A fascinating and extremely well done study recently published in Administrative Science Quarterly sheds new light on the integration of women into the workforce using longitudinal data from the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission between 1975 and 2005. The data clearly show that non-managerial workers are less gender segregated when they work under female managers. As women gain greater representation in managerial roles, the increased political and organizational power they accrue benefits women at all levels.
But simply having a large number of women at work did not equate to more women in managerial roles. The study found that women were more integrated into larger organizations that experienced growth. Women have more opportunity to access significant managerial jobs in larger establishments. The data showed that women have the least opportunity to access non-trivial managerial jobs in organizations with less than 100 employees.
One of the most interesting findings of the study was something the authors call the “gender stall effect.” From 1975 to 2005, women have experienced increasing representation in low-status managerial jobs with little authority. Yet even as the overall representation of women in management has increased, their relative status within management is declining. The effect of women in management on desegregation is waning.
Getting into an organization is one thing, moving up the organization is something altogether different. For example, the next time you are in your neighborhood bank, take a look around. I am going to bet that most of the faces you see behind the teller counter are female. Now look around at the desks occupied by the loan officers, financial advisors, and managers. I bet you are still going to see a large percentage of women in those positions. Now go home and Google that bank and look at the composition of the executive management team and board of directors. Is the percentage of females at the top the same as at the bottom? I doubt it.
We’ve come a long way since 1975, but we still have important work to do. The “level playing field” is much more myth than reality.
Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where he teaches courses in organizational behavior, leadership, and personal branding to both undergraduate and MBA students. Bret blogs about leadership, followership, and social media at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find Bret on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.
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