What Keeps High-Achieving Women From Choosing Executive Positions. VI. Results: Themes One – Three
Even the women in senior management levels were more interested in performance excellence than in cultural evolution and focused more on proving their self-worth than on their worth as a woman. They aren’t fighting the system; they are attempting to work the system to their advantage and reward. They aren’t focused on banishing the old ways; they instead lie awake in bed creating and strategizing how to sell their grand, new ideas to management and to their teams.
This doesn’t mean they don’t care about people; many of them said they loved mentoring and coaching other employees, and especially like to help others to stand up for themselves and be heard. The adjectives they chose to describe themselves included: passionate, high energy, persistent, assertive, direct, bold, confident and compassionate. These descriptors correlate with the Bem Sex Role Indicator for male behaviors minus the behaviors related to aggression and domination over others. (Bem, 1993) As Fels found in her 2004 study of female U.S. college students, a new style of femininity seems to be emerging based on confidence and assertiveness without losing the strong relational qualities of the previous generation of women. (Fels, 2004) The women in this study were proud to lead by example and hope people will follow with a little instruction and guidance.
Working and making their own money came early in life, even before they were considered an adult.
Sample interview responses:
(NM) “I graduated high school early. I left home at 17 and went to work, but mostly because I had always worked. I mean I created an office when I was little with my mom’s stuff from work. I was about 7. I used to play office every day. I was an insurance company that did claims. So people had like severed arms and I’d figure out how much we were going to pay them. When I moved out to Oswego I took a wheelbarrow and a shovel and went barn to barn to offer my services. I mean really, I did anything I could to try and make money. The market was far so I’d go to the grocery store and buy groceries and then I’d be like a 7-11 on the corner in my neighborhood. I’d double the price and sell milk and eggs and butter. So I guess going to work was the natural thing to do. Never mind that I had no idea what I wanted to be, I just knew I wanted to work.”
(EM) “I was about to turn 16 and my father said, ‘You got to get a job.’ He printed my first business cards when I was 12 years old. I remember it was reflective silver with red writing. I was a babysitter. I would go around my neighborhood…and drop off my card and introduce myself. He taught me how to give a firm handshake and look someone in the eye and all of those things. I remember us going and buying my first interview suit at 15 and a half; had to lie about my age. So he took me around pointing to businesses and saying, ‘You’d be great at that; what about bank teller, you’ve got great presence and personality; what about this, what about that?’ But I ended up being a hostess at a Holiday Inn working Saturdays and Sundays….I was the hostess and then put myself through college and graduated by the time I was 21.”
(DK) “Actually, I started working at the age of 15…I was skating and my mentor called me off the ice and asked me if I wanted a job as a receptionist. So at 15, I worked as a receptionist and doing traditional secretarial type roles. But in high school, a person came in to a class and talked about medical transcription, and I really wanted to move out of the house, and this was my way out. So that’s how I started my career.”