Gender Roles
In Decision Making

Sex vs gender roles in decision making

Men and women can be said to differ in two ways. Firstly, there are physical and biological differences because of the genetic makeup. These are sexual differences and do not change.

The second type is determined by social and cultural factors and are the gender differences. These are actually created by people and can, and do, change.


2 considerations

In considering gender roles in decision making there are two aspects to take into account. Firstly, we'll have a look at how men and women participate in decision making in boardrooms, parliaments and courtrooms. And secondly, we'll examine how gender roles affect how men and women make decisions.

Women's rights

Let's have a look at how gender roles in decision making are changing. International Women's Day has been celebrated for over 80 years, and March 8th has been sponsored by the United Nations since 1977 as the day to promote the equal rights of women.

Traditionally, many of the cultures around the world have been patriarchal, led and run by men. It's only over the last hundred years or so that significant changes have occurred in terms of women's equality.

There are still many areas in the world where the culture is such that men make all the decisions. This social structure has worked for them for many hundreds or even thousands of years. Some people question whether it is appropriate to be trying to change the culture in the name of progress, but that's a topic for another article.

Despite the emphasis given to creating equality for women, there are still very few females in high-level decision making positions. As it happens the theme for International Women's Day this year is about gender roles in decision making and much research has been undertaken.

Still under-represented

For example, women's share of managerial jobs ranges from 20 to 40% in 48 countries studied. And although 25 to 35% of attorneys are women, only 5 to 15 per cent of partners in law firms are female.

Women make up 16.3% of politicians across all parliaments today, only slightly more than the 10.9% of 1975. It is considered that at least 30% is necessary to constitute a ' critical mass' of female politicians so that they have a significant and meaningful impact on the Parliamentary decisions.

Gender roles in decision making in the media has changed little. Both in traditional media of press, radio and television, and in the newer sectors of telecommunications and multimedia. Less than 3% of senior media executives are women.

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And even in countries such as Sweden where women are well represented in Parliament, they are still very under-represented in decision making positions in the academic institutions.

For an expanded look at contemporary business women and evolving gender roles in the workplace, you'll find more information on this site dedicated to coaching today's women managers.

Why the imbalance?

So what is generating this imbalance in gender roles in decision making? Is it that the sexes have different decision making skills? Most researchers think not. A commonly held view is that it is actually stereotypical views holding women back.

A joint effort...

While men and women have different needs and desires, as well as differences in decision making, it is well recognized that having them work together to make decisions keeps very satisfactory results all around.

There are initiatives in many countries to promote gender equality in decision making. Legislative and incentive measures are being used to encourage women into Parliament and into higher positions in the business world.

In committee decision making, women are more likely to be altruistic, concerned for the wellbeing of others, while men will say they are motivated by self interest. And while women are more universalistic, wanting all to benefit, men much prefer competitive solutions.

Women obviously have a significant impact, both on the decisions made as well as on the process of reaching those decisions.

Powerful agents of change

In many poorer and underprivileged areas, women's ability to be agents of change is being leveraged. They are being helped to help themselves. This raises their self-esteem and social position which stimulates them to begin to make decisions for themselves.

In one particular area, a major issue for women was the safety, and therefore usability, of public areas in their city. Fear of attack, abuse, intimidation and even rape prevented women from moving around the city freely. After using the Safer Cities Program assessment, Women's groups teamed up with the city's politicians to make suggestions about improving the safety for women.

As it turned out, this became the leverage to begin to address the city's wider problems of homelessness, poor accommodation, alcoholism, petty crime and so on.

And then there's sex...

Another area where gender roles in decision making have often been one-sided is sexual activity and reproduction. In some developing countries the husband remains the dominant decision maker for reproductive matters. Up to 50% of women agreed that their husbands decide.

In more developed countries, as women now have easier access to information, their own finances, and a sense of control over their own lives, many are making their own decisions about these matters.

How different are we?

So let's now move onto whether men and women actually do make decisions differently as well as those stereotypical views, as we take a closer look at decision making and gender.

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