When I was an undergraduate student in Computer Engineering major in Sharif University of Technology, in Iran, I was always wondering that among the department of Computer Engineering’s student, why the proportion of female students willing to have TA or RA positions is less than male students, Although the numbers of female and male students enrolled in program was almost the same. When I looked at the faculty level, I saw that among 30 faculty members there was just one woman. If you look further in the society, this problem exists as well.
I, as a woman, was always anxious to know why. Is it just because of the male-dominated culture of Iran or that is because of nature of women that they do not want to or cannot do certain jobs especially in top management? I’ve always thought that this is because of a mixture of male-dominated culture -I will go through it later, but in general people, both men and women, think that a woman is not appropriate for management and they saw her greatest responsibility as wife and mother- and some characteristics of women -that they have less ambition to be in position of power compared to men. Therefore, I decided to study this problem to see what are the main barriers for women in Iran that, in general, they cannot make it.
In this essay, first I will have a brief introduction of Iran’s culture and then go through various kind of common barriers and see which one exist in Iran. In some cases I used some studies that have been done in neighbor countries such as Turkey and Pakistan since no study has been done in the context of Iran and these countries are somewhat similar to Iran due to similar background and culture.
Where are women in Iran?
According to , participation of women in labour force increased over time: from 17.9% in 1960 to 20.5% and 25.9% respectively in 1979 (Iran’s revolution) and 1999 to its 2004 level of 33%. Despite improvements, this ratio is still low compared to those of developed countries such as UK, where women comprised 44% of work force in 2004. This situation is even worse in senior official, legislator and manager level. In 2005, only 13% of senior officials, legislators and managers was female.
Women in Iran can enter university in almost all fields. In 2005, except for studies in technically oriented disciplines and engineering, there were more women in all undergraduate academic fields, including medicine, basic sciences, agricultural and veterinary medicine . The result is reversed at the master’s and and special doctorate’s rank.
Despite the gradual reinstatement of rights and privileges to women to their pre-revolutionary status, they still do not enjoy full equality with men. While the Iranian Constitution guarantees that women and men are equal and should receive the same pay for the same job, particularly in government institutions, in 2003, on average, women earn only 28% of men. In contrast, in the same year, the income disparity ratios in the US, the UK and Canada are 62%, 61% and 64%, respectively .
In some circumstances they even do not have equal rights with men- some discrimination by law which is based on Islam, the official religion of Iran. For example, the female candidate for the 2001 presidential election was disqualified, along with more than 200 men, on the grounds of lack of experience and inadequate knowledge of Islam. Furthermore, women cannot become leading religious clerics nor could unmarried women apply for scholarships to study abroad. In marital affairs, while women can file for divorce on the grounds of abuse, drug addiction to the extent that it prevents the husband from performing his duties, second marriage of husband without the wife’s permission, husband’s prolonged absence and inability to financially support his family, in practice, it is easier for husbands to divorce their wives. Furthermore, in the event of divorce, the custody of children above the age of file automatically goes to the husband . In addition, men can have up to 4 wives in the same time and in case of death of a husband, his wife will receive a quarter of what his son receives and his daughter receives a half of what his son receives.
Women also have to wear hijab, a long dress that covers from head to toes excluding face, in public and they are not allowed to shake hand with men.
Majles, mard salar
Women are not suitable for top management or leadership: perception or reality?
In the study of women in top management, this question will arise:
Do woman lack some characteristics that make them be inefficient managers or is it just because of some wrong perceptions of their abilities that holds them back?
Several studies investigate this question. For example in , Ibarra and Obodaru, based on a survey, found out that women outshone men in most of leadership dimensions except one: women scored lower on envisioning. However, envisioning is one of the most important component of leadership along with empowering, energizing, designing and aligning, rewarding and feedback, team building, outside orientation, global mind-set, tenacity, and emotional intelligence; in fact envisioning is a must-have.
They proposed three possibilities of this perception:
Women are equally visionary but in a different way. Women may have different style of visioning: they involve their male peers in the process of creating a vision. Therefore they may get less credit for the result.
Women hesitate to go out on a limb. A common obstacle for female leaders is that they oft en lack the presumption of competence accorded to their male peers. As a result, women are less likely to go out on a limb, extrapolating from facts and figures to interpretations that are more easily challenged.
Women don’t put much stock in vision. Women may not value envisioning as a critical leadership competency to the same extent that men do or may have a more skeptical view of envisioning’s part in achieving result.
They finally conclude that it is an great challenge for women to stop dismissing the vision thing, and it is the only thing holding women back.
I used to think that one of the main reasons that women will not consider being in a power position such as management is that they have less appetite, compare to men, to be in such positions due to their characteristics. In a study according to  this question was targeted that do women lack ambition?
Fels stated that in nearly all of the childhood ambitions, two distinguished elements were joined together: one was mastery of special skill and the other was recognition. Although we are not used to thinking of recognition as a fundamental emotional need, particularly in adulthood, but multiple areas of research have demonstrated that recognition is one of the motivational engines that drives the development of almost any type of skills. In fact there is a correlation between a tendency to strive for a mastery of selected skills and social recognition through acquisition of specific goals or behavior. She also stated that without earned affirmation, long-term learning and performance are rarely achieved.
Now, what’s the relation between this fact and women long-term goals to become manager. According to research, have been done since 1970, girls and women more openly seek and compete for affirmation when they are with other women. However, this behavior changes when it comes to competing directly with men. Another study shows that women receive less recognition for their accomplishments than men do in all of aging phase including :
preschool: almost all teachers gave more attention to boys, they got both more physical and verbal rewards
grammar school: studies show that in grammar school, girls have stronger verbal skills than boys do. One might assume that this would serve girls well, but they continue to get less recognition than boys.
This issue continues through college, graduate schools and in their career.
Therefore, specific characteristics of women in combination with what they get from the outside, lead to demoralization .
Barriers: Accepting a woman as a manager
There are several barriers in any stage of women’s promotion. These barriers get more and more intensive as the level goes up. I am going through the most important ones.
Glass ceiling is a concept that most frequently refers to barriers faced by women who attempt, or aspire, to attain senior position (as well as high salary levels) in corporations, government, education and nonprofit organizations . Evidence of the glass ceiling has been described as invisible, covert and overt. At the root of the glass ceiling are gender-based barriers, commonly cited in literature and noted anecdotally.
One of the major sign of the effect of glass ceiling is gender-biased compensation. Another indicator of glass ceiling is when women advancement is hampered by well-ingrained corporate culture. For example, corporate policies and practices can subtly maintain the status quo by keeping men in position of power .
Work/life balance challenges can impact women advancement and, if not dealt with, may contribute to the glass ceiling phenomenon . Women are typically the primary family caregivers for children and/or the elderly. Assumption are often made regarding women availability to do a job without interference from family responsibilities. Therefore, decision makers often assume that mothers have domestic responsibilities that make it inappropriate to promote them to demanding positions . According to a study in , there is a certain age, long established by large organizations, at which professionals must decide to make their play for the big promotion – the one that will put them inline for the C-suite- and while it’s a good time for men, it’s not a good time for women. Brizendine stated that go-for-it moment typically comes in one’s forties, but in this phase women with children already have a lot in their plates. Some assume that the quantity of work will decrease as the children grow up, but it is not about the quantity of work. It is because the demands on women brain in its highest level due to unscheduled need: mothers must be on the lookout for moments of need and quick to respond. Therefore they are not ready on their forties to go for it. However, he stated that women on their fifties are ready to take on the world, but unfortunately she will not considered any more for these positions.
Another sign of glass ceiling is that opportunities for promotion often favor men due to developmental prospect, such as mentoring and networks . According to  women find it difficult to engage in and benefit from informal networking if they are a small minority. For example women don’t go to play football with others or etc, while socializing seems to be a necessity to managers .
Besides glass ceiling, there are other barriers as well. Vestige of prejudice is a well established fact that men as a group still have the benefit of higher wages and faster promotions. In the United States in 2005, for example, women employed full-time earned 81% for every dollar that men earned . Is this true because of discrimination or simply because, with fewer family demands placed on them and longer careers on average, men are able to gain superior qualifications? Although most variables affected the wages of men and women similarly, there were exceptions. Marriage and parenthood, for instance, were associated with higher wages for men but not for women. In contrast, other characteristics, especially years of education, had a more positive effect on women’s wages than on men’s. Even after adjusting wages for all of the ways men and women differ, studies showed that women’s wages remained lower than men’s. The unexplained gender gap is consistent with the presence of wage discrimination. Some surveys have been applied to the question of whether discrimination affects promotions. Evidently it does. Promotions come more slowly for women than for men with equivalent qualifications. Men are advantaged over equivalent women as candidates for jobs traditionally held by men as well as for more gender-integrated jobs. Similarly, male leaders receive somewhat more favorable evaluations than equivalent female leaders, especially in roles usually occupied by men .
Another barrier is resistance to women’s leadership. Study after study has affirmed that people associate women and men with different traits and link men with more of the traits that connote leadership . In the language of psychologists, the clash is between two sets of associations: communal and agentic. Women are associated with communal qualities, which convey a concern for the compassionate treatment of others. In contrast, men are associated with agentic qualities, which convey assertion and control. The agentic traits are also associated in most people’s minds with effective leadership – perhaps because a long history of male domination of leadership roles has made it difficult to separate the leader associations from the male associations. As a result, women leaders find themselves in a double bind. If they are highly communal, they may be criticized for not being agentic enough. But if they are highly agentic, they may be criticized for lacking communion. Either way, they may leave the impression that they don’t have “the right stuff” for powerful jobs. Given this double bind, it is hardly surprising that people are more resistant to women’s influence than to men’s .
Demand of family life, apart from the perception, is another barrier that force them to interrupt their career, take more days off, and work part-time. As a result, they have fewer years of job experience and fewer hours of employment per year, which slows their career progress and reduces their earnings .
How these barriers work in Iran?
To discuss about the barriers of women in Iran, two question should be answered first:
Are there any other barriers that just exist in Iran’s culture?
And how these barriers, that we discussed till now, are addressed in Iran? Do all of them exist?
Since the statistical data in Iran is worse, compared to those of developed countries, in terms of the gap between men and women in work force, there are tow possibilities. First, there is other kind of barriers due to Iran’s culture or it is just because these barriers are more intense in Iran.
Since there is no comprehensive study that address Iran in term of women situation, I cannot draw any conclusion that there is other barriers. I can just assume that these barriers are more intense due to male-dominated culture. According to , The difficulties that many women face in the Middle East are similar to other women in many parts of the world. However, there are opportunities and constraints for women attributed to gender within their culture.
Evidences show that a glass ceiling for women does exist in Iran . For example, as I mentioned earlier, there are some law discrimination toward women. They cannot become leading religious clerics nor judges, or as a recent evident in August 2009, selection of 3 women to be minister lead into lots of disscussion and finally, just one of them was able to get the position. Although there is no written policy in organization that lead to discrimination toward women, but lots of presumption exist. As an instance, Iran is a patriarchal culture . Families in such cultures behave women as an inward and men dependent. In this culture, the only responsibilities of women are delivering babies, looking after them, and cooking and clieaning up. This kind of perspective toward women not only caused men to have a traditional view of women, but also women, themselves, think that they do not have the proper capabilities for high level management.
As another indicator of glass ceiling, while the pay is the same for all who perform the same job (particularly in the government sector), significantly more men get better-paying jobs and there is a tendency to promote men and their deployment in better-paying positions . Since men are from the same group (network) as bosses -for example they smoke together, eat together and bond together- whenever there is an opportunity, they get it first . Lack of proper networking with men, due to religious limitation, along with lack of self-confidence result in better-paying positions for men.
Statistics show that vestige of prejudice exists in Iran too. As I mentioned earlier, in 2003, on average, women earned only 28% of men compared to 61% and 64% of US and UK respectively .
Based on a study, has been done in Turkey and Pakistan, both men and women have negative attitudes toward women executives. In Turkey, even women have more negative attitudes than men’s. Such resistance toward women executive result in slow progress of women up the organizations.