Gender Roles and Gender Inequality in the Workplace

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 8
Words: 1948
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: Master


Nowadays, the transformation of society is still in progress, and people are actively fighting for their rights. Various aspects require changes, including gender inequality in the workplace. It seems that education and work are equally available for everyone regardless of their gender. However, women still face many difficulties and limitations, trying to build a career. It is often problematic for women to break through stereotypes, and they frequently have to prove that they are no worse than men. There is also the phenomenon of the glass ceiling that prevents women from achieving higher positions. The poverty statistics among females also speak for themselves, indicating that there are even more serious problems than obstacles for promotion.

However, the basis of these issues is hidden within traditional gender roles that usually present women as not perspective or smart employees and employers. The pressure of such stereotypes may not only cause difficulties at work but also affect women’s choices and decisions. Gender inequality in the workplace has its roots in gender roles that influence women’s life goals and career aspirations and affect the perception of women at work.

Discussion of Traditional Gender Roles

Traditional gender roles provide beliefs, behaviors, and sets of qualities that should men and women possess. In the patriarchal world, men are traditionally perceived as breadwinners, providing their families with housing and money. Women, in turn, are seen as mothers and wives, taking care of children and performing domestic chores. The main purpose of such roles is social approval, which allows suggesting that stereotypes are created in a broad context.

Due to the diversity of this context, it is worth talking about the limitations of approaches to be discussed in the paper. According to Berishvili, “gender roles depend on socio-economic, political and culturological” environments. In this regard, it is impossible to talk about the perception of genders that would be common for all countries. For instance, as Berishvili notes, women in some states still do not have basic rights such as access to work and education. To provide a more narrow discussion, this paper will refer to developed countries and their gender problems in the workplace.

Gender roles set a strong framework of men’s and women’s nature and their duties and responsibilities. It is worth noting that, as cited in Heilman, researchers distinguish descriptive and prescriptive gender stereotypes. According to Heilman, descriptive stereotypes “designate what women and men are like,” while prescriptive stereotypes indicate what they should be like. In this regard, from a gender role perspective, society cannot see a man’s or woman’s individuality, requiring a set of qualities and behaviors that are considered normal for one’s gender.

Of course, gender role beliefs influence both men and women. However, women usually experience a greater impact of stereotypes in various life spheres, including the work environment. According to Gadassi and Gati, career preferences in women are more often formed under the influence of stereotypes than in men. In this regard, women frequently underestimate themselves when thinking about their work, and gender roles negatively affect women’s career aspirations, which will be discussed further.

Influence of Gender Stereotypes on Women’s Career Aspirations

Gender beliefs often shape job preferences and aspirations in men and women. Some professions are still more strongly associated either with men or women. For instance, STEM domains (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are often perceived as traditionally male professions. Cundiff et al. note that there is a gender gap in STEM and investigate this problem from the point of view of stereotypes influence. According to their findings, undergraduate women in STEM majors at the Pennsylvania State University with strong “gender–science stereotypes were associated with weaker science identification and, in turn, weaker science career aspirations.” Thus, women’s choices in their professional life are often affected by stereotypical thinking of society.

One of the reasons preventing women from paying less attention to stereotypes and moving forward is the need for belonging. According to Cundiff et al., a sense of belonging is one of the fundamental human needs, and stereotypes provide “thoughts about who does and who does not belong in particular settings.” When facing attitude based only on their gender, women may feel underestimated and less valued, which does not contribute to creating a group free of discrimination.

One may agree that stereotypes create significant psychological pressure on women. As Heilman notes, both descriptive and prescriptive stereotypes establish certain expectations that may negatively influence women’s career progress. Talking about a descriptive perspective, the researcher points out that women are considered lacking some attributes that “thought necessary for success in traditionally male positions.” From a prescriptive point of view, women violating normative gender expectations often experience devaluation and derogation, including at work. It is possible to assume that such an attitude to women based on stereotypes can cause great stress in females, in many cases, preventing them even from thinking of careers in traditionally male professions.

Workplace Inequality and the “Glass Ceiling” Phenomenon

The stereotype’s impact is not limited by influence on women’s career aspiration but continues creating difficulties for females in the working process. Of course, recently, there have been significant changes regarding the perception of genders in society. According to Sabharwal, several studies note that women steadily entered the labor force, and “the stereotypes of male masculinity have decreased.” However, gender inequality in the workplace is still a significant problem even in the developed world.

Stereotypes impose certain restrictions on women’s behavior at work, including the expression of their feelings. As Heilman notes, some emotions are considered traditionally male, although females are generally perceived as more emotional. For instance when women express stereotypically male characteristics such as pride or anger at work, it usually causes not a favourable reaction. In addition, one may agree that such emotions as pride and anger in women are not approved not only in the work setting but also in the general context of patriarchal society. It implies that the problem has deep roots and is not limited just to career opportunities.

It is also important to discuss the phenomenon of the glass ceiling. According to Powell and Butterfield, this term means challenges that women face “when they attempt to advance in managerial hierarchies.” Ezzedeen, Budworth, and Baker provide statistics that states that in Canada, in 2013, women accounted for just 5.7% of chief executive officers, although their percentage of the workforce was almost equal to men’s. It is possible to assume that the socio-cultural context of the patriarchal world where men are seen as leaders also makes it more difficult for women to achieve higher positions.

Of course, nowadays, women can break the glass ceiling. However, some problems arise even in the discussion of gender issues. As Ezzedeen, Budworth, and Baker note, many studies suggest that overcoming of break ceiling also significantly depends on women’s optimism or pessimism regarding this issue. Although this statement may be true, this approach shifts the focus from real problems to women’s responsibility of dealing with their challenges themselves. It is hard to deny that a person’s achievements in the workplace highly depend on one’s features and motivation. Nevertheless, one may agree that the mentioned opinion indirectly accuses women of failure to break through the glass ceiling.

In addition, there is evidence that even on the top, women continue to face more difficulties than men. According to Sabharwal, women in leading positions get more criticism and scrutiny and less support from their colleagues. The researchers suggest this phenomenon a new metaphor called “glass cliff” that implies higher possibilities for women to lose their leading positions due to the mentioned challenges. One may agree that the foundation of this relatively new phenomenon also lies in gender roles and stereotypes.

A Low Number of Women in STEM

It is also worth discussing professional disciplines in which women are more often considered weaker than men and frequently face sexism. These disciplines refer to already mentioned STEM including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to Clark Blickenstaff, there is no doubt that women are underrepresented in STEM in most developed countries. In fact, using STEM spheres as an example, it is possible to trace the path of the influence of stereotypes from an early age to adulthood.

Starting from school, women often face sexism regarding their intelligence. Lazarides and Watt investigated mathematics teachers’ beliefs and expectations with a focus on gender differences. According to their study, “girls’ mathematical success expectancies and values remain lower than those of boys through adolescence.” It is possible to agree that such perceptions of genders may influence the future of young girls. When not feeling support from adults and living in a world of stereotypes from early childhood, they start to believe that such subjects as mathematics are not for them.

As can be seen from the previous discussions, stereotypical beliefs reduce women’s motivation and influence their career aspirations. According to the study conducted by Wang and Degol, one of the reasons for a low number of women in STEM is “gender-related stereotypes and biases.” It is also worth noting that another factor is connected with “work-family balance preferences.” This issue is more acute for women rather than men, as in patriarchal society, women perform parenting and domestic duties. As Sullivan and Mainiero note, females “work at home more than men” and more often “opt-out of the workforce to take a family break.” Thus, gender roles may influence women’s careers from various angles.

The phenomenon of the glass ceiling is also strong within STEM. Fernandez and Campero investigated the roots of this issue in high-tech firms. According to their findings, the glass ceiling is produced by “internal and external hiring processes,” and women are often “sorted into lower-level job queues than males.” In this regard, females face obstacles even at the stage of applying for a new job, which also strengthens the glass ceiling. One should also note that STEM domains are usually well-paid. It implies that gender stereotypes often limit women’s income, which will be discussed further.

Gender Roles and the Feminization of Poverty

The challenges that females face in the work environment lead to a more serious problem that is the feminization of poverty. It may seem that this issue is relevant only to develop countries. However, women in developed states also face inequality in income. As Bárcena-Martín and Moro-Egido note, “the incidence of poverty is larger for women than for men worldwide due to the systematic discrimination that women face in education, employment, wages, and control of assets.” According to European Union statistics, more women than men are unemployed. It is worth noting that unemployment is considered one of the factors causing an increase in income inequality. Thus, the problem of poverty among women is worldwide.

There is also evidence that gender roles influence females’ income. According to EU data, women do most of the “housework and care: working women spend 22 hours per week in unpaid work while working men spend fewer than 10 hours.” In addition, women more often spend their money on family well-being comparing to men. Moreover, as Chant notes, “women face more barriers to lifting themselves out of poverty.” One may agree that these barriers are connected with gender roles that require women to spend more energy on family rather than work.


This paper shows that the problem of gender inequality is still acute even for developed countries. It implies that there is a long way for the whole world to achieve a society free of discrimination. Richer states should continue moving toward gender equality, providing living standards, promoting and supporting changes in developing countries. One may agree that globalization should more actively enter the sphere of human rights for solving such issues as gender biases.


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