Organisations structured to keep women down: study

June 24th, 2008 - 2:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, June 24 (IANS) Why there are so few women in top positions in companies may have more to do with their hierarchical structure rather than attitudes to women, a new study contends. The study, by Terry Fitzsimmons of the University of Queensland, has sought to understand gender inequality at workplaces and the barriers preventing women from obtaining top leadership positions.

The challenges encountered by women rising through company hierarchies are not entirely explained by existing theories, which claim that inequality stems from social stereotypes and culture, Fitzsimmons said.

“We’ve had equal opportunity legislation from the 1980s onwards. We’ve got all of this pressure there saying it’s not right to discriminate on any level,” he said.

“Yet we’ve still got these huge disparities between men and women — so there’s got to be something else.”

Fitzsimmons said his research proposed a link between organisational hierarchical structure and the limited number of women in key leadership positions.

“It has been known for a fair while that it’s harder for women to get through hierarchies… I always thought there might be something in the hierarchy itself that doesn’t suit female leadership compared to male leadership,” he said.

“In hunter-gatherer tribes, when there wasn’t a means of accumulating wealth and when there was no hierarchy, men and women were equal,” he said.

“What has been found is that when these hunter-gatherers began to settle down, the best hunters were able to accumulate wealth and all of a sudden there was a hierarchy based on wealth.

“Men can begin to accumulate resources and the woman’s role becomes less important,” he said.

Fitzsimmons believes this age-old hierarchical structure has found its way into modern organisations.

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