What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

On a brighter note, more recent research suggests that the current generation of women in leadership and professional positions has had many more experiences that have helped them develop a stronger sense of self than the previous generation of women in the workplace (over age 55). (Wagner, et al., 2006) As a result, some new role patterns are emerging in high-achieving women. They exhibit strong behaviors when carving out their own space. They seek recognition for their good work and actively campaign for and work with their teams to achieve success. It is as if they have taken up the sword of the Warrior Queen (Leonard, 1982), fighting for what is right in the name of their personal honor and that of their contingencies. The high-achieving warrior is confident in her abilities, can stand up for herself when demands are unreasonable and can say no to standards and practices that do not serve her “honorable goals” or the needs of her team. (p. 143)

However, although she may be less aggressive than her angry predecessors, the Warrior might still be disconnected from her relationship-based feminine strengths, may sacrifice her time and health “for the cause” and may not know how to maneuver within the inner circle of management who she sees as the enemy. (Reardon, 2001) Thus, the “warrior phenomenon” can be self-defeating, causing the woman increasing duress as she moves up the ladder of success. (Heim & Murphy, 2001)

Therefore, as the workplace evolves, the presentation strategies of high-achieving women are evolving as well. Typical self-destructive behaviors of the first wave of women managers demonstrated either resignation and passivity, or hostility and aggression. Today’s high-achieving women seem to be tougher in their stance but softer in their approach. Yet they still hit walls when trying to reach the highest levels of management, face ambivalence about their career decisions and leave corporations in droves. Therefore, there is a need to discover what personal factors are driving the behaviors of high-achieving women today and how they serve or detract from their success.

Less than thirty years ago, Georgia Sassen (1980) said that women “are unable to take competitive success and construct around it a vision, a new way of making sense, to which they can feel personally committed.”(p. 18) Has this changed? Is it not possible for today’s high-achieving women to fulfill their childhood dreams of running companies and holding high positions in society?

Wagner and Wodak (2006) define behavior at work as the performance of identity in the workplace. (p. 391) To determine their identities and then adapt and shift them, women must begin to see their patterns of behavior and talk about how these patterns contribute to or detract from their definitions of success. They need to talk about how they perceive and contend with their organizational cultures, opportunities and available choices. The stories they tell—how they define and explain their perceptions and performances—will help to shine a light on, understand and shape their identities so they can make their visions come true. (p. 391)

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.


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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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