Chapter | Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice | 2010

Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges

by Robin J. Ely and Deborah L. Rhode


We use the experience of Carly Fiorina as an introduction to the continued challenges faced by women in top leadership roles. Although Fiorina, on becoming CEO of Hewlett Packard in 1999, asserted that "there is not a glass ceiling," her memoir eight years later acknowledged many encounters with sexist comments and attitudes. We suggest that all female leaders must deal with ambivalent reactions rooted in gender stereotypes. Generally, the assertive, dominant behavior typical among leaders tends to be viewed as atypical and unattractive in women. Studies of attitudes toward women in traditionally male roles show that they effectively trade perceptions of competence for likeability-the more successful they appear, the less positively they are regarded. Such trends affect both organizational openness to female leaders and the conceptions women have about themselves as leaders.

Keywords: Prejudice and Bias; Leadership; Perception; Behavior; Attitudes; Gender;


Ely, Robin J., and Deborah L. Rhode. "Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges." Chap. 14 in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana. Harvard Business Press, 2010.