How Gender Differences in Beliefs and Preferences Bring About Gender Gap Disparities

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CPA Dr. Dorothy Chepngetich Koech

In the quest to understand gender gaps in various domains, social scientists have explored the role of gender differences in beliefs and preferences. Studies have highlighted disparities in decision-making, particularly regarding competition and confidence, between men and women. Gender differences in beliefs and preferences have a direct impact on gender gaps in various domains. Women’s lower propensity for competition may contribute to the persistence of the gender pay gap and underrepresentation of women in high-profile positions. Additionally, men’s overconfidence can result in a disproportionate number of men entering certain fields or taking on higher-risk investment strategies, potentially exacerbating gender disparities.

Evidence suggests that men tend to exhibit higher levels of overconfidence compared to women. Barber and Odean (2001) found that men are more likely to trade excessively due to their overconfidence in financial markets. This gender difference in confidence can have implications for career choices and negotiation outcomes. Women’s tendency to underestimate their abilities while men may overestimate theirs can lead to fewer women pursuing leadership positions or negotiating better salaries.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap report, women held around 31% of leadership positions worldwide. However, the representation of women in leadership roles varied significantly across different industries. Among the industries examined, some demonstrated a remarkable balance in gender parity. Notably, non-governmental and membership organizations stood out with a commendable 47% representation of women in leadership roles. On the other hand, the infrastructure industry lagged behind with a significantly lower representation of women, accounting for only 16% of leadership positions.

In the financial services sector, women occupied 30% of leadership roles globally in 2022. Although there has been a gradual increase in the proportion of women holding leadership positions over time, there remains a noticeable discrepancy in the rates of women’s employment across various industries.

Gender roles have been influenced by deeply ingrained gender stereotypes that shape societal expectations and perceptions of men and women. These stereotypes assign certain traits, behaviors, and responsibilities to each gender, often leading to disparities in leadership positions.

Historically, traditional gender norms have associated leadership qualities such as assertiveness, decisiveness, and strength with masculinity, while nurturing, empathy, and collaboration have been attributed to femininity. These stereotypes have created biases and barriers for women in leadership roles. Women often face prejudice and skepticism when they challenge these stereotypes and seek positions of authority.

Gender stereotypes also affect the perception of women’s capabilities and competence. Women may encounter the “double bind” dilemma, where they are expected to display traditionally masculine leadership qualities while simultaneously conforming to societal expectations of femininity. This can create a challenging balancing act for women aspiring to leadership roles.

Additionally, unconscious biases play a role in perpetuating gender stereotypes. These biases, often deeply ingrained and subconscious, can influence decision-making processes related to hiring, promotions, and opportunities for advancement. Women may face implicit bias, where their qualifications and abilities are unconsciously undervalued or overlooked compared to their male counterparts.

It is important to recognize that these gender stereotypes and biases are not based on inherent differences in abilities or qualities but are social constructs reinforced by cultural norms and expectations. Efforts to challenge and break down these stereotypes are crucial to achieving gender equality in leadership positions. Promoting awareness, providing equal opportunities, and implementing policies that foster diversity and inclusion are essential steps toward overcoming the influence of gender stereotypes on gender roles in leadership.

Traditional gender stereotypes in Kenya often confine women to domestic roles and reinforce the idea that certain professions, such as accountancy, are better suited for men. These stereotypes create a perception that women are less capable, analytical, or mathematically inclined, leading to self-doubt and diminished self-confidence. This bias impacts the career progression and overall confidence of women pursuing a profession in accountancy.

Numerous studies worldwide highlight the negative effects of gender stereotypes on women’s confidence and career aspirations. Research by Katherine Coffman and others reveals that these stereotypes can lead women to question their own abilities, resulting in imposter syndrome and diminished self-assurance. These effects are particularly evident in fields where women are underrepresented.

Despite the challenges posed by gender stereotypes, several women have achieved remarkable success in the Kenyan accountancy profession, challenging the prevailing biases. Notable leaders, such as the Auditor general CPA Nancy Gathungu (CBS) the Office of the Auditor General and Controller of Budget CPA Dr. Margaret N. Nyakang’o (CBS) from the Office of the Controller of Budget, serve as beacons of hope, demonstrating that women can excel and lead in this field. Their achievements exemplify the need for dismantling gender stereotypes and promoting gender equality within the profession.

To counter the damaging effects of gender stereotypes on women’s self-confidence in the accountancy profession, concerted efforts are required. Advocacy and awareness campaigns should be launched to challenge and debunk stereotypes, emphasizing that competence and success are not bound by gender. Furthermore, mentorship programs, professional networks, and leadership development initiatives can empower women by providing guidance, support, and opportunities for growth.

Firms and professional organizations play a crucial role in creating inclusive environments that foster gender equality. These entities can adopt policies that address gender bias, ensure equal access to opportunities, and provide mentorship and sponsorship programs for women. Additionally, promoting work-life balance, flexible working arrangements, and family-friendly policies can help break down the barriers that women face due to societal expectations.

Understanding the impact of gender differences in beliefs and preferences is crucial for informing policy interventions. Encouraging gender-balanced participation in competitive environments, implementing diversity initiatives, and providing training on negotiation skills can help reduce gender gaps. Future research should continue to explore the underlying factors contributing to these gender differences and their implications for various fields to develop targeted strategies for achieving greater gender equality.

In addition, organizations such as the Association of Women Accountants in Kenya (AWAK) provide valuable networking and support opportunities for women in the accountancy profession. However, to further enhance women’s success in the field, it is crucial to establish mentorship programs tailored to their specific needs. Encouraging women to develop confidence and providing mentorship can help bridge the confidence gap. It is crucial for organizations, professional bodies, and individuals to actively participate in and support such initiatives to foster a more inclusive and equitable profession. These initiatives contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace environment for all.

The writer is Ag. Director Resource Mobilization, Research and Debt Management at County Government of Kericho. She is a Board of Director at AWAK. She also serves as ICPAK South Rift Kericho Representative and a member of the Professional Standards Committee (Public Sector).

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