Women Face Less of a Ceiling, More of a Labyrinth

Last Updated Oct 17, 2007 1:32 PM EDT

Women Face Less of a Ceiling, More of a LabyrinthA study by PricewaterhouseCoopers recently found that women in the developing world find it easier to crack the glass ceiling than their counterparts in the west. It's an interesting finding, but is the metaphor of the glass ceiling an accurate way to describe the barriers that keep the proportion of women in executive positions so low?

It's a fact that only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, but a new book out from Harvard Business Press, "Through the Labyrinth," by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli argues that what keeps this percentage so horrifyingly low is less of a ceiling and more of a labyrinth.

Management Issues spoke with Eagley about what halts many women's advancement.

"There isn't an absolute barrier stopping progress at a high level but rather a progressive falling away of women at every level, not just at the top,"
Among the key barriers are "extreme jobs" that require far more than 40 hours a week.
"Those who put in longer hours generally rise faster, making it very difficult for people with family responsibilities, who are disproportionately women."
Another stumbling block is what Eagley terms the "double bind."
"The research shows that when a woman is assertive and takes charge, people often react negatively, but if she fulfills the prescribed stereotype of a kind and gentle woman, she may be regarded as a poor leader."
Eagley and Carli not only diagnose the problem, but armed with a more accurate understanding of exactly what's holding down the number of women at the top, they offer suggestions for those hoping to navigate the labyrinth.

(Image of Labyrinth by rbrands, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.