Journey to the Top: Are There Really Gender Differences in the Selection and Utilization of Career Tactics?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This investigation identifies and analyzes the tactics and upward mobility strategies utilized by men and women who successfully advanced into senior leadership positions. Although much of the leadership research over the past 50 years has focused on career success antecedents that existed prior to employment such as college reputation, intelligence, industry strength, personality traits and gender, the application of how successful individuals, of either gender, combine and manipulate different strategies to advance is not well understood. Our study provides evidence that successful career men and women behaved similarly on a majority of 15 identified key upward mobility tactics. We conducted 187 interviews with CEOs, presidents, managing directors and other leaders in 136 organizations using consensual qualitative research (CQR) and quantitative analysis. The results bring into focus these high-achieving men and women as formidable and equally-proficient career competitors. Practical implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: career success, upward mobility, career development, gender, career tactics

INTRODUCTION

There exists extensive research on career success characteristics, yet focused upward mobility studies are few and results have been inconclusive and often contested (Barrick & Zimmerman, 2009; Carter & Silva, 2010; Groysberg, 2008; Harris, 2008; Kelan & Jones, 2010). Moreover, researchers have noted that many gender questions regarding management success have gone unanswered and have repeatedly called for comparisons of how men and women in similar career situations create their upward journeys and what differences are exhibited (Gottfredson, 2005; Kirchmeyer, 1998; Powell & Mainiero, 1992; Whitmarsh, 2007). There is little empirical or theoretical support that provides an understanding of how males and females organize and formulate their career tactics on their ascendancy. To address this issue, our research provides empirical data specific to gender tactic selection and offers further theoretical insights into this dynamic. In addition, the findings have practical application that will contribute to the career strategies developed by both men and women.

Previous studies have largely explored pre-hire predictors or antecedents of career progression which emphasize factors that are established primarily prior to employment, but do not reflect the situational shifts and subsequent tactics that either males or females may exploit. The career literature on these career antecedents is extensive and includes factors such as demographic data, e.g., age, gender, race (Judge, Cable, Boudreau & Bretz, 1995; Kelan & Jones, 2010; Tharenou, 2001;); industry strength and profitability, e.g., (Bell & Straw, 1989; Eby, Butts & Lockwood, 2003; Siebert, Kraimer & Liden, 2001); and more psycho-social investigations, e.g., Big 5 personality dimensions, trait approaches (Boudreau, Boswell & Judge, 2001; Daft, 2008; Kirkpatrick & Lock, 1991; Stogdill, 1974); proactive personality traits (Seibert, Kraimer & Crant, 2001); and career and organization commitment (Sturges, Conway, Guest & Liefooghe, 2005; Sturges, Guest, Conway & Mackenzie Davey, 2002). However, these important studies provide little insight into those factors or tactics that can be controlled by individuals and modified against changing circumstances. And what few studies there are on upward mobility do not offer sufficient theoretical insight with regard to male-female differences (Whitmarsh, 2007). Further, within the growing body of research on women's careers there seems an overconcentration on barriers to advancement and work-life issues (Greenhaus & Foley, 2007; Kottke & Agars, 2005;). As women assume a greater percentage of managerial and professional positions, which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports as over 51% in 2009, along with increasing economic power, there has been a call for new models of career development that more fully explain the multi-dimensional complexity of upward mobility actions, apart from predetermanants (Kirchmeyer, 1998; Whitmarsh Browm, Cooper, HawkinsRogers & Wentworth, 2007). …