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We need to examine how stereotypes impact women’s growth in workplace

Women leaders discuss the challenges associated with stereotypes and how organizations can change that.

We need to examine how stereotypes impact women’s growth in workplace
[Source photo: Krishna Prasad/Fast Company Middle East]

Women are often perceived as nurturing, supportive, and empathetic, which are not always aligned with traditional leadership traits like assertiveness, decisiveness, and ambition. 

As a result, women may encounter biases and obstacles in their career progression, including being overlooked for leadership positions or facing stricter performance evaluations than their male counterparts. 

These stereotypes contribute to the perpetuation of gender disparities in corporate settings, making it challenging for women to break through the glass ceiling and advance further. 

Despite efforts to promote gender diversity and inclusion, these stereotypes continue to influence perceptions of women in the workplace, impacting their opportunities for career advancement and leadership success.

Assertiveness, aggression, and a type A personality contrast the leadership qualities of empathy, collaboration, and a balanced approach, which are equally essential for both male and female leaders. However, in corporate settings, type A personalities are often rewarded due to their perceived drive, ambition, and ability to achieve results quickly and assertively, aligning with traditional views of leadership effectiveness. 

According to Tremmel and Wahl’s research, successful leaders are often associated with stereotypically masculine traits, making it difficult for women to advance in leadership roles. The preference for male leaders over female leaders is evident in various occupational situations, such as hiring processes and performance evaluations, where women are often overlooked or face stricter standards than men. 

“So long as profit is prioritized over people, aggressive, single-minded competition will be valued over collaborative teamwork. As a result, business leadership is often associated with stereotypically masculine traits of fiercely competitive and risk-taking. The assumption is that productivity and profitability are only the results of winning. That competitive behavior requires hyper-masculinity,” says Deborah Bee, founder of Bee&Sons. 

“Women are not innocent of this behavior, despite the obvious shortage,” she adds. 


Studies have found that gender stereotypes among decision-makers contribute to inequalities, with men frequently serving as gatekeepers to leadership positions. Stereotypically, men are perceived as possessing agentic characteristics like assertiveness and independence, aligning more closely with leadership qualities. At the same time, women are stereotyped with kindness and seen as less congruent with leadership traits. 

Female leaders who display agentic traits may face backlash and be perceived less positively than male leaders exhibiting similar traits, highlighting women’s challenges in navigating gender stereotypes in leadership roles.

“Female leaders in a toxic hyper-masculinized competitive environment behave differently to male leaders because (and without wishing to stereotype) men and women have grown up very differently. Unconscious biases entrench stereotyping before children even start school,” Bee says.

Emphasizing the effectiveness of collaboration over coercion, Bee says that a carrot (reward-based approach) is more successful than a stick (punishment-based approach) in leadership. She suggests that women often value relationship-building and confidence-building within their teams, aligning with a more nurturing leadership style. 

However, Bee acknowledges the challenge of encountering resistance from other senior leaders who prefer a more traditional, competitive approach. She draws inspiration from Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, highlighting how Roddick’s principles of fair trade, equity, and ethical consumerism set her apart and resonated with consumers. Bee criticizes the lack of lessons learned from Roddick’s success in today’s business landscape, where competition is encouraged to the detriment of collaboration and employee well-being. 

She advocates for a fundamental shift in managing businesses, echoing Roddick’s call for change in business practices and challenging traditional gender stereotypes in leadership.


Imposter syndrome is a prevalent issue, especially among women in professional settings. Despite their qualifications and achievements, many women experience self-doubt and a persistent fear of being exposed as inadequate or undeserving. Women often face additional pressures to prove themselves in male-dominated fields or environments, contributing to heightened feelings of impostorism. 

The subconscious programming formed from upbringing plays a critical role in imposter syndrome. “Growing up, there have been many times in our lives where we are perhaps told to step aside for someone else or see women as submissive. Society has also pushed a strong patriarchal culture. This can change when men and women question this programming and push programming for equality in the coming generation,” says Mukta Purain, founder of MissPalettable, an e-commerce platform.

However, Alexandra Carvalho, creative strategist, founder of Alex’s House of Social and author, believes that imposter syndrome is not gender specific. Unnecessarily, there’s an assumption that women experience it more than men. 

“Many, if not most, of the men I work with or interact with in my community and society, most of them talk to me about having imposter syndrome, so maybe they are just not being so forthcoming about it as women. It’s questions or statements like this that keep putting women down with not much grounds to stand on,” she adds. 


Bee highlights the persistent dominance of men in industries, resulting in the continued valuation and reward of stereotypically masculine qualities in leadership. She says that achieving gender diversity in boardrooms would facilitate more inclusive leadership styles, challenging myths that undermine the talent and commitment of women due to caregiving responsibilities or perceived lack of experience. Bee criticizes business owners for prioritizing profit margins over fostering a positive workplace culture, noting that HR departments often lack the incentive to implement meaningful changes. She underscores the benefits of gender diversity in driving profitability, productivity, creativity, and innovation within companies.

“To create a more inclusive definition of leadership, there needs to be a seismic shift in workplace culture that starts with the senior leadership teams and is fed through the organization to recruitment practices,” she says. 

She notes the absence of kindness and happiness in the corporate world and questions the efficacy of traditional “masculine” management techniques. 

“Gender equality should be exhibited at the board level and throughout every aspect of the workplace – and promoted for its proven ability to enhance productivity and economic growth,” adds Bee.

The importance of fair hiring practices cannot be overstated when tackling gender stereotypes. 

“Hire better by checking candidates’ backgrounds and asking their previous employees about their work experiences,” says Carvalho.  

To tackle red flags in workplace culture, well-oiled machinery to promote transparency is needed. “Create a safe culture where women facing disrespect or bullying can confidently speak to an impartial person without fear of repercussions,” Carvalho notes.

Moreover, we need mutual respect and equality among team members for real change. Carvalho adds, “Teach teams to respect each other, communicate effectively, and treat women as equals. Implement real consequences for workplace mistreatment to demonstrate a commitment to change.” These actions aim to cultivate a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture where everyone feels valued and respected.

Purain emphasizes the importance of women advocating for career advancement and actively encourages women to seek more opportunities in leadership positions. 

“As women, we need to be more vocal without being afraid. We should have open conversations with superiors and express why we believe we should be advanced for promotion or a leadership role.”

Imagine a world where gender roles are reversed to more inclusive and empathetic approaches prioritizing well-being and productivity.

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

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