Do Women Want to Break the Glass Ceiling? A Study of Their Career Orientations and Gender Identity in the Netherlands**

Article excerpt

Career orientations, career success and perceived self-efficacy of women employees in relation to their gender identity were studied. It was hypothesized that gender identity is related to career orientations such that women with a masculine gender identity strive for more upward mobility as compared to women with a feminine gender identity, whereas the latter strive more for balancing work and private life. A masculine gender identity was furthermore predicted to be positively related to career success in terms of income and hierarchical position. Finally it was expected that women with a feminine gender identity, in comparison to those with a masculine gender identity, express a lower self-efficacy with respect to stereotypical male and gender-neutral tasks and equal self-efficacy with respect to stereotypical feminine tasks. To test the hypotheses, a questionnaire was distributed among women working for a large multinational corporation. The results provided support for the first two hypotheses. Mixed support was obtained for the third hypothesis.

Key words: Gender Identity, Career Orientations


Many women have entered the labor market and occupy management positions. Only sporadically however do they reach top management and/or board positions. The phenomenon called the 'glass ceiling' (Morrison/White/Van Velsor 1987) still exists in many western countries (Powell 1999), including The Netherlands (Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau 2000). Several explanations for this phenomenon have been offered. Human capital theory for instance, states that shortcomings on the part of women (education, experience) make them less suitable for top positions. Other explanations refer to stereotyping and prejudice, the existence of a dual labor market, and, the career orientations of women themselves. This study focuses on women's career orientations. Its aim is to obtain a better understanding of women's career orientations by testing relationships between gender identity, career orientations and career success.'Career orientation' can be described as an individual's preferences, values and ideas concerning his or her career; it refers to one's career goals and ideals and the priority they have in one's life as well as the rank ordering among different goals. Derr (1988) distinguished five career types, namely, 'getting ahead', where reaching the top is dominant, 'getting secure', where security and predictability are key in one's career choices, 'getting free', for those who value autonomy, 'getting high', representing striving for challenging work and self-realization, and finally, 'getting balanced', where the balance between work and private life is central. Family concerns are likely to have a stronger impact on women's career choices than on those of men. Based on an extensive literature study with which she tries to understand the implications of gender-based differences rather than their causes, Gallos (1995) reasons that relationships, attachment and caring are central to the lives of women. Therefore, their career choices are more likely to make an integration between work and family possible, i.e. balancing the demands posed by both. For men, independence, autonomy and centrality of work in their lives are more characteristic. Upward mobility for men is a more important career goal than for women. Several studies indeed show that women's career preferences are less aligned with 'getting ahead' than those of men (Manhardt 1972; Taillieu 1994, Power/Butterfield 2003).

The current study addresses the career orientations of women, but, instead of studying sex differences, we will focus on gender identity and its relationship to career orientations and career success. Sex refers to the categories of 'male' and 'female', whereas the term gender is used to express how individuals perceive or define themselves or are perceived by others (Deaux 1985). In other words, "'sex' is a biological term and 'gender' a psychological and cultural one" (Oakley 1972: 158). …


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