Gender Differences at the Top
Francesca Gino and Alison Wood Brooks (reference below) examine why women are underrepresented in most senior-level leadership positions.
The authors write:
“Even in societies and organizations that value gender equality and invest in initiatives to reach it, women are underrepresented in most senior-level leadership positions. They account for less than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than 15% of executive officers at those companies, less than 20% of full professors in the natural sciences, and only 6% of partners in venture capital firms.
“Why does the gender imbalance in high-level positions persist?
“A series of recent studies that we conducted with Caroline Wilmuth of Harvard Business School points to a new explanation: Men and women have different preferences when it comes to achieving high-level positions in the workplace. More specifically, the life goals and outcomes that men and women associate with professional advancement are different, we found.
“The previous explanations for gender imbalance in high places have been twofold. Some scholars argue that institutional barriers are the key culprit. For example, research has found that people view women as less competent than men and lacking in leadership potential, and partly because of these perceptions, women encounter greater challenges to or skepticism of their ideas and abilities at work.
“Other scholars believe the gender imbalance exists primarily due to innate differences in men’s and women’s perceptions, decisions, and behaviors. For example, research has found that men are more likely than women to engage in dominant or aggressive behaviors, to initiate negotiations, and to self-select into competitive environments – behaviors likely to facilitate professional advancement.
“Our new research does not dispute these findings. Rather, we find that there may be more to the story.
“In one study, we asked almost 800 employed individuals to list their core life goals (up to 25 of them) and then sort them into categories we provided. We defined core goals as “things that occupy your thoughts on a routine basis, things that you deeply care about, or things that motivate your behavior and decisions.” Examples include: being in a committed relationship, keeping up with sports, being organized, or attaining power or status. Compared to men, women listed more goals, and a smaller proportion of women’s goals were related to achieving power.
“These findings dovetailed with the results of prior research that, relative to women, men are more motivated by power. These differences contribute to men holding higher leadership positions than women. Meanwhile, women tend to be more motivated by affiliation – the desire for warm, close relationships with others – than men, research finds. …
“Overall, the results we collected from over 4,000 participants across nine studies showed a profound and consistent gender gap in men and women’s core life goals. … “We can conclude … that one reason women may not assume high-level positions in organizations is that they believe, unlike men, that doing so would require them to compromise other important life goals. That is an assumption that is worth studying further.”
Atlas topic, subject, and course
Francesca Gino and Alison Wood Brooks (2015), Explaining Gender Differences at the Top, Harvard Business Review, 23 September 2015, at https://hbr.org/2015/09/explaining-gender-differences-at-the-top, accessed 13 March 2017.
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 13 March 2017.
Image: Francesca Gino and Alison Wood Brooks (2015), Explaining Gender Differences at the Top, Harvard Business Review, 23 September 2015, at https://hbr.org/2015/09/explaining-gender-differences-at-the-top, accessed 13 March 2017..