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Where Is My Superwoman?

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.

— BAN KI-MOON
Welcome to my gender studies GOA project. Watch this video to meet me and understand a little more about what I will be sharing!

A global issue is the inequity of men and women in leadership positions. Ultimately, government, education and business organizations decision makers are dominated by men. This concern carries into my own local community where I see little female representation not only in government and business organizations but also within my school environment. In the UN Sustainable Goal 5, it states that it wants to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” How can we empower girls to become leaders if there is no one for them to look to? I looked to my own local community, Hong Kong, to see what the response was to women in leadership. Through collecting data from personalized surveys, I was able to understand the core of the struggles that I and many other women face. From here, I brainstormed ways that women and male allies can combat male dominance in leadership positions and encourage the younger female generation to step into their own.

As I began to research on my topic I started to sort my thinking into three different questions that I wanted to answer.

What do the women around me feel?

Why/Where does gender inequity persist in leadership positions?

How can I combat discrimination and fight for equity?

What do the women around me feel?

One of the crucial parts of my project was to understand how women in my close environment felt. Here, I conducted a survey school-wide survey aimed at understanding how girls felt about their leadership opportunities and struggles. I doubted that many would respond but got an outstanding number of people who shared personal struggles and experiences they had.

One of my survey questions was ‘tell me about one of your biggest struggles as a female leader.’

Finding the line between being “assertive” and being “bossy”.

— Anonymous
(Minhas, 2017)

In 9th grade when I lived in New York, I was my grade’s president. I worked alongside three other boys who were VP, secretary, and treasurer. Even though I was the president, teachers and classmates would still go to my VP asking him for his plans/view for the school. They did not trust me to answer so asked him instead. Most people also automatically assumed that I was VP. The boy was present most of the time this was happening and consistently complained about how I was running things. I was trying my best.

— Anonymous

My struggle is that I haven’t been a leader because I am a female.

— Anonymous

Confidence.

— Anonymous

To be honest, reading the responses from my peers (some from that I knew and some that I didn’t) made me feel emotional. I have always struggled with my confidence in my ability to lead. It was comforting to know that I shouldn’t silence my struggles as other women around me feel the same way. It also made me realize the importance of how not all women’s struggles will be the same. If anything, the data taught me the emphasis my own community should put on intersectionality feminism as demonstrating how race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, and nationality are all significant factors when discussing feminism. (Ohio Humanities, 2018)

Below I have included infographics on questions that I asked on the survey. It was interesting to see that only 50% of women at my school believe that ‘a boy is most likely to win any race for a leadership position.’ Even greater, over 70% believe that ‘being a girl inhibits your chances of being elected to a leadership position.’ This makes me think about the ways we can combat low confidence in girls in school environments and around the world. Please take the poll on the side because I am interested to hear what you think! Both girls and boy are welcome to take part in the poll.

In addition to the data I collected, I have this short film on women in leadership in Hong Kong. This was actually filmed almost a year ago and I resurfaced it when I knew I was focusing in on this topic. It’s an important resource to my project as it has women of all ages talking about education, journalism, NGOs, etc. It gives a glimpse into the different struggles that women all over Hong Kong face in leadership.

Why and where does gender inequity persist in leadership positions?

An experiment was conducted by Tina Keifer, a profession of organizational behavior at the University of Warwick, where participants had to “draw a leader.” She happened on the exercise accidentally while leading a workshop full of executives who spoke little to no English. Almost all the participants drew a man instead of a woman. (Murphy, 2018) Although this seems minute, the issue of men dominating positions of leadership continues to plague women to this day. In 2017, there were only 26 women in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies. Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10% of the parliamentarians. (UN Women in Leadership, n.d.) Women are underrepresented in so many different areas of leadership – why can’t women seem to break the top?

One of the reasons that were addressed in my research is called the “backlash effect.” (Murphy, 2018) This is where women suffer discrimination from violating the feminine gender role stereotype which is generally to not hold a position of power. On one hand, a woman who highlights their interpersonal skills risks being dismissed for lack qualities of a strong leader such as assertiveness and decisiveness. However, on the other hand, women face a barrier if they are too assertive or ambitious. This discrimination thus then discourages more women to strive for positions of a higher power.

In addition, research conducted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality showed that “women opted out of careers based on masculine characteristics that are associated with leaders.” (Peters, 2013) Essentially, toxic masculinity, which refers to traditional societal masculine norms that can have a negative impact on women. This term is not harnesses to demonize men or male attributes, but rather to stress the harmful effects of conformity on the certain traditional masculine ideal. (Clemens, 2017) The stereotype of how leaders having to be masculine is forcing women to fear to take a risk to lead.

(Ashley, 2019)

Lastly, a new phenomenon that is on the rise is the idea of the “glass cliff.” This describes a leadership position where the leader is more likely to fail than succeed and there is evidence that women are more likely to be appointed to glass cliff leadership than me. (Dishman, 2018) For example, a woman could be elected to a position of leadership during a time of crisis which increases the potential to fail. This bias runs deep as one study conducted by the Harvard Business Review showed that “most participants (67%) chose the man to head the successful company, while the majority (63%) thought the woman should take over the company in crisis.” (Branscombe & Bruckmüller, 2014)

These three “why’s” that I have discussed above are the driving forces as to how men stay dominate in leadership. What is your why?

How can I combat discrimination and fight for equity?

As I said in my video, focusing on this topic globally and locally taught me that representation in leadership should be always emphasized. It is important to have a balanced group of individuals that bring different perspectives to decision making. One solution won’t be the right solution for everyone, but building representation will help address this issue as well as addressing the issues of marginalized groups of people.

I want you to think about your life. Who are the people that inspire you and encourage you to make a change.

Who Is Your Superwoman?

Bibliography:

Murphy, Heather. “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Mar. 2018. Web. 28 Mar. 2019

Peters, Kim, Michelle Ryan, and Thekla Morgenroth. “The Psychology and Economics of Women in Leadership.” European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. Policy Department Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, 2013. Web.

Celemens, Colleen. “What We Mean When We Say, “Toxic Masculinity”.” Teaching Tolerance. Southern Poverty Law Center, 2017. Web. 15 Apr. 2019.

Dishman, Lydia. “What Is the Glass Cliff, and Why Do so Many Female CEOs Fall off It?” Fast Company, Fast Company, 26 July 2018, www.fastcompany.com/90206067/what-is-the-glass-cliff-and-why-do-so-many-female-ceos-fall-off-it.

Morgan, Ashley. The Real Problem with Toxic Masculinity Is That It Assumes There Is Only One Way of Being a Man. N.d. Shutterstock. The Conversation. Web. 2019. https://theconversation.com/the-real-problem-with-toxic-masculinity-is-that-it-assumes-there-is-only-one-way-of-being-a-man-110305

Branscombe, Nyla R., and Susanne Bruckmüller. “How Women End Up on the ‘Glass Cliff.’” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014, hbr.org/2011/01/how-women-end-up-on-the-glass-cliff.

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COMMENTS: 7
  1. April 26, 2019 by Sara.Mirani Reply

    Hi India! This is so interesting and makes me wonder about how the leadership in my school is divided. Do you think that programs that help women or girls in STEM or leadership programs will be effective soon or further in the future?

    • April 29, 2019 by India Reply

      In my opinion, I think the sooner we enact programs with girls in STEM or big sister/little sister programs, the sooner we have more female leaders. This year I have been working with refugees in Hong Kong to foster leadership, specifically women in leadership. These types of programs have allowed women to feel confident enough to apply for jobs and other NGO leadership positions. I think that programs like this should be implemented in school environments as soon as possible.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Noa.Fay Reply

    Wow, India this is great! The topic you chose is one of the most important ones, and it’s definitely a topic I’m glad someone explored. Some of the images you implanted are SO powerful; specifically the boss vs. bossy image. It really points out the truth of that in our societies and individual communities. Amazing!

  3. April 26, 2019 by Ashley.Omondi Reply

    Hey India! Thank you for sharing this project with us. It is a very informing read. I’d like to offer an additional point to your third solution for Gender Equality in leadership positions. In addition to not looking down on childbirth, changing the narrative from only having women involved in raising children but also have men be part of this process e.g. women take maternity leave for the first 6 months, whilst men take paternity leave for the other six months. This allows both parents to be actively involved in raising the child and also both men and women will be given time off to take care of their child so women are not the only ones having their careers affected.

  4. April 27, 2019 by Phoebe Reply

    Hi India, I thought your poll results were really striking! Visually they really stood out, and their info was really insightful. I also had no idea so many people felt the same way as me about women in leadership positions. This really opened my eyes to inequality in my own personal experience. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. April 28, 2019 by Inês Reis Reply

    Hey India! Gender equality is something that interests me so much. I’m from Portugal and I grew up seeing almost no women in leadership positions. I grew up with the idea that men should be the ‘breadwinners’ of the family and women should be the ones in charge of ‘taking care of the kids’ while their husbands are at work. I started questioning this idea that I had accepted from a young age when in 8th grade, a boy told me I couldn’t be the leader of a group I was put in for a project because I am a girl. I went home and wondered why it seems to be assumed that a boy can do work better than a girl or that boys are better leaders than girls. I loved reading your schoolmates’ responses and seeing the responses to your surveys. You say that we should challenge the people in authority and voice our opinions when we feel necessary. What are some tips you have to do this because it can be scary to go against someone with so much power’s beliefs? Great presentation!

  6. April 28, 2019 by Lilly.Whitner Reply

    Hi India! Your page is really well done, and this is such a relevant topic! The polls are very interesting and shocking to see that information laid out so clearly. In my life, there are so many daily examples of a lack of women in leadership positions… my freshman year of high school, I didn’t have a single female teacher at my private school. There has never been a female head of school at my high school. And, in my 4 years, there has only been 1 female class president — and there has never been a woman of color in this position, or as head of school. It’s striking, and disappointing. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this issue! Well done!

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