What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

It is no wonder that as high-achieving women penetrate the ranks of upper management, they struggle with their identity. The expectation to focus on interpersonal relationships and to look outside of themselves for evidence of success creates tension and conflict for women who seek personal recognition for their ongoing accomplishments. (Marcia, 1980) This confusion creates an imbalance that affects their levels of self-esteem, causes excess anxiety and distorts their self-perception. (p. 159) This psychological distress shows up in how they behave, with many feeling angry and disillusioned and displaying destructive patterns such as passive-aggressiveness and self-righteousness. (p. 161)

It is true that women often have difficulty trying to integrate their behaviors and desires with the prevailing corporate cultures. However, women tend to be flexible when adapting to differing social situations. Instead, the emotional turmoil and behavioral self-sabotage that plagues women versus men stems from the difficulty with figuring out “who” they are and feeling both comfortable and strong with this concept. (Gerick, et al., 2002) Women can adapt. They are just not sure if they want to and who they will be if they do.

Until high-achieving women can feel secure about their choices, positive about their work and safe enough to establish close relationships with authority as well as with their peers and subordinates, they will wrestle with how to think, feel and act at work. It remains unclear as to how women individuate and mature professionally, especially in the midst of the active changes in roles and relationships in our postmodern society. (Gergen, 1991)

Therefore, since there is no clear delineation in the literature as to what causes the internal struggle of high-achieving women, for the purpose of this study, I chose to define “high-achieving” women by their behavioral tendencies toward accepting and completing tasks at work. However, the internal factors—their needs, values and beliefs—will be explored as a result of the study to better understand the dynamics and coaching implications of high-achieving women in today’s workplace.


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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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