Women's day logo

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.To mark the event, this blog post looks at some of the research currently being undertaken within the Business School that focuses on gender equality.

Catherine Cassell is Deputy Dean of Leeds University Business School and also Dean of the Fellows College of the British Academy of Management, a Trustee of the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies, and an Academic Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Her research interests include the areas of change, learning and diversity at work.

“As we celebrate the contribution of women internationally research still shows that even when women and men have the option to work flexibly women still take the major responsibility for sorting out any conflicts that may occur in the management of everyday work and home responsibilities.

Research conducted by Laura Radcliffe at the University of Liverpool and myself demonstrates that couples’ work-family conflicts are experienced and resolved differently by men and women depending on whether it is the male or the female who works flexibly within a dual-earner couple.

Our findings suggest that when females work flexibly, gender stereotypes are more easily perpetuated and traditional roles tend to be reverted to. One possible explanation for this is that female utilisation of flexible working can enhance maternal gatekeeping behaviour as mothers may be more inclined, and become accustomed to, taking on full responsibility for home related tasks, rather than allowing their partners to help.

When females have greater flexibility than their male partners there is more opportunity for this pattern to become perpetuated as males are less frequently available to be involved in childcare. When males worked more flexibly the existence of maternal gatekeeping was seen to be somewhat less prevalent, yet females did still remain actively involved in childcare tasks. In this way a more equal partnership was demonstrated where men had the space to be more involved in daily childcare activities.

Our conclusions are that traditional gender norms still play a role in parents’ decisions to work flexibly and workers who opt for non-traditional routes may feel stigmatised. Therefore HR departments and employers need to promote the legitimacy of male access to flexible working and work-life balance policies so these are not perceived as opportunities for mothers alone. Indeed greater father take-up of work-life balance initiatives that offer more opportunities for involvement in childcare should be encouraged.”

Paula Burkinshaw is a senior research fellow and has previously worked as a leadership development professional for more than 20 years. Paula completed her PhD at Lancaster University exploring the under-representation of women at the top of higher education. Her current research involves projects on gender and leadership across retail, finance, health and higher education sectors.

Paula is speaking at the 2nd Annual Women at Leeds Conference today. The event features a programme of inspiring speakers and sessions focussing on issues and experiences relevant to women across the University.

“Across the EU, women are underrepresented in leadership and decision-making positions, particularly in politics and business. The current workplace situation is that there are too few women in senior positions; women make slower career progression; the gender pay gap still exists; the motherhood penalty is an ongoing issue; and often women’s commitment to their work is questioned, despite research showing women are equally engaged in work and share similar leadership aspirations to men.

Gender inequality in leadership isn’t just a problem for women but more importantly for organisations and society. The issues need to be addressed to allow for stronger economic growth and also for research and innovation which requires making the most use of human capital through leadership.

Three possible barriers for leadership progression are:

  • Societal – gendered expectations (how we have all been socialised into gendered behaviours and bring these expectations into the workplace); the gendering of excellence (excellence is seen in most organisations through a masculine model); and issues surrounding the work-life-family balance and flexible working.
  • Organisational – masculine models of leadership (such as the long hours culture, expectation of full-time commitment and “boys club” networking); misrecognition (“women’s leadership jobs” such as administration, housekeeping, student-facing roles are generally being valued less than those which are deemed as “men’s leadership roles”); and the myth of rationality (believing that leadership decision-making is rational and logical so more suited to masculinity, whereas femininity is still considered more emotional.)
  • Individual – (un)conscious bias (everyone is biased, consciously or otherwise, and this bias affects our perceptions of leadership); self-esteem, confidence and agency (the deficit model of ‘fixing the women’).

To overcome these issues, all three barriers need to be addressed simultaneously rather than focussing efforts on women’s leadership shortcomings. Organisations have a responsibility to challenge stereotypes and to research what works best. Leadership gender equality in the workplace benefits the whole of society so it’s not just a women’s problem. Nothing will be substantially different until we take this inclusive approach and work together for step change.”

Hannah Dean is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Leeds University Business School. She is currently working on a three year project funded by the British Academy.

“The project involves collecting and archiving the voices of female business owners across Yorkshire over the last 70 to 80 years. The voice of female business owners, notably in Yorkshire, is still missing and their achievements remain largely undervalued and invisible. By collecting and archiving these oral history accounts, the project aims to make visible female business owners’ accomplishments which otherwise would be lost, and to offer insights into their working lives. The project is of great importance as it will not only capture the stories and experiences of female business owners in Yorkshire but it will also make them available for future generations.”

If you would like to get involved in this project and share your story with current and future generations please contact Hannah on h.Dean@leeds.ac.uk. You can also read more about this project on our recent blog post.

Jennifer Tomlinson is Professor of Gender and Employment Relations in the Work and Employment Relations Division. She is a Co-Director of the Centre for Employment Relations, Innovation and Change (CERIC) and Deputy Director of the Leeds Social Science Institute (LSSI). Her research focuses on understanding patterns of gender and (in)equalities in work, economies and societies.

“Patterns of change and continuity are evident for women and men in terms of gender (in)equalities in the workplace, economy and wider society. While progress is evident, certain indicators of gender inequality remain stubborn and difficult to remedy. At the same time, new concerns emerge and become pressing.

The proportion of women in leadership positions, the gender pay gap and pregnancy and maternity discrimination are cases in point. We have witnessed an important milestone in the past year, reaching the Davies target of 25% of FTSE 100 boardroom positions being occupied by women - something to be celebrated given the figure was just 12.5% five years previous.

However, we still have very few women in executive boardroom positions (8.6%) or women CEOs of FTSE 100 companies. Indeed the Guardian reported in 2015 that there are more men called John running FTSE 100 companies (17) than there are women (7).

Likewise, if we look to the Higher Education sector, just 17% of vice chancellors are women and when we intersect gender with class and ethnicity more startling pictures emerge: 95% of all vice chancellors attended public school but the really standout statistic is that there are just 17 black female professors in the entire UK Higher Education system.

The gender pay gap has been eroded since the 1970s when equal pay legislation was introduced, however, we have seen very little change over the last five years: the overall hourly gender pay gap is currently 19.2% (14.7% in Higher Education) while the part-time pay penalty has remained at around 40% for the past three decades.

Recent legislative developments include the requirement of large organisations (250+ employees) to publish statistics on gender pay gaps, but this begs the question what about small and medium sized organisations, which have arguably less sophisticated pay and grading systems and potentially bigger pay inequalities?

More recently, pregnancy and maternity discrimination and disadvantage is in the news. A recent report for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that 11% of mothers surveyed reported that they were dismissed, made redundant (when others were not) or felt so poorly treated that they were unable to return to their job. Scaled up to the population, this means as many as 54,000 cases a year.

In summary, clearly there are pockets of progress which we must celebrate but alongside these, evidence of continuity in gender inequalities and privilege, which are deeply troubling, requiring our attention and sustained action.”

Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies (CEES) Lecturer in Enterprise, Sally Jones, has recently completed research with Vicky Bamiatz from Leeds University Business School. Together with colleagues at Bangor University Business School, they focused on the leadership styles of female entrepreneurs in the UK.

“As the business environment becomes more turbulent and dynamic, effective entrepreneurial leadership is increasingly viewed as a source of competitive advantage. Understanding leadership in the context of entrepreneurial female owned businesses is overlooked in contemporary leadership research; yet it is an area that offers valuable insights and contributions to advance our knowledge, with important managerial and policy related implications.

The assertion that female entrepreneurs are inferior to males when it comes to business success has been challenged in recent years. Indeed, research suggests that, not only do female entrepreneurs exhibit similar competences to their male counterparts, but they outperform men in open competition, where opportunities are equal and unbiased.

However, one major hurdle remains; that of long-established stereotypes, which persist in devaluing female managerial and leadership skills, confidence, risk-taking propensity and entrepreneurial competencies, despite the lack of evidence supporting such assertions.

Previous research has indicated that management and leadership style is shaped according to the leader’s personal traits and characteristics, yet few empirical studies have provided concrete linkages between these. To bridge this gap, we specifically investigated the role of female entrepreneurs’ competencies in shaping leadership style, whilst controlling for age and prior experience in the industry.

Using survey data from the North West of England, Yorkshire and North Wales, we revealed that transformational leadership style is the most dominant style adopted, and it is linked to perceived human and personal competencies as well as entrepreneurial competencies.

The research offers insights that can be shared with other business owners and managers who are looking to develop and grow their businesses in the future, as well as highlighting areas for future policy development.”

The Role of Competencies in Shaping the Leadership Style of Female Entrepreneurs: The Case of North West of England, Yorkshire, and North Wales” is available to read online.

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If you would like to get in touch regarding any of these blog entries, or are interested in contributing to the blog, please contact:

Email: research.lubs@leeds.ac.uk
Phone: +44 (0)113 343 8754

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of Leeds University Business School or the University of Leeds.