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Are women underrepresented in business and politics? And do they earn less than men because of gender inequalities in society or because women choose to opt out? Even more importantly, if there are still inequalities, why does society as a whole believe that women’s job opportunities are equal to men’s?

Nicole Stephens, assistant professor of management at the Kellogg school, and Stanford psychology doctoral student Cynthia Levine, have been investigating why there is a difference between what people perceive and the reality of the situation.

In an article to be published in Psychological Science, they argue that the common American assumption that behaviour is a product of personal choice, fosters the belief that opportunities are equal and that gender barriers no longer exist in today’s workplace.

As part of the research, the academics subtly exposed undergraduate students to one of two posters on a wall about women leaving the workforce. The first had a choice slogan: “Choosing to Leave: Women’s Experiences Away from the Workforce”. The second slogan read: “Women at Home: Experiences Away from the Workforce.”

The undergraduates were then surveyed about social issues. The participants exposed to the first poster more strongly endorsed the belief that opportunities are equal and that gender discrimination is non-existent; the second group more clearly recognised discrimination.

“This experiment demonstrates that even subtle exposure to the choice framework promotes the belief that discrimination no longer exists,” says Ms Levine. “One single brief encounter - such as a message in a poster - influenced the ability to recognise discrimination. Regular exposure to such messages could intensify over time, creating a vicious cycle that keeps women from reaching the top of high-status fields.”

Meanwhile at the Judge business School at the University of Cambridge, one professor has been investigating what makes a charismatic leader.

Perhaps contrary to public belief, Martin Kilduff, professor of management studies, reveals that someone booming his or her vision of the future does not a charismatic leader make.

His research suggests that most charisma in the workplace is actually about a series of rather mundane processes. “It’s about soliciting advice from people, boning up and becoming an expert, being able to give people advice, treating them with consideration, being available and socially integrating with people at work level,” says Prof Kilduff. “If there’s any potential there at all, they will come to see you as charismatic.”

Perhaps his most telling conclusion is that managers who are viewed as charismatic are the most likely to lead high-powered groups.



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