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Session Submission Type: WorkshopSession Evaluation Form
In leading authentically, we must look for that which is unseen to better our organizations in an increasingly diverse world. In today’s workplace, invisible assumptions, double standards, and barriers constrain opportunities for women. Intersectional identity factors, both seen and unseen, such as race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and class may further complicate women’s progress. This workshop will present findings from new cross-sector research on how intersectionality impacts women’s leadership organized into three learning modules. Working in small groups, participants will examine intersectional barriers and brainstorm solutions to fully integrate women into all levels of organizational leadership.
Problem, Need, and Significance
Despite the fact that women are earning more educational degrees than men, they continue to be underrepresented at the top of institutional leadership hierarchies. In the 1980s, women caught up with men in attainment of bachelor’s and master’s degrees and have since surpassed men in attainment of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees (U.S. Department of Education, 2015), and women are well-represented in the workforce, comprising 52% of managerial and professional workers (U.S. Department of Labor, 2016). However, corporate promotion rates lag behind men. Women make up only 21% of C-suite positions in corporate America (McKinsey & Company, 2017). These numbers are not dissimilar from other sectors where women’s presence in top positions tends to be between 10 and 20%, if not lower (Warner & Corley, 2017).
The challenge is even more pronounced for women with intersectional areas of difference, such as women of color. Women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline—behind white men, men of color, and white women. McKinsey & Company (2017) found that, compared with white women, women of color face the most barriers and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority despite having higher aspirations for becoming a top executive. While women of color represent 16% of the total labor force (Warner & Corley, 2017), they make up only 3% of C-suite positions, report having less access to opportunities, and are less likely to view their workplace as treating all employees fairly.
Diversity enhances organizational effectiveness (Hoobler, Masterson, Nkomo, & Michel, 2016; Noland, Moran, & Kotschwar, 2016), yet women face many invisible barriers as they strive to advance and succeed in the workplace (Diehl & Dzubinski, 2016). This session introduces a framework for recognizing intersectional identity factors which may impede women’s leadership. Becoming aware of these factors is the first step in helping organizations create inclusive, productive spaces for all women.
Previously, deliberate gender discrimination and prejudice tied to gender-role stereotypes in the workplace contributed to low levels of women in leadership (Schein, 1973). With increasing attention to gender equality in society and the workplace, discrimination has simply become more hidden (Diehl & Dzubinski, 2016; Ibarra, Ely, & Kolb, 2013). Now frequently conceptualized as unconscious gender bias, these remnants of beliefs and attitudes regarding gender roles and stereotypes continue to impact women’s ability to lead in today’s organizations (Diehl & Dzubinski, 2016). Through their study of women executives in higher education and faith-based institutions, Diehl and Dzubinski (2016) developed a framework of 27 gender-based barriers which prevent women from succeeding or advancing in leadership.
However, gender is not the only type of discrimination that women face; i2017ntersectional factors impact women in ways different from their male colleagues (Eagly & Chin, 2010; Sanchez-Hucles & Davis, 2010). Intersectionality refers to the concept that identity factors such as race, class, gender, age, and sexuality combine to create overlapping layers of discrimination (Collins, 2015). The intersectional experience is greater than the sum of its parts; for example, the concepts of racism and sexism do not adequately describe the particular ways that Black women are subordinated (Crenshaw, 1989). Gender, as well as intersectionality, creates challenges for women’s career paths and their access to organizational leadership roles (Eagly & Chin, 2010; Kilian, Hukai, & McCarty, 2005; Tomlinson, Muzio, Sommerlad, Webley, & Duff, 2013). Yet little research has been done on how intersectionality impacts women in leadership (Sanchez-Hucles & Davis, 2010). Therefore, Dzubinski (2017) explored intersectional barriers to women’s leadership using open-ended survey questions as part of a larger study to create and validate an index to measure unconscious gender bias. This research was conducted across four disparate sectors (healthcare, higher education, faith-based mission organizations, and law) to gain an understanding of how bias impacts women leaders across different fields. Dzubinski identified 27 factors of intersectionality, with many participants describing how factors overlapped to negatively impact their leadership.
The purpose of this interactive workshop is to help participants recognize these seen and unseen intersectional barriers and apply this learning to their own workplaces.
Questions, Content & Design
This session will begin with an overview of unconscious bias (5 minutes). Next, we will describe gender-based leadership barriers from Diehl and Dzubinski’s (2016) research (10 minutes). Then there will be three learning segments (10 minutes each) focusing on intersectional barriers. After each segment, participants will consider which barriers they have seen in their own workplaces and share examples with others (10 minutes per segment). For the next 10 minutes, participants will discuss steps individuals and organizations can take to support all women. The final 5 minutes will involve a short report to the room. The total workshop time will be 90 minutes.
Results, Findings, Outcomes
The workshop learning objectives are to:
1. Recognize that we are all biased.
2. Understand the extent and prevalence of unconscious workplace bias towards women.
3. Name and recognize intersectional factors that affect women in the workplace.
4. Identify personal connections to the intersectional barriers.
5. Identify potential solutions to better support all women in the organization.
From existing research on unconscious bias and intersectionality, it is clear that women face a steep climb on their path to organizational leadership. Dzubinski’s (2017) framework will give participants comprehensive knowledge of intersectional factors that impact women’s leadership. Participants will cognitively recognize barriers and emotionally connect to them through sharing workplace stories with others. Then they will brainstorm possible solutions.
Recognizing that forms of oppression are interrelated and manifest in multiple forms of injustice and discrimination, our current research on unconscious bias sought to go beyond gender to find out what other identity aspects impact women leaders’ experiences in the workplace. Understanding and working to eliminate embedded intersectional barriers is of great practical interest because of the promise it holds for improved organizational performance and decision-making. Participants will gain a new toolset to recognize hidden barriers which will help them to develop strategies to reduce and eliminate these barriers and to fully integrate women into all levels of organizational leadership.