What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions
Whereas the Peter Principle indicates that people reach their highest level of competence and then stop growing, maybe there is a “Patty Principle” at work where high-achieving women reach a certain level in management then either opt out of or cannot make it to the top tier. Is it that they do not have the energy or desire to keep going? Or do they not get the coaching necessary for successfully playing the “boardroom game” in a way that matches their particular developmental needs, values and strengths? (Reardon, 2001; Fels, 2004) If the Patty Principle exists, then many women who aspire to move up the corporate ladder need guidance to help them through their stages of professional maturity. If we knew what was holding them back, we could better help these women to adapt and reinvent themselves at work in a way that honors their strengths and needs while maintaining their energy and drive.
In my twenty five years of experience in leadership training and executive coaching, I have found that most companies send their new female leaders to generic leadership programs that tend to be “politically correct,” meaning they do not recognize the difference between men and women as leaders. This gives little guidance to high-achieving women on how to be authentic and successful, and it reinforces the subtle message that they should “act like men,” a fallacy that has been hurting female leaders for years. (Holland, 2002; Ely, Meyerson & Davidson, 2006)
Gerick and Kram (2002) said that the root of the problem is not about how women need to integrate their behaviors and desires with the prevailing corporate cultures, but more about the difficulty for women in learning “who they are.” It remains unclear what really drives women to succeed at work, especially in the midst of the active changes in roles and relationships in our postmodern society. (Gergen, 1991) And it is even more unclear what is keeping the “brightest and the best” women out of the executive board room. The first generation of women in senior management opened many doors for the hordes of women behind them. What is really stopping the second generation of female high achievers from marching through? This series of essays addresses this fundamental question.
The entire dissertation is available as a download below: Marcia Reynolds (2007) Personal Factors of High-Achieving Women That Contribute to the Low Number of Executives in Corporations. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Professional School of Psychology, Sacramento, California, USA.