Women at the Top

Social Norms. Informal Institutions. Silent rules.

These govern all societies throughout the world. They set up rules of conduct and shape the behavior and roles of people living in a community. These rules are needed in many cases, they form our culture and our social understanding. However, in many cases these norms create a socially acceptable discriminatory environment, which is difficult to change.

Women meet these every day. Some notice them distinctly in their everyday life whereas others don’t acknowledge them as a problem. These norms are present in the household as well as in the workplace. These norms may create gender related constraints, limiting women’s empowerment. These norms may make gender based violence acceptable or may discriminate against women in the workforce.

This post focuses on women in the workforce and women as leaders. Women in the World Foundation asks, “What would the world look like if women were represented fairly in government?” And mention that, “just 18.4 percent of parliamentarians and 10 percent of heads of state are women”.

Studies have shown that women meet stronger opposition as leaders, usually just because they are women. Even if the woman has managed the leadership position better than the man (not saying that this always is the case), the woman has been less popular. See links at the bottom for further information.

As it may be against “common practice” to have a woman elected as village council, CEO or Prime Minister, they may not be seen as capable enough for the position. For these norms to change, we must change the status and roles of women. As women make up half the population in our world (at least in most places) they need to be a part of governing and leading it as well. Women should have an equal part in any global and local concerns, be it peacebuilding or be it corporate responsibility.

Forbes has examined The 10 Worst Stereotypes of Powerful Women, interviewing top female leaders and their experiences with gender stereotypes.

Michelle Obama has been called an “angry black woman”. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF),  mentions that she has met the notions that powerful women need to be masculine to succeed. NBC’s Ann Curry shares that she “was told she couldn’t be a news reporter because women had “no news judgment.””

These are some examples of successful women who have managed to break social norms and change the way we see women in our world. Haven’t they?

So how can women break these silent rules? Although gender related constraints are different in different areas of the world, I think this TED talk by the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is inspiring. She summarizes the actions women need to take in three points.

Let’s work together to help women around the world be able to “sit at the table,” as this is easier said than done in most parts of the world.

For more inspiration on this topic:

Women in Public Service Colloquium

UN Multimedia: Women leaders call for an end to discriminatory barriers

Wellesley study: Female Leadership Advantage

Forbes: The myth of the ambition gap

Forbes: 5 Essential leadership lessons for women

Blog: The Upwalk

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Category: Uncategorized
Tagged with: Ann Curry    Christine Lagarde    Forbes    Leaders    Michelle Obama    Sheryl Sandberg    Social norms    Women    Women in the World

Julia Wiklander


Julia Wiklander is the Founder and President of Girls' Globe. With a passion to inspire people, Julia believes in all people's equal rights, and that highlighting positive change is essential for development. Julia is also a mother, a blogger (of course) and an economist.

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  • Very Interesting reading!

  • This post really has a point! I’m not saying this because I’m a woman, but because I have witnessed it myself in my worklife. Especially young women need to work extra hard to get accepted as professionals in a workplace and probably this is so just because of these silent rules. Of course I have been well-respected by many colleages, but I have also been treated and met in ways I believe no one would treat or talk back to a man.

    It’s hard to change something that many times is an unconscious thought, but we women just need to stand together and keep on working and proving that we, also, are capable and suitable of changing the world.

    But while writing this one thought keeps coming back to my mind… why do really need to keep proving ourselves just because we’re women?

    Thanks for bringing this topic up GirlsGlobe!


    • Thanks Kristina for your comment!

      I totally agree with you. However, I also think there are several unconscious things some women do that undermine their own goals in the workplace, i.e. trying to please everyone or not “sitting at the table”. I think these are norms which we all, even as women, are a part of reinforcing in our society. Therefore, I guess we must prove that there is a different reality, and that we as women do not need to “fit in” to the existing rules of how women should act. Hopefully, this way of behaving will be natural both to ourselves and our societies, which will then not make it necessary for us to PROVE anything. Thanks for taking part in this important discussion.

  • Emma

    what an interesting presentation of sandberg that you posted! She is inspiring and I think we need to remind each other often to sit at the table and not be passive and “go home until it is actually time to leave the office.” so thank you julia for the reminder!

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