Are Women Set Up to Fail in Business?


It’s hard out there for a lady-businessman. Given that the upper echelons of business and finance have traditionally been mahogany boys’-clubs, there are currently only 22 female Fortune 500 CEOs, and most of the earth treats women (subtly or not-so-subtly) like dum-dum baby machines, I think it’s safe to say that women in biz are facing an uphill battle. I guess you could say that they’re putting the SIS in SISYPHUS!!! (But should I? Should I say that? Ever again? Please advise. Y/N/IDK/RIP.)

A couple of new studies have attempted to tease out some specifics of that struggle, and found that people disproportionately associate typically “feminine” traits (like tact, modesty, emotional intelligence) with failing businesses. Concomitantly, they found that subjects favored feminine traits in new hires chosen to take the fall for hypothetical failing businesses, but masculine traits (such as dominance and decisiveness) in new hires chosen to turn those hypothetical businesses around.

Here’s Forbes:

In a twist on Schein’s original design, they gave participants a list of adjectives and asked them to rate the extent to which each one was characteristic of the average male, the average female and either a manager of a successful company or a manager of an unsuccessful company (one whose performance had declined for the last 5 years). For successful managers, the well-researched ‘think manager, think male’ association existed. But there was a negative association between the traits rated as typical of unsuccessful managers and men. Participants chose four times as many ‘feminine’ characteristics to describe unsuccessful managers – among them fearful, nervous and passive.
…When the new manager was required to simply endure the poor performance, shoulder the blame or manage people, feminine traits were rated as more desirable. When the new manager needed to take a more active role by being a spokesperson or turning the poor performance around, there was no difference between the desirability of masculine and feminine traits.
The researchers concluded that the ‘think crisis think female’ association means that women may be selected more often for leadership roles in poorly performing teams and businesses, meaning that they are ‘set up to fail’.

If this interpretation is correct, it’s an interesting (and maddening) cycle. Thanks to certain traits being stereotypically cast as “female,” women are more likely to be hired on to steer sinking ships, thus propping up the idea (when those ships inevitably go under) that women aren’t good in business because of our indomitable feels, which then feeds back into the idea that women are tactful sacks of intuition, perfect for putting your dying business to sleep. Enjoy your shitty eternal spin cycle, businesswomen!

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