Paradoxes for Women

I read this piece — work ahead!

Easing into the New Year, one big hope we have for 2013 is that women continue to bridge the gender gap in terms of pay equality and access to leadership positions. So much of the news was good last year: women were better educated than ever, we continued to claim coveted CEO roles at companies such as IBM and Yahoo, and one study even reported that women were the primary breadwinners in a majority of households in the US. That sounds like progress.

Yet, in order to clear a path for greater advancement and parity in 2013, we need to address the difficult paradoxes that women leaders continue to face — these are the mixed messages and uncomfortable realities that complicate an arguably positive picture of progress….

1. Pay Paradox.

2. Double-bind Paradox: be feminine, be masculine.

3. Promotion Paradox.

4. Networking Paradox.

5. Start-up Paradox.

6. Careful-What-You-Wish-For Paradox.


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  • Scott Gay

    It seems part and parcel to supporting the ambitions of the women in our lives is to provide comfort- in the sense that they should know we are 100% behind their efforts. I hold no credence in former attitudes toward pay scales, that they shouldn’t be assertive or ambitious, that they shouldn’t use other female relationships for good use, and I really believe many are the best leaders. Let’s encourage all of us to highlight that belief in mixed messages in these areas is wrong.

  • Conrad Deitrick

    Why is the The Careful-What-You-Wish-For Paradox a problem? Why are we so certain that women should want to work outside the home? That seems like it’s only a problem if you have a very specific normative idea of what the ideal society should look like. But then you still have to justify your underlying assumption, i.e., why that normative model is really the best, without engaging in serious and extensive question-begging. I don’t think anyone has come anywhere near doing that.

  • pepy

    Scott G: nicely and generously stated. From your mouth to God’s ears.

  • RobS

    Maybe the “ignored” paradox? It might fall into networking, but the situation where some men have difficulty being willing to listen to what women say, just because they’re women (or maybe they’re younger women).

    I’ve seen very competition 30-something women speak wise words that are ignored by 60-something age men — after all, someone their daughter’s age with several university degrees wouldn’t know anything more than them, right? Ok, sarcasm off, but seems real. 🙂

  • Pat Pope

    Isn’t it ironic that we have more women CEOs and women in government running cities, states and even helping to lead the country, yet some churches are still saying “no” to their leadership?

  • RJS

    The double-bind paradox plays a role in some of the others, including the pay paradox. People are complex and social seas more chaotic than we realize.

  • mark273

    “one study even reported that women were the primary breadwinners in a majority of households in the US. That sounds like progress.”

    It does? What is the goal? If a majority of women being the breadwinner is progress, what are you saying we would want to see?

  • Diane Reynolds


    Thank you for your persistent and consistent support of women.

  • mark273 #7, That is exactly what I am asking. If it’s progress, then it’s progress toward something. What’s the end-goal that the speaker has in mind, and is it somehow self-evidently desirable?

  • As a woman in ministry on a large staff, I have to say that the double bind is the most persistent problem for me. If I state something strongly, so that it is heard, I am being pushy. If I don’t state something strongly, I’m ignored, only to have one of the men say the same thing, and be heard. Really frustrating. Quite honestly, it was both discouraging and affirming to read that what I am experiencing is the norm! How paradoxical. Must be a woman thing that I can feel both at once. (tongue firmly in cheek!)