What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

What Keeps High Achieving Women from Choosing Executive Positions

As mentioned in the previous section, recent studies reflect the existence of less-traditional career paths for women than the old images of climbing an upward ladder. (Lyness & Thompson, 2000) Gersick and Kram (2002) found that high-achieving women at mid-life defined their career paths as “zigzags that followed opportunities as they arose.” (p. 31)

In order to reflect the dual reality of the continuing existence of traditional career ladders as well as the more fluid, disordered career paths, O’Neill, Bilimoria & Saatcioglu (2004) characterized women’s career patterns as a range between ordered and emergent. Ordered reflected more traditional linear climbs. Emergent patterns reflected lateral, downward and upward leaps as a result of new opportunities as well as pausing to accommodate aspects of one’s life other than traditional work.

However, regardless of the career pattern, the high-achievers were characterized by a belief in personal responsibility for making choices and directing one’s own career success. (p. 450) Therefore, no matter what the path looks like, when it comes to making career decisions, high-achieving women act autonomously, meaning that the career choices they make for themselves are based on their own criteria. (Ryff, 1989) They may solicit input from others, but they make decisions for themselves.

As to their behavior on the job, high-achieving women are more goal-focused than relationship focused, though they may be very good at mobilizing people since they have learned how important this is to achieving good results. (McClelland, 1975) This means that high-achieving women tend to choose social power over personal power more often than men, even though the focus is still on completing the task successfully. They tend to work through others by creating strong teams, providing coaching and focusing on increasing the capability of the entire organization, not just their department. (Hegelson, 1990) They remain goal-focused but are more apt than men to see work from a collective rather than an individual perspective.


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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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