What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

So far, this review has looked at psychological theories and studies that emphasize attitudes and beliefs. Situational theories do not argue that these attitudes and beliefs exist, but they suggest that the on-going differences in power, status and opportunities for women are an artifact of the lack of representation in organizational settings instead of a result of our cultural upbringing. (Kanter, 1993) These theories suggest that women struggle because of the continued lack of power and pathways to progress. (Morrison & Von Glinow, 1990)  The corporate cultures themselves drive them to display self-defeating behaviors. Therefore, the problem arises from all levels and interactions of the still-patriarchal male-dominated corporate cultures. (Eagly & Carli, 2007).

For example, Kanter (1993) found in studying bureaucratic behavior that the struggle to operate in powerless situations drives both men and women to lean toward rigid, controlling and possessive behaviors. If people are considered “token”—they are the only one or they are one of a few who represent their category—they tend to overcompensate by overachieving, overly seeking acceptance or recognition, or turning against people of their own kind. According to situational theories, the difficulties women have in performing managerial roles are more about organizational structures and powerlessness than about their sex. (Kanter, 1993, p. 6) The tragedy is that the behaviors that result from feeling powerless often set up a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. (Hoyt, 2005)

However, in studies of actual managers and their subordinates, subordinates typically express an equitable level of satisfaction with both female and male managers. It appears that many employees who have been supervised by a woman have a more positive attitude about their female bosses than those who work with these women as peers or those leaders who manage them. (Ezell, Odewahn & Sherman, 1981; Eagly & Karau, 2002) In fact, when researching the emergence of leaders in leader-less groups, Eagly and Karau (1991) found that in the men and women who emerged as leaders, there were no significant differences in their performance levels and outcomes. Cleveland, Stockdale and Murphy (2000) also found little difference in how men and women perform as leaders when judging them by outcome instead of behavioral traits.


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Marcia Reynolds

Marcia ReynoldsIn addition to coaching leaders in global companies, Dr. Marcia Reynolds travels the world speaking and teaching classes in advanced coaching skills, leadership and emotional intelligence. She is the author of 3 books and has been quoted in major online and print publications in the US and Europe.

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