30 Criticisms That Hold Women Leaders Back
While women have been making strides in the fight for gender equity and equality in the workplace for decades, they still continue to earn less, face discrimination, and struggle to be promoted to top leadership positions.
Researchers Amy Diehl, Ph.D., Leanne Dzubinski, Ph.D., and Amber Stephenson, Ph.D. set out to understand why this is. What they found was that women can be criticized, critiqued, and held back in their careers for virtually any reason.
“We were surprised at just how many identity factors the women mentioned,” says Diehl, who is chief information officer at Wilson College, a gender equity researcher, and coauthor (with Dzubinski) of Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work. “We concluded that anything about a woman can be used as a surface-level criticism hiding the underlying gender bias.”
Their study looked at 913 women leaders in four female-dominated fields—higher education, faith-based nonprofits, law, and healthcare—since gender bias research often focuses on male-dominated fields, such as STEM.
Using a measurement tool they previously created called the Gender Bias Scale for Women Leaders, the researchers compared women leaders’ perceptions and experiences of bias.
Their process involved asking open-ended questions, including what types of biases the leaders had faced in the workplace other than gender and what additional factors had influenced their work experiences.
What they found were 30 common personality traits and identity-based characteristics that the women leaders reported were used against them at work. These were:
- Body size
- Communication style
- Cultural identity
- Dietary restrictions
- Employment history
- Gender conformance
- Intellectual ability
- Marital status
- Occupational position
- Parental status
- Personality traits
- Physical ability
- Political preferences
- Residential location
- Sexual orientation
- Veteran status