Female leaders are few and far between. This isn’t just a radical statement anymore – statistics and studies are starting to prove this theory to be a fact. In 2018, only 24% of the world’s management level positions were filled by women, down 3% from the previous year. When women step up to take on integral positions of leadership, they are met with a torrent of scrutiny and, in worse cases, abuse. 

If Sheryl Sandberg tells us to ‘lean in’, we can only imagine how isolated she feels being a female in the ‘boy’s club’ of technology. When Hillary Clinton ran for President, arguably the most significant leadership role in the world, she wasn’t considered qualified compared to a reality television businessman. So, the question stands: is there a psychology to the continuing existence of the glass ceiling? And why, in this ever-evolving society, do women still struggle to take on leadership and managerial positions in the corporate workplace?

The theory of unconscious bias suggests that, due to socialisation and our environmental upbringing, we view things in a certain way. Therefore, we could argue that unconscious bias leads us to a natural conclusion that seeing a woman in a position of leadership is wrong. A 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology concluded that people were more likely to see corporate directors and CEOs as male over female; they use the phrase ‘think manager, think male’ to sum up their findings. Women ‘take care’, men ‘take charge’. This natural conclusion that we’ve been socialised to make reinforces the glass ceiling – we don’t see women as natural leaders, ergo we don’t feel the need to place them in positions of leadership or management.

Is the glass ceiling entirely psychologically created? No. There are many more barriers to women taking on higher leadership roles, some created by opinion and social thinking, others by legal issues or difficulties to working women. But there is something to be said for a male-dominated workplace eschewing female leaders in favour of candidates who might be less qualified but better fit the role of a manager.

The continued presence of unconscious bias in the working world is preventing women from taking on roles of greater responsibility. We can’t have trailblazers in leadership fields if the first women aren’t given the platform to lead effectively. It is only when we begin to change our thinking that we might see an increase in the percentages that are too often cited.