Review: Handbook of Research on Promoting Women's Careers

The march of women into the upper echelon seems inevitable. A few points from the introduction:HandbookOfResearchOnPromotingWomensCareers

  • 60% of recent university graduates have been women, 50% of those graduating with advanced degrees in law and medicine, 1/3 of those with MBAs.
  • There will be labor and skill shortages in all developed countries over the next two decades as baby-boomers retire.
  • Women make 89% of the consumer purchasing decisions.
  • Companies with more women in top management positions are more successful.
  • Women are less greedy, less likely to engage in theft, fraud and corruption, protecting their organizations from failure and poor reputation.
  • Organizations retaining and advancing qualified women have an advantage in the war for talent.

This is the best single volume I have read that places lack of advancement of women in businesses into context, discusses the continuing challenges facing career women, examines several specific sectors and finishes up with good ideas on how to support the development of women. Written more for business or sociology students, the Handbook would nonetheless well serve any woman with a desire to know more about forces that may be holding her back and what actions she might take to remove obstacles to progress.

I make no attempt here to summarize the excellent collection of writing but merely offer up a few observations that struck me as an individual reader and quotes that I hope will stimulate interest in and purchase of this book, which deserves widespread circulation.

The proportion of women in management and board level positions feeds upon itself, increasing the proportion of women advancing. Women may engage in networking more than men but more men appear motivated to use their networks instrumentally, promoting themselves.

In chapter 3, the authors use

the analogy of running a race to describe women professionals in three distinct phases of their careers as identified by O’Neil and Bilimoria (2005), sprinters in the idealistic achievement career phase, marathoners in the pragmatic endurance phase, and relay runners in the re-inventive contribution phase. Based on biographical data collected from interviews with 60 women professionals, we create composite profiles illustrative of women in each career phase. We provide strategic actions that women can undertake in each phase of their careers in order to sustain their career momentum over time. We also describe organizational actions to support women’s career development.

Another chapter asks that we ‘stop fixing women’ and start building management competencies. Stop focusing on the ‘glass-ceiling’ and focus instead on the ‘asbestos’ that is making half the population ‘disappear.’ Avivah Wittenberg-Cox takes readers through a short program Auditing (the Gender QuickScan), Awareness, through to Align and Sustain phases. See 20-first

Despite the advances made by lawmakers to eradicate sexual harassment (SH) from American workplaces, it is clear that it is still an impediment to women’s career development and their well-being. The impact of SH is immense for both organizations and individuals… While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that charges have steadily declined over the last decade (from 15,475 in 2001 to 11,364 in 2011; EEOC, 2013), monetary awards remain high and were at a ten-year high in 2011 ($52.3 million, with a ten-year average of $48.4 million; EEOC, 2013). Of even greater concern than financial damages to organizations is the psychological damage dealt to SH victims. Depression, somatic complaints, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been linked to experiences of SH. Furthermore, women’s career development is negatively affected by SH. Women who experience SH have lower job satisfaction and are more likely to express turnover intentions. Given the personal and organizational impact of SH, it is paramount for researchers to understand the many facets of SH behaviors, antecedents, impacts and remedies.

Leadership is often ascribed only to men. Research indicates different leadership styles are judged appropriate for men and women. Autocratic and/or direct women were evaluated more negatively than men. “However, men and women were not evaluated differently when they displayed democratic styles of leadership.”

Despite substantial improvement in women’s representation in the workplace in many Western countries, there are still marked differences in the types of roles and sectors in which women and men work. In particular, women remain stubbornly underrepresented in many stereotypically masculine industries, such as construction (9 per cent employees), science and technology (33 per cent lecturers; HESA, 2009), the armed forces and police service (23 per cent of officers), surgery (16 per cent trainees), and financial services (25 per cent senior officers). Moreover, the fact that women tend to leave these industries at higher rates than men do means that the further you move up the hierarchy, the more men come to dominate.

Misogyny doesn’t just come from men but also from other women in management. The argument here is that as senior women attempt to navigate the complexities of being both women and managers in the gendered context of senior management, they face misogyny, including female misogyny, and negative evaluations from men and other women in management. The ‘queen bee’ label undermines the assumptions of solidarity and constrains progress for women.

Studies point to a certain reluctance to engage politics among women.  It is not lack of ability but lack of political will. Engaging in politics must be recognized as necessary to get things done. Women appear more concerned with the ethical dimension and victimizing aspects of politics. Finally, women appear more sensitive to becoming less authentic. To me, these are positive hesitations and I am reassured that as women advance, organizations are less likely to externalize costs and will be more likely to facilitate an ‘ownership’ mentality as employees would no longer be required to give up inalienable rights through explicit or implicit contracts that strip them of voluntary independent action and thought.

The need for ambitious women to take a long-term view of their careers and to manage strategically the acquisition of governance skills through wide board experience is one of the implications flowing from recent research into the structure of director networks and the location of women directors in them. Interest in director networks and the role of women directors in them has itself flowed from the small school of women on boards (WOB) research.

The chapter by Susan S. Case and Angela J. Oetama-Paul on biologically based differenced was fascinating. The sexes aren’t the same. Although leadership has been culturally associated with male traits, that may be changing with more emphasis on flatter management structures and collaborative decision-making. Women are well suited for this shift.  “Organizations already value enhance emotional, social and cultural intelligences in their employees… biological framing provides a richer understanding, but does not grant primacy to any single speech style.”

As of 2013, in the United States, women comprise 46.9 percent of the total labor force and 51.5 percent of management and professional positions. Yet men dominate the highest levels of Fortune 500 organizations, holding 96 percent of chief executive officer (CEO) positions, 85.7 percent of executive officer roles, and 83.4 percent of board seats.

Julie S. Nugent, Sarah Dinolfo and Katherine Giscombe end their chapter on Advancing Women with two pages of valuable bullet point tips that organizations can take to maximize talent development, especially for women. Individual women seeking advancement will also find it useful.

A study by Alix Valenti and Stephen V. Horner shows the career paths for women CEOs in large US companies are ‘notably similar’ to those of men. Age, tenure, experience and education were very similar and exactly the same proportion of women and men were insiders. “A scarcity of female role models should not present and obstacle to aspiring future leaders as male mentors are equally valuable as sources of advice and counsel.” Maybe, but with higher and higher proportions of women entering professions and management, this finding bodes well for the inevitability of more women in upper management.

This volume reinforced my own hope that as women advance they will be more open than men to being authentic, to the idea that neither workers nor shareowners should be expected to give up inalienable rights through explicit or implicit contracts that strip them of voluntary independent action and thought. Businesses are more likely to be seen as potential democracies and all that entails. Just as those who wield political authority over citizens do so as their delegates – as their representatives – so should business leaders evolve into trustees representing shareowners and employees if we are ever to free ourselves from tyranny in the influential world of work and commerce. That seems much more likely as women’s careers are promoted. See Investing in Women & Inalienable Rights: Part I and Part II.

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