In the 1980’s the lack of women in managerial positions hit the headlines and started a debate as to why women are under-represented at the higher levels of hierarchy in most organisations. In fact women only make up 6% of all directors in FTSE-100 companies and 2% of executive directors in 2000 (Guardian 5th November 2001, pg17). In the US the top companies have a higher proportion of women directors but only 1% of executive directors in the US are women (Guardian Women 9th November 2000, pg8).

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In this essay, I will firstly state the advantages and disadvantages that women can bring to an organisation in senior management, and then I will look at the explanations as to why women are under-represented. Once the explanations are apparent I will then discuss what can to done to help alleviate the problem. Finally I will conclude on my opinions as to the under-representation of women in senior management.

It is clear that there is a lack of women in senior management posts, but why is this? Is it because women have nothing to offer? No, women have a lot to offer an organisation, they have differing perspectives and opinions that will stimulate discussion and help improve decision-making. Women have a different leadership style to men, it is known as a ‘transformational’ or ‘interactive leadership style’.

This can bring benefits to the organisation and employees as women’s leadership style encourages participation; the sharing of power and helping people feel good about themselves. Research in a wide variety of industries including health care, military and education has shown that when a transformational leadership style is used, employees are likely to perform better, have an increased effort level and have more job satisfaction. It is also linked to organisational morale, team cohesion, commitment, team and organisational measures of success. However there is a debate about this as to whether it does bring so many benefits.

When personnel directors in the retail industry have been challenged about the under-representation of women in managerial posts, the majority viewed it as serious, affecting company image, recruitment and staff turnover. Some thought an increase of women managers would have a positive change and welcome a fresh management style. Another reason why organisations should try and increase levels of women in management is that evidence has shown that once women achieve some seniority they tend to stay loyal in an attempt to reduce some of the effects of gender stereotype (Marshall, 1984).

Therefore it would be wise to have more female managers, as they would work for the company for a longer time period than men. This has numerous benefits for the organisation, as recruitment costs will be lower. Also the company would reap the benefits from the expensive training they have provided for them. This concept that it may be cost efficient to have more female managers is backed up by research carried out by Cozby in 1973 that showed in terms of management development women are cheaper because they are less barrier bound, they can change and adapt more easily, more quickly and therefore more cost effectively.

Therefore it can be seen that women do bring benefits when in senior management, a study by the Cranfield School of Management in 2001 showed that the most successful companies are more likely to have female board members. For example, 17 of the top 20 companies by market capitalisation have women board members and of those companies in the bottom 20, half had all male boards. The obvious question therefore is why are women under-represented in management?

However there is evidence that women may actually be a hindrance, this might be a reason as to why women are under represented at senior management. A recent article in The Times (November 11, 2003) found that after analysing FTSE 100 shares, those companies that don’t install women on the board outperformed those that promoted sexual equality at the top. Of the top ten companies with most women on their board, 60% underperformed the FTSE 100. However of the bottom companies that have the least female board members they generally outperformed the FTSE 100. For example, Marks and Spencer underperformed by 19%, Shell by 17% and BAA by 14% whereas Schroders outperformed by 34.4%, Rio Tinto by 6.7% and Anglo American by 23.7%. (The Times, November 11, 2003)

There are many arguments why there is a lack of women in management posts. If we look back in time we can see that historically when a company was set up it was usually a family run business typically run by one man, the male head of house. This has obviously had an impact of the culture of modern organisations. It would often be an independent retailer, employing relatives or staff. This is bound to have implications today as many people both male and female will have a stereotype that a manger should be male.

Virginia Schien first identified this stereotype in 1973 and it continues to be held by men and women (Schein 1989). Women such as Anita Roddick and Sophie Mirman have changed this historical tradition of a man setting up his own business. Anita Roddick set up ‘The Body Shop’ after travelling throughout the world. She claims it wasn’t for financial reasons but to provide environmentally friendly, natural, health and skincare products. Whatever her reasoning it is becoming apparent that women are noticing gaps in the market and more and more women are starting their own business, which could maybe change this stereotype held by so many.

Women often have to face a dilemma in their lives, it concerns whether or not they are going to have children. The majority of women have career breaks so they can start a family whereas few decide they are going to pursue a career within the organisation. A barrier preventing women entering senior management is that their life cycles conflict with a career in management. The career stage when they would have to be work hardest and be highly committed to the organisation conflicts with a woman’s life cycle as it is then when women are in their peak childrearing years. Because women take maternity leave and take a break form the organisation they are ‘rendered not just different but deficient’. Evatts (1996) argues that ‘activities other than paid work do not contribute positively to their promotion prospects. Indeed they damage them’.

You could argue women could take advantage of ‘family friendly’ policies that would help them balance work and family so that they could pursue a career as well. However few women actually make use of these arrangements because they know that they would be seen as ‘less committed to their jobs and the company, and therefore less suitable management material’ (Wajcman 1998). Women therefore cannot win, they could try and balance work and family, but they would be viewed negatively or they could choose not to use ‘family friendly’ policies. However this would mean they wouldn’t have time to enter management. In the case of men, marriage and fatherhood have not created any career problems.

Women view the prejudice of colleagues and the ‘clubbiness’ of senior management as barriers preventing them from obtaining management posts. Coe (1972) found that the ‘men’s club’ is the greatest barrier for women and it was confirmed by a survey from the British Institute of Management. This is because it is hard for women to enter this club and become friends with senior management. For example, men find it easier as they could play golf with them on weekends and they generally converse better as often the conversation is meant for men’s ears only. Both men and women use the old boy’s network, however men have better access to power.

One of the main barriers preventing women entering senior management is that there are faults in the recruitment and selection process. As I mentioned earlier, men and women have differing management styles. Male’s management style is described as ‘transactional leadership’ and is concerned with getting the best performance by means such as rewards or punishments. The fact that the different sexes have different management styles indicates there may be a gender bias in the recruitment and selection process. When studies have been carried out to find what makes a good manager, because so many managers are male, transactional management style characteristics are likely to be seen as the best.

When selecting potential staff out of a recruitment pool it is therefore no surprise that those people with a transactional management style are favoured. This is because it is more than likely males will be choosing whom to select, and they are more likely to choose a transactional leadership style as that is what they would think is best. It is a vicious circle, a lack of women are entering management level and so male leadership styles are preferred, and until there are women in management helping to select new recruits it is unlikely people who favour a transformational leadership style will be favoured.

Brockbank and Traves carried out further research based on Morgan’s work in 1986. They adapted a list of male and female characteristics and asked managers to identify which characteristics were best without them knowing which sex they belonged too. They found that both male and female characteristics were valued. Therefore organisations should try and increase the level of women in management to get a balance of those characteristics. Indeed ‘most successful organisations adopt a managerial combination of male/female’, the so-called ‘Androgynous Manager’ described by Alice Sargent.