Academic journal article Management Revue

Germany's Next Top Manager: Does Personality Explain the Gender Career Gap?**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Germany's Next Top Manager: Does Personality Explain the Gender Career Gap?**

Article excerpt

Many studies have focused on the influence of human capital and other 'objective' factors on career achievement. In our study, we go a step further by also looking at the impact of self-reported personality traits on differences in career chances. For the first time - to our knowledge - we compare managers and other white-collar employees in Germany's private sector and find evidence that personality traits do influence the promotion probability even though their impact is rather small.

With regard to differences in the promotion probability between women and men, bivariate results based on data from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) in 2007 show significant differences in personality traits. But multivariate estimations clearly indicate that these differences cannot account for gender differences in the promotion probability to a large extent. The decomposition (according to Fairlie, 2003) of the career gap between women and men shows that only 8.6 percent of the inequality of career chances can be explained by differences in personality. Nevertheless, personality traits might indeed play a role, albeit more indirectly: Some of the stronger career effects, such as long working hours, and labour market segregation, may also reflect differences in personality traits.

Key words: personality, gender, career, leadership (JEL: D23, J16, J79, M12)

1. Introduction

Although women account for more than 50 percent of the German labour force, they are largely under-represented in leadership positions. The higher the hierarchical level, the lower the proportion of female leaders. About three out often business leaders are women (European Commission, 2009). Only 2.5 percent of the executive board members of the top 200 companies in Germany are female (Hoist & Schimeta, 2009).

Numerous studies investigate career opportunities and focus on the influence of human capital and other 'objective' factors. But only a few quantitative studies employ non-cognitive skills such as personality.

Scientific interest in (personality) traits and their influence on access to leadership positions and leadership success has a long tradition. The trait theory of leadership focuses on personality traits that distinguish leaders from other employees. It aims at describing the characteristics of leaders in order to establish what factors determine professional success. It is one of the oldest theories in the field of leadership research. The results of numerous empirical studies on leadership traits that have been carried out in this context have been included in various summary papers (see for example, Lord et al., 1986; Stogdill, 1948; Stogdill & Bass, 1981).

The term career success can refer to both objective or extrinsic career success (income, the rate at which the income increases, the attainment of a higher professional status, or promotion probability, the number of subordinate employees, etc.) and subjective or intrinsic career success (job satisfaction, self-esteem, etc.). Empirical findings of early studies on this topic showed (weak) correlations between personality traits and the attainment of a higher professional status within organizations (promotion probability), demonstrating that leaders and followers differ with regard to the personality traits under investigation. The results, however, were ambiguous, and the causal connections remained unclarified. This led to an adjustment - and in some cases rejection - of the approach, which was considered unsuitable for predicting the behaviour and success of (potential) leaders. Criticism of the theory focussed on its limited capacity to represent and identify personality traits, arguing that situative factors such as leadership functions, the environment, and followers have at least an equally significant impact on leadership behaviour and career advancement (see for example, Delhees, 1995; Stogdill, 1948; Weibler, 2001).

At the beginning of the 1970s, new concepts were developed within the leadership research that drew on the findings of trait theory and are referred to as the cneotrait theory of leadership' (Tisdale, 2004). …

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