I am surprised by the findings of a recent study showing that single millennial women who are MBA candidates in an elite program feel they must downplay their professional ambitions when in public in order to attract a marriageable male mate. I realize I should not be surprised, given the support for traditional heterosexual relationships reported by voters for Donald Trump in the recent presidential election. Joan C. Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review, describes the strong feelings about traditional gender roles that still exist in large segments of our society. She explains, “Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place.” With these attitudes still deeply embedded in our society, it is no wonder that many young women feel they have to minimize their goals in public settings.
I have been curious for a long time about the persistence of double binds, which create challenges for women in leadership that men do not have to deal with. My interest in this question shaped my own research, published in my recent book, New Rules for Women: Revolutionizing the Way Women Work Together. A new article by Carol Hay offers some thoughtful perspectives on the deep cultural roots that keep these double binds in place. In her article, Hay writes from the perspective of a female professor and describes the confusion of both male and female students about what to expect from her as a female authority figure. I believe that everything she describes has widespread application and can also be said for women in authority or leadership roles in most other types of organizations.