There has been vast improvement in workplace gender equality, but there remain marked differences in the roles in which women and men work. Explanations for this inequality have focused on the barriers women face. However, as women begin to enter male-dominated roles, a new explanation has arisen: that remaining gender inequality must reflect fundamental differences between women and men, including differences in (a) ambition and desire for power, (b) needs for work-life balance, and (c) willingness to take career risks. Central to this analysis is the assumption that the glass ceiling is broken and thus inequality must be due to women’s active choices. I will present a programme of research that demonstrates that women’s choices are shaped and constrained by the gendered nature of organisational and social contexts and how women see themselves within these contexts.
Michelle Ryan is a Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter, UK and a (part-time) Professor of Diversity at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. She holds a European Research Council Consolidator Grant to investigate how context constrains women’s careers choices. With Alex Haslam, she has uncovered the phenomenon of the glass cliff, whereby women (and members of other minority groups) are more likely to be placed in leadership positions that are risky or precarious. Research into the glass cliff was named by the New York Times as one of the top 100 ideas that shaped 2008 and the term “The glass cliff” was shortlisted as word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016.
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