Men and women should be equal, but we (unconsciously) have different expectations of female leaders than of a man.

A woman who makes hard decisions is criticized, while the same decisions made by a man are more likely to be hailed.

How did that happen?

And how do we counter that difference?

Gender stereotypes unconsciously influence the decisions women make, Tamara Bavius ​​(36) and Veronique Streekstra (38) know.

Both are psychologists, directors and executive coaches.

"I also suffer from it", says Streekstra.

"Then I wonder what my employees would think if I make a certain decision. Sometimes I put myself too much into them. While of course I also have to think about the importance of my company."

Now and then that requires a difficult decision to be made.

"I struggle with that. I think that making a decision is more likely to be tolerated by a male leader."

We still see men as strong and decisive, the psychologists know.

Qualities that suit a leader.

When it comes to women, we tend to think of soft, empathetic and caring - qualities that we are less likely to attribute to good directors, leaders and strong managers.

More difficult for women to get a top job

Those biased ideas have a major impact.

For example, it is more difficult for women to get a top job, research also shows.

Bavius: "During an experiment, the gender was removed from application letters. The employer therefore relied only on the competencies. This made the selection much clearer."

In concrete terms, this meant that considerably more women were hired.

Because women are of course also excellent leaders and managers.

"Teams consisting of men and women generally perform better", adds Streekstra.

"At companies with a female leader, women are more likely to apply for a higher position."

Veronique Streekstra, psychologist, director and executive coach

The number of women in top positions is increasing, but it is very slow.

In 2004, 7.4 percent of the board members of large companies were women.

In 2019 this was 12.4 percent, according to the Business Monitor Top Women 2020. The share of women in supervisory boards rose from almost 10 to 20 percent.

Those women do not penetrate everywhere in the top layers.

Two-thirds of companies do not have a single woman in the highest level of management.

Fairer distribution of care responsibilities

According to Bavius, attention and awareness for the problem is necessary to get more women in top positions.

Setting a quota for top positions in companies gives women more opportunities within companies and longer paternity leave would help ensure a fairer distribution of care responsibilities.

Research also shows that the first female leader at a company paves the way for her colleagues.

"Women are more likely to apply for a higher position at companies with a female leader," says Streekstra.

"She's going to be a role model. If she can do it, then maybe I can too, think other women."

It is precisely these role models that are important, according to psychologists, to increase equality between women and men.

Streekstra: "Our generation has relatively few female leaders as an example. We have a responsibility to our daughters to show that a leadership role is also accessible to them."

'You can put aside modesty'

Women who have now reached the top are also struggling with the consequences of the stereotypes.

Bavius: "Most women who come to us find it difficult to find the balance between the different roles. Their work demands a lot. At the same time they want to be a good mother, partner and friend."

Those roles can be combined well, according to the psychologists, says Streefkerk.

"But women have to arrange for themselves that it is possible."

Women are also more likely to suffer from their own modesty, according to Bavius ​​and Streekstra.

As a result, they consider themselves - unjustly - not suitable for a higher position.

"You can put that modesty aside," says Bavius.

"Work on your self-confidence. Take the time to think about who you are, what you can do and what qualities you have. When we women do and propagate this more, we make ourselves more visible, also at the top."