What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

Definition and Criteria of Being a “High Achiever” and How the Presentation of This Role Might Differ in Men and Women at Work, Affecting Promotional Opportunities

Achievement is one of the strongest values in the United States. Being an “American” is often compared to the overcoming of obstacles and to the persistence in striving towards goals. People who take this path generally receive social support.

However, there are some inconsistencies of what constitutes a successful high-achiever between men and women, both in those evaluating the achievers and in the women themselves. For example, high-achieving women at work are expected to show higher relational values than men, such as leading teams and mentoring subordinates, in tandem with agentic values. (McAdams, 1988; Eagly, et al., 2002) And even though high-achieving women are on par with men in accumulating accomplishments, they tend to make greater sacrifices in their personal lives, such as avoiding intimacy and self/ego development while overworking. (Helson & Srivastava, 2001, p 1008) For example, 42% of high-achieving women in corporate America at the ages of 41-55 are childless, while 89% of high-achieving women between the ages of 28-40 believe that they will be able to get pregnant in their forties so they are delaying childbirth for their careers. (Hewlett, 2001)

Women seem to be caught in the middle. On one side are the societal values of individual achievement and power. On the other side are the women themselves, trying to manage their careers while facing subtle discrimination in the workplace and accommodating non-work related priorities. (O’Neill, Bilimoria & Saatcioglu, 2004) The result is a high level of stress-related diseases and burnout. (Sapolsky, 1998)


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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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