Cultural and structural barriers for a female leader

Nina Förderung, Niklas Roll, Til Schwane

“If more women are in leadership roles, we’ll stop assuming they shouldn’t be.” -Sheryl Sandberg

Women are historically based identified with the home and the care of children and men are identified with the working life. That leads to woman that are less valued and tend to give them less status compared to men in the society. The work of men has generally been value over the work of woman(Coleman, 2004). Women in higher positions are often confronted with patriarchal ideologies like womanhood with unpaid work, marriage, and family. This leads to women being perceived in lower management positions with lower authority and opportunities (Crowely and Himmelweit, 1992). Women are often confronted with several constraints such as not being promoted to leadership positions and facing challenges during the promotion process. (Eagly and Carli, 2007). There are only 36% of woman in leadership roles (World Economic Forum, 2020). The problem of gender inequality in management positions is a global concern (Burkinshaw et. al., 2018).T his paper addresses the cultural and structural barriers for a female leader.

Goodman, Fields, and Blum (2003) compare the problem with a glass ceiling. A glass ceiling is defined as “those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational biases that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organizations into managerial-level positions” (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991, p.1). Those invisible barriers block woman from senior executive positions (Wirth, 2001, p.1). Women in the workforce should try to break the “glass ceiling” and move forward.

Barriers for women in higher education

Nowadays there are many cultural and structural barriers which prevent the social justice education from occurring. The lack of social justice has been evident in many ways such as education, business, healthcare, and government (Huges, 2011, p.8). The employer simply treats some people less favorably than others because of their race, color, or other characteristics.

The following findings are based on the research of Maheshwari and Nayak (2020).

Work-life imbalance/ Dual responsibilities

For the most women the biggest challenge is balancing work and family responsibilities. Being in the office from the morning till the afternoon, working 40h a week might be challenging. Although living in modern times the women are still influenced by the Confucianism culture, they still have to fulfil their duties at home. Taking care of the household, cooking dinner, drop the kids off to the school and picking them up, surprise them with a fresh cooked lunch and helping them with their homework while the husband is working. When women are not fulfilling their “job” at home, they are feeling guilty.

Gender stereotype mindset

Traditional beliefs and cultural ideology are hard to eradicate from the society. A lot of women feel that woman leaders are still not respected among the colleagues. Gender discrimination unfortunately still exists. “There was an amazing woman at one of the conferences. Whenever she wanted to talk, there were three men tended to talk over, or laughing, and it looked like the panel with most of the men were ignoring her speech. ”Men automatically get the respect they deserve, whereas women have to fight for this recognition and assert themselves.These circumstances reduce the self-confidence of women to take up a leadership position.

Social networking obstacles

Social networking is an important way to meet new people, on the one hand from your own company but also from other companies/industries worldwide. It’s hard for women leaders to spend time after work at a conference or to join an after-work dinner because they already have home duties. Those events effect the private life a lot and consume much time. Moreover, women feel left out on those social events because of the diverse groups’ interaction, while men busy enjoying the events.

Personal factors

The primary role of women in today’s culture is being a homemaker, for example taking care of the family. Women are rather satisfied with this role, instead of getting promoted to a higher role / position, especially to take a leadership position in her job.Due to the extensiveness, women often lack self-confidence or are afraid to take the next step and move to a leadership position. This fear of being unable to keep up with the responsibilities is the exact reason why women are not advancing to leadership positions, although the expertise and knowledge is often there. The following table provides an overview over the internal and external barriers

Internal BarriersExternal barriers
Work-life balance / Dual responsibilitiesGender stereotype mindset
Social networking
Table 1: Internal and external barriers

But how should the working world look like? The social justice defined by Adams, Bell and Griffin (1997) offers a good approach, process, and target.

“The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. The process of attaining the goal of social justice should be democratic and participatory, inclusive, and affirming of human agency and human capacities for working collaboratively to create change.” (p.4).

The social justice perspective allows more values, justices, respect, care,and equity (Ballenger, 2010). In every work environment the top management should make sure that the equality of fair opportunity exists. All vacancies and work locations should be equally accessible to everyone (Rawls, 1972). The opportunity to reach leadership positions should be equal for every person and made independent of gender or anything else. The only thing that counts are skills and abilities (Bogotch, 2002). How each gender utilizes and practices them simply shows which person is the better leader and a better fit for the leadership position.

Opportunities for women to break through the existing barriers

Mentor and line management support

Precisely many women think that they do not have enough skills to take on a leadership position.They might need support, as they face a lot of challenges in their work (Boerma, 2011). The support from a mentor can enhance the work environment. Facing the fears and the lack of self-confidence,as mentioned earlier, the manager could help to give the final push to climb the career ladder.

Family support

Apart from the woman’s qualifications, personal ability and skills support from their families is a decisive factor for woman to become a leader. Family support is seeing as a huge barrier for woman to take up the top management positions. To be serious about your work and to not be distracted, it’s important to receive family support (Maheshwari and Nayak 2020).

The changing mindset of employees

Many studies suggest that there is gender discrimination in the company and woman are not provided with the same opportunities, as men are (Alsubhi et al., 2018; Fazal, et al., 2019; Kholis, 2017). Companies need to support the change of the mindset. Most of the discrimination at work happen due to the masculine culture. There is a believe that men leaders are authoritative and aggressive and have more self-confidence. Companies need to point out that women have the same skills, as men have. Companies should emphasize the following values more: we do not care about gender and age – everything that counts are good performance, ability, and attitude.


The above-mentioned problem still exists in the current century. For a woman it is much more complicated and harder to get promoted to a higher working position, because of aspects like gender stereotypes and gender inequality.

In contrast the following aspect is to be positively emphasized. Many countries in the world have already introduced a rate, which implies that a certain number of women must work in the company. For example, in Germany at least 30% of management positions must be staffed by women. These rates are the right way for the future, but they still must be improved from year to year. But it is precisely the rate just mentioned before which is often viewed critically. This is because women do not only want to perform the corresponding job position because of the rate, they just want to be judged based on their qualifications.

In our opinion the problem will still exist in the upcoming years, as women still prefer taking care of their own family, primarily the children. The problem is that most men will continue working in “normal” jobs and this means that in case the women want to work, they must get a babysitter every time. This would mean that the women cannot educate their children properly and would miss big parts of their early life.

To sum up the whole topic we want to say that is awful that the above-mentioned problem is still existing and affects the whole work culture in such a big way. We are all united in our support for equal rights for women and men in all areas, including the world of work.


Adams, M., Bell, L.A., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1997). Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Alsubhi A, Hoque K and Abdul Razak A (2018) Workplace barriers and leadership conflicts experienced by the women in higher education in Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Learning and Development 8(2): 1.

Ballenger, J. (2010). Women’s Access to Higher Education Leadership: Cultural and Structural Barriers. In Forum on Public Policy Online (Vol. 2010, No. 5). Oxford Round Table. 406 West Florida Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801.

Boerema AJ (2011) Challenging and supporting new leader development. Educational Management Administration & Leadership 39(5): 554–567.

Bogotch, I. E. (2002). Educational leadership and social justice: Practice into theory. Journal of School Leadership, 1(2) 138-156.

Burkinshaw P, Cahill J and Ford J (2018) Empirical evidence illuminating gendered regimes in UK higher education: Developing a new conceptual framework. Education Sciences 8(2): 81.

Coleman, M. (2004). Gender and secondary school leadership. International Studies in Educational Administration. Institute of Education. University of London. Education Publishing Company Ltd

Crowley, H., & Himmelweit, S. (1992). Discrimination, subordination and difference: Feminist perspectives. In Knowing women, edited by Helen Crowly and Susan Himmelweit. Cambridge, MA: Polity.

Eagly AH and Carli LL (2007) Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press.

Fazal S, Naz S, Khan MI and Pedder D (2019) Barriers and enablers of women’s academic careers in Pakistan. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies 25(2): 217–238.

Goodman, J. S., Fields, D. L., & Blum, T. C. (2003). Cracks in the glass ceiling: In what kinds of organizations do women make it to the top? Group & Organization Management 28(4), 475-501.

Hughes, P. J. (2011). A new Sheriff in town: The barriers of structural discrimination facing women leaders.Advancing Women in Leadership Journal,31, 8-13.

Kholis N (2017) Barriers to Women’s Career Advancement in Indonesian Academia: A Qualitative Empirical Study. In: 1st Yogyakarta International Conference on Educational Management/Administration and Pedagogy (YICEMAP 2017). Berlin: Atlantis Press.

Maheshwari, G., & Nayak, R. (2020). Women leadership in Vietnamese higher education institutions: An exploratory study on barriers and enablers for career enhancement.Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 1741143220945700

Rawls, J. (1972). A theory of justice. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

U.S. Department of Labor. (1991). A report on the glass ceiling initiative. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.

Wirth, L. (2001). Breaking through the glass ceiling: Women in management. Geneva: International Labor Office.

World Economic Forum (2020) Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Available at: docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf (accessed 24 April 2022).

Suurin osa Showcasen blogeista on toteutettu osana Laurean opintojaksoja. Koko koulutustarjontaamme voi tutustua nettisivuillamme. Tarjoamme kymmenien tutkintoon johtavien koulutuksien lisäksi myös paljon täydennys- ja erikoistumiskoulutuksia sekä yksittäisiä opintojaksoja avoimen AMK:n kautta!

Leave a Comment