What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

Personal Factors that Impact the Effectiveness of Women Who Stay in Their Positions, Hindering Them from Rising to the Top Positions or Being Effective Once They are There

Until recently, most of the research that focused on psychological issues of women at work dealt with self-induced effects, such as the constant moral reasoning when faced with ambiguous life choices, the fear that their feminine traits will get in the way and the lack of clarity of self-concept, of “who I am” as a woman and a leader. (Gilligan, 1978; Kegan, 1982) However, many studies now suggest that the perception of women as being less powerful and capable in the workplace is actually one of the major causes of the lack of self-esteem in women, not the result. (Ragins & Sundstrom, 1989) The workplace itself is a major drain on the confidence that the women bring in the door with them. They start out strong but their power is sapped.

Heim and Murphy (2001) said that when compared to men, “Women are more likely to ‘be hard on themselves’ and ‘beat themselves up,’ therefore lowering their self-esteem.” Their self-evaluations tend to be highly vulnerable to negative feedback which leads women to being overly dependent on others’ approval rather than relying on their own internal standards. (Roberts, 1991) As a result, they frequently question their choices and abilities to succeed which ultimately affects their decisions and leads to destructive presentation strategies in the workplace. (Hollands, 2002)

Does this behavior indicate that women will always struggle with success and leadership, or would they thrive in environments that were truly supportive? Do they carry this baggage with them when they enter the world of work, causing on-going doubt and indecision? Will the majority of women ever have the confidence it takes to be renowned business leaders?

It is possible for people to push through their fears and act confidently even when they don’t feel like it. However, the belief in one’s capabilities (efficacy) plays a powerful role in influencing one’s choices, setting goals, coping with adversity and persisting and completing difficult tasks. (Lindsey, Brass & Thomas, 1995; Bandura, 1997) It has also been found that leadership efficacy is strongly predictive of leadership potential ratings (Hoyt, 2005), further leading to the deleterious perception of women as being unfit to perform well as leaders at the senior levels since they demonstrate less self-confidence than men. (Chemers, Watson & May, 2000)


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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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