Women and leadership at Wharton

The latest episodes of the Wharton School’s faculty research podcast, ‘Ripple Effect,’ explore the gendered workplace, women’s leadership, and equality.

The latest episodes of Wharton’s “Ripple Effect” podcast explores women’s careers, leadership, equality, and the gendered workplace. Business and management experts in the Wharton School discuss their research and insight with Dan Loney in this ongoing podcast series.

In “Sponsorship versus Professional Mentoring for Women Leaders,” management professor and Wharton’s deputy dean Nancy Rothbard explains how mentors and sponsors can impact women’s careers. There’s a difference between a professional mentor and a sponsor, but women need both if they want help moving forward in their careers, explains Rothbard.

Silhouettes of businesswomen in modern office near a window.
Image: iStock/GaudiLab

“I think that what we see in a lot of organizations is as you go up the leadership ranks, there are fewer women in those positions,” Rothbard says. “What that means is that the access and the opportunity for women in these leadership roles is less salient. People don’t necessarily think of women for these roles. One of the things that sponsors can do is to really help get your name out there, make sure that you’re a viable candidate for a position, so that you are known and recognized and considered when people are thinking about taking on a new person in a new leadership role.”

In “Creating More Gender Equality in the Workplace,” management professor Maurice Schweitzer, explains how shifting perspectives on gender are affecting women at work.

“New companies, emerging companies—there’s now an incredible supply of very talented women, in some cases far more talented women than men—again, depending on the geographic region,” Schweitzer says. “But we’re seeing some companies completely led by women. Some new companies are even completely comprised of women. I believe that’s going to be something that will emerge going forward. I think that will help us normalize the idea that anything somebody from one group could do, another group could do.”

“We’ve been talking about gender as a binary thing, but we’re beginning to understand that it’s really more of a continuum. So, I think our perceptions around gender are really going through a transition. There are fits and starts, and it’s not all monotonic, but we’re moving to a very different place.”

In “How Leadership is Defined Differently for Women,” Rebecca Schaumberg discusses how gender bias can manifest through descriptors such as “self-reliant,” which has a different meaning for men versus women.

“I think we just haven’t even thought of what self-reliance means, or how the definition changes when it’s associated with women. Indeed, I think historically the workplace has been so male-dominated that our understanding of these traits has often been associated with masculine qualities,” says Schaumberg. “Or we only see them through that lens of being attached to male employees, as opposed to when often they’re associated and attached to female employees. They just may mean something fundamentally different.”

“If you describe a man as self-reliant, and you describe a woman as self-reliant, do those communicate dissimilar or different things? You hold everything constant, which can be challenging, particularly when you’re studying something like gender. You take different individuals or different types of leaders or you describe different people, and you hold everything constant except is it a man or a woman, and do you describe them as self-reliant, or another trait like ‘dominant,’ or just something neutral?”

And in “Challenges for Women in the Workplace,” Martine Haas discusses the tradeoffs women make with remote and hybrid work, and working internationally.

“We know there can be a remote work penalty for anybody who’s not in the office so much, especially when other people are in the office more. If you are a woman in a male-dominated industry or workplace, you automatically probably have a bit of a disadvantage from that. There’s a lot of research showing that in different ways. You put together the two disadvantages, and you have potential for a double disadvantage. You’re remote, and you’re maybe a little bit more marginalized in the first place, maybe a little bit less likely to be listened to when you speak, maybe a little bit less likely to be given the best opportunities or hooked up with the most senior male mentors or whatever it might be,” Haas says.

“Over time, that double disadvantage could be a substantial disadvantage for your career. Again, women may choose to make that decision deliberately and consciously, and understand that, and still have really good reasons for doing it. But it’s important to be aware of it.”

For a full list of podcast episodes, visit the “Ripple Effect” website.